Local author to present at birding festival Saturday

Published on Thu, Apr 17, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Local author to present at birding festival Saturday

By Jack Kintner

When David Hancock installed an eagle cam on Hornby Island, it quickly got so popular that it overloaded as internet browsers from around the world watched the eagles incubate and hatch their eggs.
The camera was placed in a tree just above an active nest, so close the birds would almost brush against it when turning around.

“Eventually we went to Microsoft for help. They gave us all the servers they could spare on their campus in Redmond, but when they came on line they filled immediately,” he said. “They’d never seen that before.”
Over 40,000 people were waiting to get on-line with the server to see the birds.

Hancock is the major presenter for the Blaine birding festival, Wings Over Water, on Saturday, April 19. He will speak at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also scheduled are Merlin falcon expert David Drummond and volunteers from the Sardis Raptor Center who will be bringing birds.

Hancock still has active eagle cams on Hornby and at other places in British Columbia. An eagle researcher for over 50 years, this summer he will re-trace the routes he once flew in his own plane in doing his initial surveys in the 1950s and 60s to see what’s changed.

“When I first began this,” Hancock said, “I was amazed to find that there were literally no eagles nesting south of the border in western Washington. I flew my little Taylorcraft all the way down to Olympia and found nothing.”

Hancock explained that in those days there was a small bounty on eagles in Alaska because fishermen felt they ate too many salmon.
“Of course that’s not true,” Hancock explained, “because they mostly eat carrion.

“But the fishermen would come back south and shoot any bird they saw south of the border, keep the talons and then turn them in once they were back in Alaska. Figure that a small percentage of the birds shot actually were collected and the carnage was impressive.”

The bounty was ended in the 1960s and along with the outlawing of the insecticide DDT, eagles have made a dramatic comeback. Hancock, one of the foremost authorities on the subject, said that there are as many as nine active nests in the Blaine and Birch Bay area alone.

“At the peak, we probably have around 20,000 birds in the BC lower mainland and this area,” he said. “They do come and go. In the Harrison, for example, in November to the end of the year you can see as many as 1,500 birds in a fairly short stretch of river. Nice to see.”
In 1954 Hancock found three birds in Vancouver, and now there are around 200 nesting pairs in the city.

Hancock grew up in Victoria and began working with raptors at the age of 12 when he was given a young Golden Eagle, a 12-pound bird with a wingspan of 7 1/2 feet, still the biggest eagle he’s ever captured in the last 58 years.

He apprenticed with the renown falconer Lloyd Beebe. He started flying on his 16th birthday, the youngest legal age for becoming a pilot, and went on to the University of British Columbia to study wildlife conservation.

He has continued his research ever since, covering many thousands of miles of shoreline from Washington north through B.C. into S.E. Alaska.

His interests range from birds to the white “Spirit” bears of the coastal islands to native life. He has his own publishing company, Hancock House, and for those interested a rack of his books is available at Blaine Bouquets. For more information: www.blainechamber.com/wow