Eagle Photography at Copper Bay on Moresby Island
By Jack D Waller
With so many excellent blogs and wonderful photos already provided by others, I’ve decided to focus on an area likely under represented - Copper Bay. Zipping along on the Copper Bay Mainline from Sandspit it’s easy to miss it, since a glance to the east would lead you to believe you’re passing someone’s back yard. And that’s exactly what happened to us in our 80's vintage 20' class B motorhome.
Having passed by Copper Bay and not realizing we should be turning around, my wife and I ended up continuing onto a relatively unused road that would take us to Sheldens Bay (only now do I know that’s where we ended up). Nice country trail, very pleasant to meander down until it got narrower and narrower and the rather large tree branches scraped harder and harder and I had to swing my mirrors in. Then, with no place to turn around and larger trees hanging into my path I had to disembark a number of times and cut them down with an axe! Lesson learned, we eventually made it back to Copper Bay.
Copper Bay is essentially a weekend retreat for Haida folk who enjoy the fishing activity and the socialization. There are a good number of small cabins that the Haida were allowed to construct on crown land. Some are in fine shape others essentially abandoned.
As I learned, May is the month when the Sockeye Salmon head upstream to spawn and so, as allowed by the laws of the island and enforced by “watchman” George, the Haida string their nets across the bay with the hope of a substantial catch in the morning.
The nets have plastic floats attached and are fastened across the riverbed region, which is not visible when the tide is in. Anyone who stays up too late and sleeps in will find the eagles feasting on their catch.
The horn sounded at 6PM Friday to start the activity and again at 6PM Sunday to end it. George’s duties include patrolling the area to ensure there is no poaching and he gave us a friendly welcome midweek when we arrived. Further upstream there is a floating metal structure that restricts the Salmon from passing except for a region where they are constrained to allow counting, which provides information on the viability of the stock.
In talking to the Haida who came to Copper Bay on Friday, fishing here is a long tradition and a much appreciated source of food. I believe one particular net sourced around 80 good sized Salmon. Typically, the Salmon are canned for use during the winter months. The cleaning of the fish often takes place right on the river, attracting eagles and providing more photographic opportunities.
Now, the main reason for ending up at Haida Gwaii in the first place was my brain-wave of going to Prince Rupert to photograph eagles; I scarcely remembered the Queen Charlotte Islands existed. As a child I had been to Prince Rupert with my brother who trucked for ATCO. What a stroke of luck when checking out Prince Rupert travel information to learn about Haida Gwaii. Once we had acquired maps and tourist brochures boy did we get excited, and we were not disappointed. I now know what I missed out on and will rectify that next time we visit, perhaps not spending all my time photographing eagles.
It was a blast and I acquired 100's of great photos, mainly of eagles but also of other wildlife too.
As our time had run out, back we went to Sandspit to catch the ferry at Alliford Bay the next day after visiting the Airport, which incidentally has a very nice display of memorabilia from World War II. We had arrived on Graham Island on May 7 and we left on May 26. Beautiful weather the whole time!
Jack Douglas Waller
A big thank you to all the friendly folk on Haida Gwaii! Anyone wishing to view more of my photography: http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/profile/647784/