It's an annual fixture for wildlife lovers on the West Coast, but when the Winter Eagle Festival and Count in Brackendale near Squamish kicks off this weekend, founder Thor Froslev is worried the sense of celebration surrounding the 30th edition of the festival will be tempered by a low number of eagles.

"All the salmons are down on the West Coast…and the eagles are starving," said Froslov.

From late November to February, Brackendale usually teems with eagles that feed on the carcasses of Chum salmon that have finished spawning in local rivers, and the area is regarded as one of the top eagle viewing locations in the world.

Froslov expects this year's count to register "about a thousand eagles", although he adds it's problematic trying to forecast numbers. 

Last year, a snowstorm limited visibility and only 637 eagles were spotted. 

eagle counters Brackendale

Eagle counters on the Squamish River still managed to smile despite tough conditions last year. (Dave Humphrey)

The best year ever over the three decades of the event was 1994 when 3,769 eagles were counted in one day.

On Sunday, teams of volunteers will head out on foot and in boats to look for the birds in an established search grid in Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, along a 40-kilometre stretch of the Squamish River

"We divide it into 20 areas and each area has two counters and a head counter," said Froslov. "We use a couple of canoes, a kayak and a rubber raft because you can't get into the river at certain points."

The best place for eagle viewing is the area known as "Eagle Run" about a kilometre south of the Brackendale Art Gallery, which Froslov owns and operates. 

"We have eagle watch people up there with scopes who can help you and tell you more about eagles," he says. 

With files from Meera Bains