People were all gathered along the roadside, staring in the same direction.
The point of their fascination was evident even as we slowly drove by the gathered hoard, most with two-foot-long lenses and camera gear worth as much as my car: bald eagles...and lots of them.
Shari quickly estimated more than 50 of the distinct raptors lined the trees on both sides of the river.
Although I'd seen numbers like that on the Skagit River, years ago, it was exhilarating to see them on the Nooksack.
The eagles were there for the abundance of "easy" food provided by spawned-out adult salmon washing downstream after laying and fertilizing eggs. For the birds, it was like a free "all-you-can-eat" buffet.
We drove on a side road that paralleled the river and headed upstream a mile or two to get away from the crowd. As remote as it was, even where we pulled into an opening near the river's edge and set up to film was soon awash in birders, photographers and at least one very bored-looking teenager. Still, it offered us a field of view without cars or people near it and two newly deceased chum salmon on the shore opposite us.
The straight-line distance to the spot we wanted to film was no more than 30 feet away and we are well-equipped to shoot video in telephoto. Now, we just had to wait for an eagle to show up and start munching.
The first birds to take a peck at the salmon were not eagles but seagulls, who made a noisy commotion as they frantically tried to outdo one another for possession of the fish.
No offense to the gulls, but I didn't film their shenanigans. We wanted eagles. We wanted salmon being eaten by eagles. It was part of the "life cycle" aspect of our film. We want the film to reflect the fact that even in death, there is life. It's balance. When the eagles are nourished and strengthened they, too, will create new life. The salmon, for their part, had just ended their lives, laying eggs and inseminating eggs in the clear shallows a few miles to the east. Those fry, the offspring of the doomed salmon, will someday fight their way to the sea. Some of them will end up as food for predators along the way. Some will feed seals and otters. Those marine mammals will, in turn, become possible food sources for transient orcas.
The story is the same for Chinook salmon, except the Chinook fall into the food chain with Southern Resident Killer Whales at the top.
So, the scene in front of us - with rain-swollen clouds and winter-bare trees - is a key part to understanding how protecting one, protects the other.
In a flurry of giant, brown wings, an adult male eagles swooped down from a nearby tree and took claim of the salmon. For the next 20 minutes we watched him eat. The raptor would tears pink flesh with its vibrant, yellow beak and pull high-protein meat into its mouth.
I can't lie. We high-fived like school kids at the sight.
The video turned out great and another key part of "Fragile Waters" is now in the can.