Have you ever counted bald eagles? Probably not unless you’ve been a volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service program to count bald eagles. The upcoming counts will be ethe thirty-fifth season that the annual winter bald eagle counts are held in or near (or both) the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. Concurrent bald eagle counts are held in Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear Lake, Lake Silverwood, Lake Perris and Lake Hemet.
Volunteers are stationed at vantage points around the lakes where they watch for bald eagles during a one-hour period. The volunteers record their observations on maps and data sheets and it is a wonderful opportunity for people to catch a glimpse of the country’s breathtaking national symbol. A brief orientation is conducted prior to the counting so volunteers know where to go and what to do, said San Bernardino National Forest spokesman John Miller. “Through this method, the agencies and land managers have learned a lot about which areas are important to eagles and how the populations are doing. But we can’t do it without a lot of volunteers…..we need their eyes to help us look,” said Forest Service biologist Robin Eliason.
The bald eagle counts are scheduled for Saturday mornings on January 12, February 9 and March 9. No experience is needed and no pre-registration is required so you can just show up at the designated time and location. Be sure to dress warmly, take binoculars and a watch.
THE FOLLOWING * Big Bear Lake volunteers will meet at 8 a.m. at the Forest Service’s Big Bear Discover Center on North Shore Drive for orientation. Contact Eliason (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (909) 382-2832 for more information. Contact the Discovery Center at (909) 866-2789 for information about Eagle Celebrations.
* Lake Arrowhead/Lake Gregory volunteers will meet at 8 a.m. at the Skyforest Ranger Station on Hwy. 18 (near the Caltrans yard) for orientation. Call Eliason at (909) 382-2832 for information or send her at e-mail at email@example.com. for more information.
* Silverwood Lake Recreation Area volunteers should plan to meet at the Visitor Center at 8 a.m. for orientation Contact Kathy Williams or Mark Wright for information about volunteering or taking an eagle tour. Call them at (760) 389-2303 between 8 am. and 4 p.m. or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Lake Hemet volunteers should plan on meeting at the Lake Hemet Grocery Store at 8:30 a.m. for orientation. Contact Anne Poopatanapong (email@example.com) or call (909) 382-2935.
* Lake Perris State Recreation Area volunteers should meet at the Lake Perris Regional Indian Museum at 8 a.m. for orientation. Contact the office at (951) 940-5600.
Bald Eagles are usually found close to water because their diet is primarily composed of fish and ducks. As winter approaches in northern regions, lakes freeze over and waterfowl fly south. For bald eagles, that means the food they eat has become scarce so they head south looking for areas with abundant food supplies and they end up wintering in sunny southern California. Some of the bald eagles that fly in from Canada come from as far away as 2,000 miles one-way. While they stay in southern California bald eagles can be found in Green Valley Lake, Grass Valley Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Baldwin Lake, Big Bear Lake, Silverwood Lake as well as Lake Perris, Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Matthews and the Salton Sea to the south. Many of the eagles migrate from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Canada and through radio-tracking biologists have learned that some of the same individual eagles return to the San Bernardino Mountains year after year. Some eagles also “fly in” from the Channel Islands.
As bald eagles raise families in southern California, it is now possible to see them year-round and not just during their winter migrations to warmer areas. Because of the influx of migrating birds during the winter, the easiest time to see the birds is still between December and March.
The bald eagle is a success story of the Federal Endangered Species Act which has offered them protection under the law. Its populations have recovered from the brink of extinction a few years ago, said Miller. Captive breeding programs, reintroduction, the banning of DDT and public education have all helped in the recovery of this species. There are over 10,000 breeding pairs and now they breed in all 49 states in the Continental U.S.
If you’re in Big Bear and want to look for eagles stop by the Forest Service’s Big Bear Discover Center on North Shore Drive and pick up a handout on eagles and/or plan to attend one of the free public talks. Call the center at (909) 866-2789 for information.
If you’re out enjoying the mountain scenery remember that human presence may distract or disturb the eagles so try to limit your movements and do not make loud noises when they are nearby. If possible, remain in your vehicle while looking at eagles because the car acts as a blind. Stay a respectful distance of at least 200 to 300 feet away from perched birds. Do not get closer than one-quarter mile away from nesting eagles because trying to get closer may result in the eagles becoming agitated and knocking eggs or chicks out of the nest. It is illegal to harm or harass bald eagles so enjoy your experience but do your part to protect our national bird,” concluded Miller.