By John Miller, U.S. Forest Service
Volunteers are needed to help count bald eagles for the annual winter bald eagle counts in and near the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains on Saturday March 14th.
Concurrent Bald Eagle counts are held at Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Lake Silverwood, Lake Perris, and Lake Hemet. Volunteers are stationed at vantage points around the lakes, where they watch for bald eagles during a 1-hour period on the count mornings. Volunteers record their observations on maps and data sheets. This is a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of our breath-taking national symbol. Brief orientations are conducted prior to the count so volunteers know where to go and what to do. Eagle counts at some of the sites have been conducted regularly since 1978.
On the February 14th count, over 275 people scanned for soaring or perched bald eagles and 17 bald eagles were observed.
Signing up ahead of time is unnecessary – just show up at the designated time and location, dress warmly, bring binoculars and a watch (or device with a clock).
•Big Bear Lake area volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Forest Service’s Big Bear Discovery Center on North Shore Drive for orientation. Contact Rari Marks (firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-382-2600 x4022) for more information. Please call 909-382-2832 for cancellation due to winter weather conditions – an outgoing message will be left by 6:30 am on the morning of the count if it has to be cancelled. Contact the Discovery Center (909-382-2790) for information about Eagle Celebrations. There will also be a free slideshow about bald eagles at 11:00 after the counts.
•Lake Arrowhead/Lake Gregory volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Skyforest Ranger Station for orientation. Contact Rari Marks (email@example.com or 909-382-2600 x4022) for more information. Please call 909-382-2832 for cancellation due to winter weather conditions – an outgoing message will be left by 6:30 am on the morning of the count if it has to be cancelled.
•Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area volunteers should plan to meet at the Visitor Center at 8:00 a.m. for orientation. Contact Kathy Williams or Mark Wright for more information about volunteering or taking an eagle tour (760-389-2303 between 8:00 and 4:00; or email: 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 Heidi Hoggan (email@example.com or 909-382-2945) for more information.
•Lake Perris State Recreation Area volunteers should plan to meet at the Lake Perris Regional Indian Museum at 8:00 for orientation. Contact the office for information at 951-940-5600.
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The best time of year to see bald eagles in Southern California is during winter months when there is an influx of eagles. Migrating eagles typically begin arriving in the area in late November and leave in late March or early April.
Bald eagles are usually found close to water because their diet is primarily made up of fish and ducks. As winter approaches in those northern regions, lakes freeze over and waterfowl fly south. For bald eagles, that means that the food they eat has become scarce. Therefore, they head south looking for areas with abundant food supplies and end up wintering in sunny southern California.
During the winter, Southern California bald eagles are typically found at many of the lakes, including Big Bear Lake, Baldwin Lake, Silverwood Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Green Valley Lake, Grass Valley Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains and Prado Dam, Lake Perris, Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Matthews, and the Salton Sea to the south.
Through radio-tracking bald eagles, biologists learned that some of the same individual eagles return to the San Bernardino Mountains year after year. It has also been determined that there is a lot of movement of eagles between the different mountain lakes and that the lakes do not have distinctive separate populations—the eagles regularly move between the mountain lakes.
Radio-tracking and/or banding also revealed that the eagles that winter in the San Bernardino Mountains migrate to Southern California from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Canada. Breeding populations of bald eagles in Southern California were wiped out by the late 1950s. Until reintroduction efforts began in the 1980s on Catalina Island, the southern-most nest site known in California was in Lake County. Since 2003, several pairs of bald eagles have decided that our Southern California neighborhoods were too nice to leave – they built nests and have successfully raised families. Nesting bald eagles are now found at Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Lake Matthews, and Big Bear Lake. As the populations continue to grow, more bald eagles are in our future.
In 2012, the first successful bald eagle nesting ever recorded in the San Bernardino Mountains happened in Big Bear Lake. To protect that nest site and help ensure a successful nesting attempt this year, the Forest Service has closed the area to all public entry. This includes Gray’s Peak Trail and Grout Bay Day Use area as well as the undeveloped forest area around the nest tree. The closure will remain in effect until the chicks leave the nest or the nest fails.
Because of the population rebound, bald eagles are no longer in jeopardy of going extinct. While bald eagles are no longer protected under federal Endangered Species Act, they still have full protection under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and under the State of California’s Endangered Species Act. These laws make it illegal to harm or harass bald eagles. It is also illegal to possess bald eagle parts, even a feather.
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 car while looking at eagles – the car acts as a blind. Stay a respectful distance of at least 200-300’ away from perched bald eagles. Do not get closer than ¼ mile away nesting bald eagles – trying to get a closer look may result in eagles becoming agitated and knocking eggs or chicks out of the nest. It is illegal to harm or harass bald eagles. Please do your part to help protect our national bird!
By John Miller, U.S. Forest Service