Bald eagle count continues Jan. 12: Volunteers needed

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In March 2012, this male bald eagle graced the skies over Lake Hemet while humans counted the eagles for the Forest Service. Photo by Careena Chase

The Forest Service needs help to count bald eagles for the 35th season in the annual winter bald eagle counts in and near the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains on Saturdays, Jan. 12, Feb. 9, and March 9.

Migrating eagles typically begin arriving in the area in late November and leave in late March or early April. 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.

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. A brief orientation is conducted prior to the count so volunteers know where to go and what to do.

Through radio-tracking bald eagles, biologists learned that some of the same individual eagles return to the San Bernardino Mountains year after year. We also 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.

“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.

No experience needed. Signing up ahead of time is unnecessary – just show up at the designated time and location, dress warmly, bring binoculars and a watch.

Volunteers planning on going to the Lake Hemet count should meet at the Lake Hemet Grocery Store at 8:30 a.m. for orientation. Contact Anne Poopatanapong (apoopatanapong@fs.fed.us or 909-382-2935) for more information.

For the Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory counts, volunteers should contact Eliason (reliason@fs.fed.us or (909) 382-2832 for more information. Contact the Discovery Center (909-866-2789) for information about Eagle Celebrations.

Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area volunteers should contact Kathy Williams or Mark Wright for more information about volunteering or taking an eagle tour (760) 389-2303 between 8 p.m. and 4 p.m. or email: khwilliams@parks.ca.gov.

If interested in the counts at Lake Perris State Recreation Area, volunteers should contact the office for more information at (951) 940-5600.

Breeding populations of bald eagles in Southern California were extirpated 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 made the Southern California mountains permanent homes. They built nests and have successfully raised families. Nesting bald eagles can now be found at Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Lake Matthews, and Big Bear Lake.

At Lake Hemet in Riverside County, the female eagle with orange wing tags “02” hatched at San Francisco Zoo in 2000 and was released on Catalina Island as part of the reintroduction efforts. In 2004, she arrived at Lake Hemet and decided to take up year-round residence with the male bald eagle that was already there. Together, the pair has raised successful nests ever since then.

See the following websites for additional information about the San Bernardino National Forest (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino/) or the California State Recreation Areas (www.parks.ca.gov).

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