Bald eagle counts start next weekend

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The U. S. Forest Service has scheduled its four bald-eagle counts for this winter, all counts being on Saturday mornings. The counts will be Dec. 9, Jan. 13, Feb. 10 and March 10.

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, Prado Dam, Lake Perris, Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Matthews and the Salton Sea.

The Forest Service stresses that no experience is necessary to be a volunteer. Signing up ahead of time is not required either. Volunteers can just show up at the designated time and location. Dress should be warm to accommodate morning temperatures, and binoculars and a watch are helpful.

Brief orientations are conducted prior to the count so volunteers know where to go and what to do.

Through radio-tracking of the bald eagles, biologists learned that some of the same individual eagles migrate year after year to the San Bernardino Mountains from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Canada. Some of the San Bernardino Mountains’ eagles were tracked all the way to Alberta and the Northwest Territories in Canada — that is about 2,000 miles one-way, according to Ann Bowers, the San Jacinto Ranger District biologist.

“Breeding populations of bald eagles in Southern California were wiped out in the late 1950s. 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,” Bowers wrote in an email.

“K-02, a female eagle hatched at San Francisco Zoo in 2000, was released on Catalina Island as part of reintroduction efforts. In 2004, she arrived at Lake Hemet, [taking] up year-round residence with the male bald eagle that was already there,” Bowers wrote. The pair hatched and raised eaglet chicks for years.

During the 2014-15 nesting season, Forest Service staff at San Jacinto Ranger District noted that K-02 had not been sighted since March 2014. In December of 2014, two bald eagles were observed at Lake Hemet, neither one bearing tags.

In April 2015, K-02 was spotted flying over Lake Palmdale, confirming that the two eagles now residing at Lake Hemet were likely to be a new male and female pair.  Although the new pair of eagles exhibited breeding behavior, such as incubating the nest, no offspring were observed until the 2015-16 nesting season. The parents successfully fledged their first chick, according to Bowers.

As bald eagles raise families in Southern California, it is now possible to see bald eagles year-round (not just during winter migrations). Because of the influx of migrating bald eagles during the winter, the easiest time to see eagles is still between December and March.

The bald eagle count is a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the breath-taking national symbol.

The local count will be at Lake Hemet. Volunteers should plan to meet at the Lake Hemet Market at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, for orientation. Contact Bowers (annbowers@fs.fed.us or 909-382-2935) for more information.

Other counts that day within the SBNF will be at Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory, Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area and Lake Perris State Recreation Area.

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