On Saturday, Dec. 15, the U.S. Forest Service conducted its first bald eagle count of the winter. Local, federal and state biologists and volunteers participated in the count, which was around lakes in Southern California.

A total of four eagles (three adults and one juvenile) were observed at the area lakes during the one-hour count.

Two adults were observed at Lake Hemet.

Ten brave souls showed up at Lake Hemet early Saturday morning in the bitter cold for the first eagle count of 2012-13. The resident pair of bald eagles was sighted and the special treat of the morning was the viewing of the female eagle catching a fish for breakfast. Above, David Landeros of Menifee looks through a telescope at the female eagle perched in a pine across the lake; Anne Poopatanapong (second from the right) is the San Jacinto Ranger District wildlife biologist. She is accompanied by friend Sharon Dominey from Buena Park. Photo by Careena Chase

“It was really a good event,” said Anne Poopatanapong, biologist in the San Jacinto Ranger District. “The weather on Saturday was perfect. Other December events have been miserable due to weather. But everyone saw the birds instantly and the birds flew and hunted.”

The other adult and the juvenile were seen at Lake Perris. No eagles were observed at Silverwood Lake. The counts at Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead were cancelled due to road conditions.

Juvenile eagles are distinguished by a brown head and tail; adults are recognized by the famous white head and tail. It takes four to five years to acquire full adult coloration. Juvenile eagles are the same size as the adults.

“The two juveniles from this year’s nesting [at Lake Hemet] would be several months old now (maybe 9 months),” Poopatanapong added in her email. “Assuming they were hatched sometime end of March or early April.”

The remaining bald eagle counts for this winter are scheduled for the following Saturday mornings: Jan. 12, Feb. 9, and March 9. No experience is 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 for the Lake Hemet count should plan on meeting at the Lake Hemet Grocery Store at 8:30 a.m. for orientation. For more information, contact Anne Poopatanapong, biologist in the San Jacinto Ranger District, via email at [email protected] or call at (909) 382-2935.

If you are in Garner Valley and want to see the resident pair, stop by the Forest Service’s Lake Hemet Day Use Area and just look across the lake. The birds are often flying overhead or sitting in trees above the picnic area.