Adult eagle at Big Bear Lake. Photos by Robin Eliason, San Bernardino National Forest
The Forest Service needs volunteers to help count bald eagles for the annual winter bald eagle counts in and near the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. Saturday, March 9 is the final count of the 35th season of bald eagle counts. The first two days, in December and January, successfully spotted local eagles. The February count was cancelled because of poor weather conditions.

A total of twelve eagles were observed during the count in January, including at Lake Hemet. Many of the 183 volunteer eagle-maniac counters saw an eagle during the census.

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. They 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.

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 planning on going to the Lake Hemet count should meet at the Lake Hemet Market at 8:30 a.m. for orientation. Contact Anne Poopatanapong ([email protected] or (909) 382-2935) for more information.

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 southernmost 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.