For over 30 years, forest rangers and volunteers in the San Bernardino National Forest have been conducting monthly winter and spring bald eagle counts to help managers more effectively care for the forest. Back in 1978, 11 years after it was placed on the endangered species list, an average of 18 were observed. In 2007, when the national bird and symbol was removed from the list, only six were seen.
Why, when the bald eagle population has been recovered, would the local population go down? "This is kind of counterintuitive to the bald eagle population," said Marc Stamer, a Forest Service biologist. "We do know across California the eagle population has increased."
But Stamer said there are a variety of variables that could be affecting this downward trend, including increased development around the forest, volunteer turnout, less water in Southern California and more winter water available in Northern California because it's not freezing over, thanks to warmer weather.
Every winter bald eagles follow the pacific migratory flyaway from as far away as Alberta and the Northwest Territories in Canada, a 2,000 mile one-way trip. While some of those birds may now cut their trips short in Northern California, Stamer said there has been more regional movement since reintroduction efforts began on Catalina Island in the 1980s.
Although fewer bald eagles have been spotted over the last several years, Stamer believes it's a great opportunity. "There is still a surprising amount of people who don't realize there are bald eagles in their backyard in Southern California," he noted. "This is a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of our breath-taking national symbol."
In December, 53 volunteers came out to five lakes where five adult eagles were observed. Stamer welcomes anyone to join and emphasizes that no experience is necessary. The next count is Saturday, January 8th.
Dress warmly and bring binoculars
- Big Bear Lake area volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Big Bear Discovery Center on North Shore Drive. Contact Marc Stamer at 909-382-2828 for more information.
- Lake Arrowhead volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Sky Forest Ranger Station. Contact Marc Stamer, Wildlife Biologist, at 909-382-2828 for more information.
- Silverwood Lake State Park volunteers should contact the park office for information during business hours of 8:00 am to 4:00 pm at 760-389-2281, and plan to meet at the Visitor Center at 8:00 a.m.
- Lake Hemet volunteers should plan on meeting at the Lake Hemet Grocery Store at 8:30 a.m. for instructions. Contact Ann Poopatanapong at 909-382-2935 for more information.
- Lake Perris State Park volunteers should contact the park office for information at 951- 940-5600, and plan to meet at the Lake Perris Regional Indian Museum.
[Update: Forest Service officials report that a total of 11 eagles--seven adults and four juveniles--were spotted during the January 8th count. Five were spotted at the Big Bear/Baldwin Lake area. Another three were seen at Lake Silverwood, and one each at lakes Arrowhead, Gregory and Perris. None were observed at Lake Hemet. The next count will take place on Saturday, February 12.]