Last weekend while in South Lake Tahoe over the New Year’s holiday, Laurie and I observed a pair of bald eagles near the Tallac Historic Site. She had seen eagles before at Tahoe Keys. This newly observed pair was at the top of a Jeffrey Pine within 50 yards of the lake at what once was the “Grandest Resort in the World,” a summer retreat for three of San Francisco Bay Area’s socially elite families.
Given the size of the tree, we would never have spotted them were it not for their shrill scream. Unfortunately our camera phones didn’t capture the birds too well (see better image below of bald eagle near Fallen Leaf Lake). We proceeded down the beach toward the mouth of Taylor Creek. On the way back, we relocated the tree with now a single, silent eagle. It tired of our presence and flew off with its seven-foot wingspan to find solitude.
After observing the pair, it made me wonder how many bald eagles were in the Tahoe Basin and were they residents or migrants? With a simple Google search, I found that there are approximately 20 bald eagles around the lake in the winter. Several breeding pairs call the Lake Tahoe Basin home all year but most migrate to Tahoe because it is more temperate than Alaska or Canada. Bald eagles are monogamous and mate for life. The eagles frequently show up around September when the Kokanee salmon start to run (see video) but also feed on waterfowl like ducks, coots and grebe. The largest concentration of wintering eagles is found in the Klamath Basin, on the California-Oregon border.
Coincidentally, the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science was seeking volunteers to assist with the 33rd annual Mid-winter Bald Eagle Count on January 9th, 2015. As part of a national survey effort monitoring the recovery of bald eagle populations, volunteers will count all bald eagles at one of 26 sites distributed around the Lake Tahoe shoreline during a three-hour period on the morning of the count. The results will be combined with those from across the nation to generate an index of bald eagle populations wintering across the United States. The count is part of the National Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey that was initiated by the National Wildlife Federation in 1979.
More details to follow regarding how many bald eagles were counted last weekend.