Looking for Bald Eagles
By Tim Hauserman
Last January I spent a very cold three hours gazing out over Lake Tahoe for eagles as part of the Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences Mid Winter Bald Eagle Count. My friend Joyce Chambers and I were part of an effort throughout the region to discover how many eagles were spending their winters around Lake Tahoe. This Friday, January 12th, it’s happening again, the 37th annual version.To be a part of the event go to tinsweb.org.
We were lucky last year to be joined in our eagle watching efforts by Will Richardson, Executive Director of TINS. Unfortunately for Will, he got stuck in the busy weekend ski traffic trying to get to Lake Forest from Truckee. He arrived at about 9:20, about five minutes after a bald eagle flew about twenty feet above our heads and then turned around and came back for another pass.
Once Will did arrive, we tromped across the crusty snow to what was then the peninsula coming out from the Bristlecone Beach in Lake Forest. Now, after all the moisture we received last year, it’s an island and you would need a boat to set up shop at the same spot we did. Will had a monstrous bird viewing telescope on a tripod, and we brought our puny binoculars and together we waited for the big birds to make their impression, while Will regaled us with lots of bird information.
Yes, it was cold, and there was a whole lot of waiting going on, but it was also spectacularly beautiful to spend a few hours just focusing on the beauty of the lake in-between futile glances at the sky. In addition, we were treated to views of floating ice chunks on the shallow bay next to the island, and ice flags hanging from stark wooly mulleins. And eventually, Will was rewarded with another (or the same one we saw earlier?) eagle making an appearance about two hours into our three hour tour.
The TINS bald eagle count includes about 25 stations along the shore of Lake Tahoe. Eagles are opportunistic feeders who will eat almost anything, but much of what they like can be found in the water. Just like bears, they find the fall kokanee run a good opportunity for food, especially since they really don’t care if food is alive or dead. In the winter a prey of choice are small ducks sitting on the water, apparently living up to the phrase, sitting ducks.
Eagles are also just fine with stealing the prey that other animals did the work to catch. This is especially true of their rival water feeders, the osprey. Recently while hiking along Tahoe’s shore at Sugar Pine Point State Park I heard a loud noise just twenty feet above my head. It was an osprey angrily chasing a bald eagle, bumping up against it and chipping at it with it’s peak, once they were out of sight, another osprey came roaring by as well, and a few ravens kept a safe distance behind observing the melee and ready to take advantage if any food opportunities arose.
Hopefully if you join in the eagle count you will be treated to an osprey chasing an eagle. It will certainly make your day.