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Eagle count is Jan. 15

If you are interested in bald eagles, and spending a few hours in the morning looking for them sounds like a good time to you, then the U.S. Forest Service wants your help.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is preparing to conduct the annual Lake Tahoe Basin Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey on Jan. 15. Volunteers are encouraged to participate.

“Bird watchers already have sighted as many as nine bald eagles in one location in the Lake Tahoe Basin this year,” said Kevin Laves, wildlife biologist for LTBMU. “So, this winter’s count could result in the highest number seen in the midwinter count in the basin.”



The annual survey is part of the National Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey that was initiated by the National Wildlife Federation in 1979.

Lake Tahoe has participated from the start, counting bald eagles that winter at Lake Tahoe. The bald eagles likely nest in northern areas with harsh winters, such as Alaska and British Columbia, and migrate south, looking to winter at large bodies of open water, such as Lake Tahoe. The bald eagles start arriving in Lake Tahoe around October, about the same time the kokanee salmon return to Taylor Creek to spawn, and they stay at Tahoe until about March.




In the 1979 survey, two bald eagles were observed in the basin, 772 in California and more than 9,000 nationwide. Last year, seven bald eagles were counted in Tahoe, 1,091 in California and more than 14,000 nationwide.

The number of bald eagles counted in Tahoe has been as high as 20 before, Laves said.

The annual survey is not intended to be an exact count of every eagle, but it is supposed to signify population trends. Reports from the states are combined to give “a picture” of bald eagle populations nationwide.

The counts are coordinated nationally by the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, and most surveys are conducted by state and federal conservation agency personnel. During a targeted two-week period, observers in participating states select a single day to count eagles.

Although the Forest Service coordinates the Lake Tahoe count, Laves said numerous other agencies help, such as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and California Tahoe Conservancy, as well as individual volunteers.

In addition to providing information on bald eagle population trends and habitat, the count has helped create public interest in bald eagles, according to the Forest Service. About 4,000 people participate nationally each year.

In Tahoe, observers are positioned at designated locations around the lake.

How many Lake Tahoe observers participate and how many eagles are counted depends largely on the weather.

“Weather can affect it, because it can determine whether the bald eagles are moving or just hunkering down, but also because of visibility,” said Pat Shanley, forest wildlife biologist for the LTBMU.

Last year, Laves said, the midwinter count was shrouded in bad weather conditions, causing many volunteers to back out. The effort did not have enough people to fill the 25 predetermined viewing sites in the basin.

Laves said he hopes to have more than enough this year.

Lake Tahoe resident Jim Hildinger has participated in the count for several years, taking his 27-foot sailboat out to Emerald Bay to count from there.

“It’s a public service, and it’s a fun thing to do,” Hildinger said. “If the weather’s right, it’s a really fun experience.”

For residents who can’t make it on the official day but enjoy bird watching, Forest Service officials say one of the best places to view bald eagles is in the Taylor Creek area.

breakout

What: The 1999 Lake Tahoe Basin Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey

When: Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to noon

Where: Throughout Lake Tahoe Basin

Information: Sarah Muskopf, (530) 573-2775; Kevin Laves, (530) 573-2745

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