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Volunteers Needed: Bald Eagle Counts at Mountain Lakes Near Palm Desert

Each year, migrating eagles begin arriving in Southern California in late November and leave in late March or early April, a Forest Service biologist said.

The Forest Service is recruiting volunteers to help count migrating bald eagles for in and near the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains on Dec. 15, Jan. 12, Feb. 9, and March 9.

The counts are planned at the same time each day at man-made lakes near Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley, including Lake Hemet, Lake Perris, Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Lake Silverwood, according to John Miller of the San Bernardino National Forest.

"Volunteers are stationed at vantage points around the lakes, where they watch for bald eagles during a 1-hour period on the count mornings," Miller said. "Volunteers record their observations on maps and data sheets."

The counts this winter season are scheduled on Saturday mornings. No experience is required for volunteers and no advance sign-ups are necessary.

"Just show up at the designated time and location, dress warmly, bring binoculars and a watch," Forest Service biologist Robin Eliason said.

Here are more specifics for each observation site:

  • Big Bear Lake area volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Forest Service’s Big Bear Discovery Center on North Shore Drive for orientation. Contact Robin Eliason (reliason@fs.fed.us or 909-382-2832) for more information.  Contact the Discovery Center (909-866-2789) for information about Eagle Celebrations.
  • Lake Arrowhead/Lake Gregory volunteers will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Skyforest Ranger Station for orientation. Contact Robin Eliason (reliason@fs.fed.us or 909-382-2832) for more information. 
  • Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area volunteers should plan to meet at the Visitor Center at 8:00 a.m. for orientation.  Contact Kathy Williams or Mark Wright for more information about volunteering or taking an eagle tour (760-389-2303 between 8:00 and 4:00; or email: khwilliams@parks.ca.gov). 
  • Lake Hemet volunteers should plan on meeting at the Lake Hemet Grocery Store at 8:30 a.m. for orientation.  Contact Anne Poopatanapong (apoopatanapong@fs.fed.us or 909-382-2935) for more information. 
  • Lake Perris State Recreation Area volunteers should plan to meet at the Lake Perris Regional Indian Museum at 8:00 for orientation.  Contact the office for more information at 951-940-5600.

Each year, migrating eagles begin arriving in Southern California in late November and leave in late March or early April, Eliason said.

"Bald eagles are usually found close to water because their diet is primarily made up of fish and ducks," Eliason said. "As winter approaches in those northern regions, lakes freeze over and waterfowl fly south.

"For bald eagles, that means that the food they eat has become scarce," Eliason said. "So, they head south looking for areas with abundant food supplies and end up wintering in sunny southern California."

Eliason advised volunteers be mentally prepared and understand that human presence may distract or disturb the eagles. Her recommendations include:

- Maintain distance of at least 200 feet to 300 feet from perched bald eagles.

- Do not get closer than a ¼-mile to nesting bald eagles – trying to get a closer look may result in eagles becoming agitated and knocking eggs or chicks out to the nest.

- It is illegal to harm or harass bald eagles.

For more information about the San Bernardino National Forest visit www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino.

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