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Eagles land near Scotts Flat

Eileen JoyceTahoe National Forest Forestry Technician Barbara Graham uses binoculars to look for eagles at Scotts Flat Lake.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Two bald eagles may be living near Scotts Flat Reservoir.

Tahoe National Forest workers think a new pair of eagles has set up house near the reservoir east of Nevada City for a few reasons:

— This summer, they discovered two bald eagles with two fledglings – baby birds big enough to fly – in a 6-foot diameter roost tree near Scotts Flat, said forestry technician Barbara Graham;



— then, a few days later, forestry workers found what they believed to be the eagles’ nest in a Douglas fir tree near Deer Creek, Graham said;

— and recently, Graham spotted two eagles at Scotts Flat that she believes are “resident” birds that live here year-round.




“We think they’re a brand new pair this year,” she said.

Graham was one of seven national forest workers who spent all day earlier this month scanning the skies for our national symbol as part of a mid-winter bald eagle survey sponsored by the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The other forest workers counted two eagles at Lake Spaulding – where there is a known eagle’s nest – and two more at nearby Fuller Lake. Spaulding and Fuller are located north of the intersection of Highway 20 and Interstate 80.

All told, about 10 nesting pairs of bald eagles are known to stay year-round on the Tahoe National Forest, said Tina Mark, acting forest biologist.

Statewide, about 153 pairs of year-round, resident, breeding eagles – or about 300 birds total – were found in 1999, the latest year for which figures are available, said Janet Linthicum, staff research associate for the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.

But California’s eagle population shoots way up in the winter, exceeding 1,000 birds some years.

That’s because eagles migrate here from the dark, frozen heart of interior Canada – places such as the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“You don’t want to be there. It’s frozen solid and largely dark” this time of year, Linthicum said.

Eagles “can stand the weather. But most of their prey species can’t. (Eagles) leave because the food isn’t there,” she said.

Most of the eagles migrating to California flock to the Klamath Basin, an area along the California-Oregon border which has the highest concentration of wintering eagles in the lower 48 states.

“It’s amazing. If you ever find yourself within 300 miles of (Klamath Falls) this time of year, it’s worth the drive,” Linthicum said. Crowds of people go to one roosting area each morning and watch hundreds of eagles take to the sky at dawn, she said.

The eagle was on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states in the early 1960s, ravaged by DDT. The pesticide made eagle eggs so thin-shelled and weak that only 450 nesting pairs existed in the continental United States. About 30 nests existed then in California – all in the northern third of the state.

Now, more than 5,000 nesting pairs live in the continental U.S. And the eagle was “downlisted” in 1999 from endangered status on the federal Endangered Species Act list to the less-dire threatened status.

Even though the bald eagle is becoming more common, it is always a thrill to see one, said Tahoe National Forest ecologist Kathy Van Zuuk, who organized TNF’s Jan. 8 bird count.

“It’s amazing to me that we live in such a great place where you can see something like this. There are many people in the country who never see an eagle,” Van Zuuk said.


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