Eagle count is a midwinter tradition | SierraSun.com

Eagle count is a midwinter tradition

Dan Thrift/Sun News ServiceRena Escobedo, left, and Cheva Heck, both with the U.S. Forest Service, survey the horizon for eagles at Cove East during the annual count of the birds that was held Friday morning.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” Carefully scanning the Lake Tahoe Basin’s evergreens and snow-covered mountain peaks through binoculars, dozens of volunteers and government employees set out to find a bird with a white cap of its own Friday morning.

Twenty-four U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, Nevada Department of Wildlife and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency employees, joined by 10 local volunteers, stationed themselves at 26 locations around the lake in search of bald eagles.

The monitoring effort mirrors similar undertakings nationwide that began Jan. 2 and will continue until Jan. 16; it’s part of an annual midwinter bald eagle survey.

Although the nation’s symbol of freedom was taken off the endangered species list in June because of its increasing numbers, the annual survey still is used to gather information about the birds, according to a news release from the U.S. Geologic Survey.

“The survey is a unique source of long-term, baseline data and is especially useful in monitoring bald eagles following their removal from the U.S. Endangered Species List,” U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Karen Steenhof said in the news statement. “The midwinter survey provides information on both breeding and nonbreeding segments of the population at a potentially limiting time of the year.”

Data from the basin will be sent to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Predatory Bird Research Group, which forwards information to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency coordinating the national survey this year.

In order for data to be included in the national survey, surveys need to be conducted in a particular area for at least three years and follow certain protocols, according to Janet Linthicum, a research associate with the group.

While she couldn’t say for certain, Linthicum was “pretty sure” data from Friday’s observations in the basin would be included in the national midwinter survey, noting the length of time basin agencies have monitored the birds at Lake Tahoe.

Government agencies have taken winter counts of bald eagles in the basin for the past 26 years, according to Rena Escobedo, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey announced the results of a new analysis of midwinter count data from 1986 through 2005.

The analysis shows counts of wintering bald eagles increasing nationwide at a rate of 1.7 percent per year.

Increases in counts over the 20-year period were highest in the nation’s northeast, with a 6 percent increase each year.

In contrast, counts in the southwest portion of the country decreased 1.2 percent each year over 20 years.

Although official results from this year’s survey in the basin were not immediately available, six individual bald eagles were reported from monitors after 19 of 26 locations had reported in by Friday afternoon.

A total of six bald eagles were spotted during last year’s survey in the basin, Escobedo said.

For those interested in catching a glimpse of the birds on the South Shore, Escobedo recommended area beaches still accessible through the snowpack.

“Regan Beach would probably be a good spot,” Escobedo said.

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