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Toree’s Stories: Winter wildlife watching at Lake Tahoe

Toree Warfield
Special to the Bonanza
Bay Area visitor, Rohit Bakshi, with a mountain chickadee.
Courtesy Rohit Bakshi |

Lake Tahoe is home to world-class ski resorts as well as several smaller, niche ski areas. Visitors often come to the Tahoe area in the wintertime to go skiing.

Whether massive snow falls from the sky or not, the resorts are equipped with snow-making equipment and the party is on.

Sometimes, however, visitors and locals might just be in the mood for a quieter, less strenuous pastime. So what is there to do?

Jacquie Chandler, geotourism consultant — geotourism being defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geography, culture, heritage, wildlife, aesthetics and local wellbeing — and founder of Sustainable Tahoe, hosts visitors in her home who travel here from all over the world.

She has hosted visitors from 40 different countries to date, also numerous people from California.

Recently, a young couple from the Bay Area, Rohit and Apoorva Bakshi, made their way to Lake Tahoe to ski and enjoyed a great day on the slopes, making good use of their lift tickets.

Slightly sore after their day of skiing, they turned to their host for suggestions on what to do next.

Jacquie invites her guests to take advantage of her local insight, attempting to do her part in developing a four-season economy for the region by actively promoting eco-friendly activities.

She suggested a day hike at the Mt. Rose Meadow area, known for its friendly and bold chickadees.

Snowshoeing in the meadow area, Rohit and Apoorva noticed other hikers enticing the chickadees to land on their hands.

It wasn’t long before Rohit had made himself a 4-inch friend, which obliged him by landing on his hand to eat the proffered walnuts.

Enchanted, they shared their story with Jacquie and vowed to return often to experience more activities that Jacquie recommends which include a horse-drawn sleigh ride at Sand Harbor, a visit to the Tree Top Adventure Park at Granlibakken Resort, ice skating at the Truckee River Regional Park, wild mustang tours at Wynema Ranch in Doyle, Calif., and cross-country skiing at the North Tahoe Regional Park in Tahoe Vista.

The inquisitive and hungry chickadees are present year-round at the Mt. Rose Meadow. Picnickers are practically guaranteed a visit by the small birds, seeking a handout.

Feeding wildlife is not recommended, but there are few people who could resist offering a treat to these lively birds.

If you do venture up to the meadows, go prepared with healthy bird snacks: raw nuts, sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed, raisins, oranges, apples, meal worms, raw oatmeal, berries and suet.

Please avoid the temptation to offer them junk food. As with children, they will eat it if it is offered.

Deborah Kelly, manager of Tahoe Vistana Inn in Tahoe Vista, had this suggestion for experiencing Lake Tahoe in the winter: Take advantage of the current low water level to take a stroll along the beach, close to the water line, where the sand is hard-packed.

Scratch a message in the sand — decorate it with pebbles and maybe some crayfish claws, if you can find some, add a few pinecones and take a picture of your creation for a lasting memento.

Ducks gather at the Tahoe Keys on the south shore in the winter, which in turn attracts eagles.

The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, based in Incline Village, coordinates the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey which takes place Friday, Jan. 9.

This survey was initiated by the National Wildlife Federation in 1979.

From 9-12 p.m. Friday, volunteers are paired up and stationed at one of 26 vantage points around the lake, mostly clustered around the lake shore.

Prior to the survey, on Thursday, Jan. 8, interested volunteers can attend a dinner which includes a presentation on eagles given by Kirk Hardie of TINS (cost $15 per person, which includes dinner, tax and gratuity but not alcoholic beverages) at the Hacienda de la Sierra in Incline Village at 6:30 p.m.

Space is limited so please RSVP to Ruby Lyon, 775-298-0066 or ruby@tinsweb.org if you’d like to attend.

Bald eagles, golden eagles, mallards, mergansers, chickadees that will eat out of your hand — a visitor to Lake Tahoe in the winter can find them all if you know where to look.

Take advantage of the skiing, and when your legs can’t take any more, loosen up those tired muscles with a quiet walk in search of Tahoe’s other treasures.

Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See the new website: saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.


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