Publicity resulting from the news last month that a bald eagle had laid two eggs in Big Bear Lake brought out 80 volunteers for the January count, significantly more than recent outings. Five eagles were spotted—two adults and three juveniles—and if all goes well, the eggs will hatch after about 35 days, right around the February 10 count. Even more interesting, the mother just might be the first bald eagle ever hatched in Big Bear.
“We think these are the first eggs laid by this young female,” said Robin Eliason, Forest Service biologist. “We do not know for sure because she’s not banded, but some of us are convinced that the female is the first bald eagle recorded to be hatched in the San Bernardino Mountains, which was in 2012.”
And now the hatchling has eggs about to hatch! The parents are year-round Big Bear residents, unusual because bald eagles typically only winter here before returning to northern summer habitats of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, even Canada and Alaska. As northern waters freeze over ice entombs fish and ducks fly south, so the two favorite foods for bald eagles become unavailable. Wintering here makes perfect sense: Big Bear is right along the Pacific Migratory Flyaway, a virtual bird freeway, which brings lots of ducks and coots.
Plus the lake rarely freezes over so fish are available. As an incentive, intelligence-challenged coots freeze right into the water overnight, making for easy eagle pickin’s locals term “cootsicles.”
Since bald eagles will abandon nests if disturbed, Forest Service has closed the area around the nest through June 22, the duration of the nest season. “We’re very concerned about people trying to get close for photographs, viewing, etc.,” Eliason said. Besides the eagle nest cam installed by nonprofit group Friends of the Big Bear Valley in 2016 has the best view online at http://www.iws.org/bigbear_youtube.html.
The February 10 count is another opportunity to view bald eagles and afterwards there’s a Bald Eagle Celebration 11 a.m. at Discovery Center that features a bird from Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Seeing an eagle from just feet away helps visitors really appreciate the piercing eyes and razor-sharp talons! Eliason presents fascinating facts and slideshow on Big Bear’s favorite winter visitor and admission is free.
“This is part of the story of bald eagle recovery nationwide,” Eliason noted. “Only a few decades ago, bald eagles were considered an endangered species.”
Discovery Center’s popular Animal Tracking continue on Feb. 10 and 17. Learn about and see tracks of local animals from large predators like coyotes, back bears and cougars to smaller mammals such as raccoons, chipmunks and bobcats. Participants also make their own casts of popular animal tracks. Cost is $5 for the 30 minute programs, which run continuously from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Subsequent programs are March 10 and 24.
Guests also make tracks during Guided Snowshoe Eco-Tours if enough white stuff ever arrives. Venture out into the forest each weekend with naturalists who lead tours into Big Bear backcountry in search of signs of wildlife while enjoying winter recreation at the same time. It’s amazing how quiet the woods are when they’re blanketed by snow, which acts like a sound absorber…hear each step break through a thin layer of crust amidst the peace and tranquility of the woods.
Learn how to snowshoe properly; if you can walk, you can snowshoe! Snowshoe tours are from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.-noon weekends till March 4, snow conditions permitting. Cost is $30, $25 ages 8-16, which includes snowshoe rental, poles, light snack and water. Advance reservations required; reserve your spot at www.snowshoebigbear.eventbrite.com.
And if the snow doesn’t come, kids can make tracks in the Nature Discovery Zone, where there’s hands-on activities and unstructured play areas just for youngsters. Nine interactive stations encourage outdoor exploration Plus there’s an adjacent half-mile interpretive loop, stroller-friendly for a forest walk the whole family can enjoy.
Every Saturday at 1 and 2 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. and noon, there’s free Nature Walks led by naturalists around Discovery Center’s forested grounds. Each 30-minute adventure presents local flora and fauna and is fun for the whole family.
Call Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 382-2790.