Bald eagles, nature walks and snowshoe tours are all on tap during outdoor explorations courtesy of Big Bear Discovery Center in December. Sometimes the outdoors even comes in, like when spotting scopes are trained on bald eagle nests across the lake.
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 teaches local flora and fauna along with interesting historical facts and is fun for the whole family.
Guided Snowshoe Eco-Tours begin Dec. 16, conditions permitting, as naturalists lead outings into the fluffy stuff. Explore Big Bear backcountry in search of signs of winter 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.
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 Sundays from 9 a.m.-noon. weekends till March 4, snow conditions permitting. Cost is $30, $25 ages 8-16, which includes snowshoe rental, poles, snacks and water.
Bald Eagles winter in Big Bear each year and Big Bear Discovery Center is a great place to learn about America’s national symbol. Learn how the Forest Service is monitoring the local population. The popular bald eagle tours of years past are gone from the winter schedule, so to see birds in the wild volunteer for monthly bald eagle counts, including the season’s first Dec. 9 outing, when participants are directed to favored eagle hangouts.
Otherwise visitors who want to spot eagles in the wild are on their own, but don’t worry: seeing Big Bear’s bald eagles is relatively easy. Look for high dead-top trees with a clear vantage point of the lake. The birds typically return to the very same perch trees each year.
Standing two to three feet tall, juvenile birds are distinguished by brown-speckled heads and tail. They don’t develop their signature snowy white crowns and tail till they become adults, about age four or five. While Big Bear’s winters seem harsh to some, for eagles they are relatively mild compared to that in their 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.” Subsequent counts are slated for January 13, February 10 and March 10. By April most eagles return to northern homes though Big Bear does have its own nesting pair.
Or just let an eagle come to you. Bald Eagle Celebrations follow each count at 11 a.m. at the Discovery Center and feature 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! Forest Service biologist Robin Elliason presents fascinating facts on Big Bear’s favorite winter visitor and admission is free. There’s also a bald eagle nest cam.
Call Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 866-3437.