The moment is purely majestic. You are standing on the top of Rubicon Peak, feeling the omnipresence of Mother Nature's beauty as you gaze down toward the deep, churning blues of Lake Tahoe. A light breeze kisses your cheeks and tousles your hair. You feel the delight that comes with a deep connection to nature. And then the moment is sealed in your memories forever: Soaring on the current of northerly air streams, a bald eagle streaks past you at impressive speeds, only to come to a sudden stop created by a flap of its wings, lightly setting it down upon the top of a giant sugar pine. The bird looks down at you with knowing eyes. It is a moment of deep appreciation for a land that gives meaning to it all.
If this little story sounds just too far fetched, then it is time for you to visit Lake Tahoe. A land of incredible beauty, it is also home to the big dogs of the skies: bald eagles. In fact, our skies are becoming richer with these glorious birds as the years pass, according to new findings done by the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science.
Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS) is a wonderful organization that was co-founded by a dear old roommate of mine, Will Richardson. I was able to chat with him a while back about this impressive nonprofit and all the fantastic programs it provides to our community, like the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Count.
Each year TINS hosts the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Count, an opportunity to discover the magnitude of eagles in the area. It gathers volunteers for the event, with the hopes that with more eyes looking up, the better the count. This year's event drew the largest crew of volunteers, with more than 200 people showing up to offer their support. This unprecedented team of volunteers helped to log 42 sightings of bald eagles, a number that is nearly double that of the previous high of 27 set in 2017.
The vast number of sightings was a great surprise. But what is even more interesting is that many of the sightings of the birds were in areas of Lake Tahoe that are not known for bald eagle sightings. Volunteers found the majority of eagles around the middle areas of East and West Shores of Lake Tahoe (an area much less common for eagles). There were fewer birds sighted in areas that are usually more common, such as the local marshes.
The counting and logging of bald eagle sightings is a practice that began in 1979. The first few years of recordings showed only two to three eagles sighted. In 1980 it became an even sadder state of affairs with the numbers registering zero. TINS took over the initiative nine years ago, with year after year showing the numbers to be in the mid-twenties. Richardson believes that the numerous sightings are due to TINS initiating protective measures – something to celebrate for sure!
If you are interested in becoming more involved with TINS and adding your two cents to the birding community discussion, TINS has the perfect opportunity to do just that with its Tahoe Big Year. It's year-long competition in which participants scour the Lake Tahoe area looking for as many bird species as possible, including the bald eagle. This is a fun, free event that offers you an online platform where you can track the bird species that you see while at the same time enjoying a fun competition with fellow bird enthusiasts. At year's end the person with the most species wins the contest.
This entertaining community event is a enjoyable way to get to know the incredible Lake Tahoe birding community, whether you're a first timer or an expert, while enhancing your personal knowledge of the basin's incredibly diverse bird population. The contest offers an insider's connection to the TINS staff as well as monthly virtual get togethers, presentations and other fun opportunities to learn about the birds of Lake Tahoe. Although the Tahoe Big Year is a free event, those who are members of TINS will receive extra bonuses for their support of the nonprofit, like extra drawings for prizes such as outdoor gear and field guides.
So let's get out there and go birding! You might see more birds than you ever thought possible.
Photos courtesy of Tahoe Institute for Natural Science.