Yesterday my 4-year-old joined me for the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle count at Lake Almanor. This long-term monitoring effort sends teams of surveyors out to the same, non-overlapping routes year after year to collect data on the eagles that spend the winter at Lake Almanor, Mountain Meadows, and Butt Lake. I had the luck to join a wildlife biologist who knows much more about birds than I do and could point out all that we saw.
As soon as we left the car, we were surprised to see a northern pygmy owl hidden in a willow thicket! We then set out across frozen Last Chance Marsh to look for eagles either out on the ice or perched at treeline.
As a botanist, it was fun to recalibrate the way that I see the landscape. Plants are either present or absent. Wildlife moves! While our first scans into the trees surrounding the marsh yielded nothing, we kept walking and looking, and finally spotted a few white heads perched in distant trees. Then they vanished again.
Hopefully I haven’t permanently turned my daughter off to wildlife surveys! She was a great sport as we crossed icy rivulets and hummocky meadow ground, collecting a “bouquet” of expired plants and counting tundra swans as they flew overhead. But she never could quite see the distant eagles. She let me know afterward that in the future she would be much more interested in surveying for horses or cats. Most definitely not eagles.