Sunday will mark the beginning of bald eagle season at Santa Barbara County’s Cachuma Lake.
North America’s stateliest wild birds come to winter in Southern California, and, at Cachuma Lake, they stay through March to feast on trout and waterfowl, socialize and give a great show, if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time — on the lake during an Eagle Cruise.
Eagle Cruises are the best way to view eagles at Cachuma Lake. Park naturalists who guide and narrate the two-hour cruises have intimate knowledge of the lake’s landscape, its hidden treasures and secrets, such as the remote bays that reach into the San Rafael Mountain foothills. These places are dotted with favorite bald eagle perches because of the isolation and abundance of food. The lake’s rich and varied habitats support rainbow trout, large and smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish. The abundant fishery, together with regular trout plants, is a draw for eagles that migrate from Canada, Washington and Oregon.
Cruise participants also have regular encounters with mule deer browsing in the oak woodlands, great blue herons stalking the shallows for snacks and osprey plunging into the water to catch trout. Underwater canyons 175 feet deep provide ideal feeding territories for such diving birds as loons and western grebes. Shallow deltas are perfect for pintails, hooded mergansers, woodducks, northern shovelers and others. For migratory birds, the lake is considered an indispensable inland body of water and a key stopping point in California.
Cachuma Lake was created by damming the Santa Ynez River in 1950 to create a 100-year drinking water reservoir for the greater Santa Barbara area. While the plans allowed for a recreational fishing facility, no one anticipated that it also would create a critical nesting site for bald eagle breeding pairs who have begun to repopulate Southern California, as well as an annual wintering ground for other migratory eagles.
The naturalist-guided Eagle Cruises are conducted November through February from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays through Sundays, with additional cruises from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
To make reservations, call 805.686.5050 Monday through Friday and 805.686.5055 on Saturdays and Sundays. Cruise fees are $15 for adults and $7 for kids (age 12 or younger); no children younger than age 4. The park entry is $8 per vehicle.
— William Boyer is the communications director for Santa Barbara County.