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Bald Eagle Season Begins at Cachuma Lake

Naturalist-guided tours to view habitat and wildlife are available

Nov. 1 marks the beginning of bald eagle season at Cachuma Lake.

Southward migrating bald eagles pass through or stay the winter to hunt, roost and rule the lake, often into early March.

Cachuma Lake was created by damming the Santa Ynez River to create a drinking water reservoir for the South Coast and Santa Ynez Valley. No one anticipated that it would create a critical nesting territory for bald eagles, in addition to becoming the annual wintering grounds of migratory eagles.

The lake’s rich and varied habitats support such fish as large- and small-mouth bass, crappie, bluegill, carp and catfish. This abundant fishery, together with regular rainbow trout plants, is a terrific draw for eagles in winter, who migrate from the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon and head as far south as Baja, California.

The eagles may hunt for themselves or extend a backhanded compliment to the greater prowess of the osprey as they steal the osprey’s catch. This fall, immature bald eagles have already begun to show up. Our resident pair of nesting bald eagles also have resumed their fall routine of sitting together at favored perches and soaring together over the lake, presumably for the sole purpose of renewing the pair bond.

The Eagle Cruise is the best way to view eagles at Cachuma Lake. Park naturalists who guide and narrate the two-hour cruises have daily exposure to the lake’s landscape and its treasures. Remote bays that reach into the foothills are dotted with favorite bald eagle perches and provide avenues to upland wildlife habitat that can sometimes offer spectacular surprises.

As the tour vessel moves discretely along the lake perimeter, guests may view mule deer browsing in the oak woodlands, or on the grassy flats only a few paces from shore, great blue herons stalking the shallows, osprey plunging into the lake to catch trout, or red-tailed hawks soaring overhead in courtship displays. A great variety of waterfowl take advantage of Cachuma’s depths and shallows. Underwater canyons 70 to 100 feet deep provide ideal feeding areas for such diving birds as loons, scaup, goldeneye and grebes. Shallow deltas are perfect for mallards, gadwall, pintails, hooded mergansers, wood ducks, northern shovellers and teal. For migratory birds, the lake is an indispensable inland body of water in Santa Barbara County.

The public can view eagles and other wildlife on naturalist-guided Eagle Cruises from November through February, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday through Sunday, and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Guarantee seats by making reservations at 805.686.5050 Monday through Friday or 805.686.5055 Saturdays and Sundays.

Cruise fees are $15 for adults, and $7 for kids (ages 4 to 12; please, no children younger than 4). The park entry is $8 per vehicle. Take Highway 101 to Highway 154 to reach Cachuma Lake, just 20 minutes inland from Santa Barbara and Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley.

— Liz Gaspar is a park naturalist for Santa Barbara County Parks.

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