BASS LAKE — "Some of us fall by the wayside and some of us soar
to the stars," the wise old baboon Rafiki sings to the animals
in the Walt Disney musical, "The Lion King.” The Elton John
and Tim Rice song, "The Circle of Life" says it all.
it appears that one who has recently fallen by the wayside
is female Bald eagle Number 31, the great raptor who adopted
Bass Lake and in turn was adopted by tourists and locals alike.
Number 31 is missing and presumed dead. That's the news that
is difficult to take. But the circle of life as illustrated
by Bald eagles continues at Bass Lake.
to Laura Colton, a biologist with the California Department
of Fish and Game, an unmarked adult female appears to have
taken the place of Number 31 and is demonstrating a strong
pair bond with the remaining male.
indicated in articles in the Sierra Star ("The eagle has landed,”
May 28, 1999; “Eaglet experiencing teen's growing pains,”
July 21, 1999 and "Eagles work double-duty,” June 23, 2000),
the story began in 1993 when Number 31, as a two-week-old
baby, was collected from a nest in Northern California and
placed into a foster nest on Santa Catalina Island, one of
the Channel Islands just off the southern California mainland.
This was part of a project of the Institute for Wildlife Studies
(IWS) which involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California
Department of Fish and Game, and the Santa Catalina Island
Conservancy. Its long-term purpose was to reintroduce Bald
eagles to the Channel Islands.
the baby eaglet fledged from the foster nest and before she
left the island on her own, IWS personnel placed orange-red
wing-markers on her, to allow for long-term identification
from a distance. She was assigned Number 31. The two
markers, patageal tags, were located on the wing patagium,
or between what would appear to be the shoulder and the wrist.
Number 31 was also given a colored leg band and a federal
Fish and Wildlife Service leg band.
1995, Number 31 was spotted in Washington state along the
Columbia River. Her numbers, as seen on the wing-tags, absolutely
identified the bird. And then, in the summer of 1998,
Number 31 was seen in adult plumage here at Bass Lake. She
was with another adult, adding sticks to a nest, probably
what experts call a “housekeeping” nest. But, because it was
late in the breeding season, the nesting was not successful.
anticipated, Number 31 and her mate returned to Bass Lake
in 1999. They nested and hatched one chick.) It was the first
eaglet ever successfully produced by an eagle released on
Santa Catalina Island and to the knowledge of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, was the first eaglet to be born at Bass
Lake in recent times. Bass Lake is ideal for bald eagles because
the waters don't freeze and there is plenty of fish and water
birth was so exciting that Steve Welch, executive vice president
of The Pines Resort, moved the traditional start of the summer
season fireworks from the Memorial Day weekend so as not to
distress the growing baby. It was feared that the nestling
could become frightened by the loud noise and prematurely
jump from the nest, causing serious injury or death. Or, even
worse, the noise could have kept the parents away from the
nest and their still dependent eaglet. And, as expected,
by the July 4th fireworks, the eaglet was old enough to not
be disturbed by the festive celebration.
2000, the pair of eagles returned to Bass Lake and hatched
two eaglets around the end of March. In 2001, two more eaglets
were born. The fireworks change remained in effect. This year,
the bald eagle pair including the larger female No. 31 was
spotted incubating eggs in February. But by the end of March
2002, with no hatchlings, it was clear that the nesting attempt
then on April 11, local bald eagle expert Mike Smith, a graduate
student at California State University at Fresno, observed
from a boat that both of the two perching eagles were unmarked.
This was confirmed on April 12 by Ms. Colton. It is believed
the male has bonded with a new, unattached female. The pair
is being observed to see if they will nest.
bald eagle is native only to North America. In 1940, experts
feared this national emblem would be hunted to extinction
so Congress enacted the Bald Eagle Protection Act, making
it illegal to kill, harass or possess the birds or to sell
them or their parts. By the 1960's due mainly to development
and exploitation, there were fewer than 450 nesting pairs
in the contiguous United States and the bald eagle was put
on the endangered species list.
affecting breeding lowered the population even more until
the ban of DDT in 1972. Gradually from that point, the population
began to grow. The bald eagle was moved from the endangered
species list several years ago, and now is on a list of threatened
species, where it is continually being monitored.
Colton says no one knows what happened to No. 31. "She was
a valuable bird" she says, as No. 31 was healthy and producing
viable eggs. The bald eagle is long lived and mates for life.
All agencies request that if anyone finds either of No. 31's
tags or has information about the eagle, that it be given
to any U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
California Department of Fish and Game, or California Land
the request of the U.S. Forest Service, the County of Madera
has posted "no parking" signs in the nesting area, a quarter
of a mile stretch of road near the Forks campground. All wildlife
and forest agencies are requesting that people not stop or
congregate in that area. For the more hardy, the soaring eagles
can be seen in the early morning from some of the trails around
Bass Lake. Otherwise, the best viewing places are from docks,
especially at The Pines Village which is directly across from
the nesting area. Mr. Welch says there are binoculars which
can be borrowed at Ducey's Bar and Grill and a pay-per-view
telescope has been installed.
the "Bass Lake Queen", The Pines Village paddleboat, has a
one hour cruise every Saturday. The crew is versed in eagle
history and lore and sometimes the majestic birds can be seen
during the 3 P.M. voyage. The cruise will start daily on May
25th. Mr. Welch also assures that this year's fireworks schedule
will remain eagle friendly in case the new pair produce a
chick. Fireworks will be Thursday, July 4 and August 30, the
Friday of Labor Day weekend.