Two bald eagles are wowing bird enthusiasts at Lake Natoma, including one nature-loving photographer from Carmichael who has captured stunning images of the birds.
Susan Maxwell Skinner has been busy photographing the Lake Natoma eagles after hearing from others that the white-headed raptors were in the area.
“It’s been quite the quest,” she said. “Last Saturday, I spent 12 hours standing in one spot at Lake Natoma without water, food, shelter or a toilet.”
She has scoured the trails, lakeside and woodlands for the birds. She said that Negro Bar across the river from Folsom’s Sutter Street is a good place to spot them.
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“However, there is no easy way,” she said. “They are enormous birds, but it is a huge area. If you are lucky, they get close to you twice a day.”
At the closest, she has been 30 to 40 feet away from the birds. The good news, according to Skinner, is that there is no way to confuse them with red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites or turkey vultures.
“They are huge for one thing,” she said. “Imagine Vlade Divac’s wingspan.”
Judy Farah, who has lived on the bluffs above Lake Natoma near Negro Bar for 14 years, said she was thrilled when she saw a bald eagle on Easter Sunday.
“I love raptors and birds of prey and seeing them on the American River Parkway,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to see a bald eagle in the wild, but thought I’d have to go to Oregon or Alaska. I couldn't believe when I went for a walk on the trail and saw this big bird with a white tail on it flying by.”
Capt. Mark Jeter, a warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he has received other reports of eagle sightings at Lake Natoma. While long inhabitants of Folsom Lake, eagles at Lake Natoma are more rare.
“Lake Natoma could be a relatively new thing,” said Jeter. “The species is doing very well throughout the continent. They are expanding into areas where they have not been in a long time.”
Eagles have been making a comeback for the past several decades, since the 1972 banning of agricultural spraying of DDT, a pesticide that made their eggs fragile. Jeter said it’s not out of the question that the eagles could nest next year at Lake Natoma.
“We have eagles that nest very near to homes,” said Jeter. “They become habituated to people and activity. We have had golden eagles nest right near construction sites in El Dorado County.”
Skinner, a native of New Zealand and longtime Carmichael resident, said word is spreading fast among parkway visitors as to the presence of America’s national bird so close to suburban homes, Highway 50 – and just 15 miles as the eagle flies from downtown Sacramento.
“Everybody is starting to know,” she said. “When I was out there last Saturday, I guess 1 in 10 hikers said ‘Great camera. Have you seen the balds?’ People seem elated that of all places they have chosen the American River so close to Sacramento to start their family.”
As a young writer, Skinner moved to England to cover the royal family as a freelance reporter, including the births in the 1980s of Princes William and Harry. She is also a professional singer.
She said the female eagle has an all-white head and tail. The male has some vestiges of his dark juvenile plumage around his eyes, neck and tail.
“So in flight, you can tell which is which,” she said. “They are not constantly tending a nest. Nevertheless, they are a very committed couple. If you see one, the other is never more than a whistle away. They are usually flying around, cruising and hanging out together.”
Skinner, who describes herself as a nature freak, has been hearing of bald eagle sightings from acquaintances close to Sacramento over the last three or four years. About five years ago, she was at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery photographing the spawning salmon when a group of Audubon members excitedly told her about a nearby eagle.
A few months ago, Skinner said, a couple of bald eagles were spotted at William Pond Park in Carmichael. She wonders if they are the same couple she captured with her camera at Lake Natoma.
Bald eagles have been spotted at Folsom Lake at least back to the mid-1990s.
Rich Preston, state parks superintendent for Folsom and Natoma, said there have been public reports of bald eagles in the Lake Natoma area since March, but staff has not yet confirmed the sightings. He said it is not unusual to see them in and around Lake Natoma or Folsom Lake.
So far, there have been no nesting bald eagles at Lake Natoma, he said. However, Folsom Lake has produced some eaglets.
“We have about three active nests around Folsom Lake and have had fledglings each year for the last several years,” said Preston.
Skinner has published a first-person account about the Lake Natoma eagles in the Carmichael Times.