Bald eagles in Santa Cruz? A trip to Loch Lomond can provide magic views of the birds of prey
Bald eagles first made an appearance at the reservoir in 2014, when the two adults showed up. They have been observed year-round ever since. The first juvenile was spotted in 2015, and a second this year.
The Loch Lomond reservoir, nestled in the mountains near Lompico, holds up to 2.8 billion gallons of water, used to supply the city of Santa Cruz. These days, the reservoir is also home to some special guests: four bald eagles.
The iconic birds of prey first made an appearance at the reservoir in 2014, when the two adults showed up. They have been observed year-round ever since. The first juvenile was spotted in 2015, and the second this year.
“It’s possible they have a nest but they’re hard to find,” even though they can be up to six feet in diameter, said Judie Cole, a city of Santa Cruz ranger who works at the reservoir. Cole said it’s possible the group of birds is a family, but no one knows for sure.
The eagles feed on fish (the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the reservoir with thousands of pounds of trout every year), but they’ll eat “anything,” Cole said. “Amphibians, reptiles. I found a dead seagull that was probably [killed by] an eagle.”
The eagles mainly stay on the west side of the reservoir, which is protected watershed land owned by the city. The area is so strictly protected that it’s incredibly pristine, Cole said, which makes it popular with all kinds of animals in addition to the eagles.
A wildlife camera in that area recently captured six different mountain lions in 30 days, including two mothers with cubs. The water itself is also teeming with wildlife — osprey, turtles, geese, Merganser ducks, and mountain bass so big they prey on ducklings. Cole has even seen a five-foot rattlesnake swim across the lake.
All of this can be found just 30 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, yet Cole said it’s “not uncommon” that locals don’t even know the reservoir exists, and could spend their whole life in Santa Cruz without visiting it.
Ranger Cole’s tips for spotting the Loch Lomond eagles
> Morning is best
> Get out on a boat
> Be quiet
> Be patient
> Keep your eyes on the western edge of the reservoir
> Adult eagles“bald” heads make them easy to spot, but the juvenile’s brown color means they blend into the trees — until they take off in flight. Their six-foot wingspan gives them away, so keep an eye out for large birds of any color.
Loch Lomond is one of Santa Cruz’s natural gems. Click here for details about how to visit.
Loch Lomond is an important source of water for the city of Santa Cruz, serving as a “savings account“ storing water. Right now the reservoir is about 70% full but dropping quickly, because there has been so little rainfall. When the city relies solely on the reservoir for water supply, the waterline can drop by as much as a tenth of a foot a day, Cole said.
If it drops much further now the reservoir will be closed to visitors because the low water levels make it harder to access, as the water gets so low that the boat ramps are close to ending in mud. Cole said this could happen before the end of the summer.
So if you want to see one of Santa Cruz’s resident bald eagles make your way out to Loch Lomond, on a quiet morning, as soon as you can.