Nature Nearby: Eagle season at Lake Solano

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By Leslie Allen
Special to the Express

As Thanksgiving approaches, Bald Eagles are drawn to Lake Solano for a feast. Migrating populations of Bufflehead ducks and spawning Chinook salmon provide a seasonal smorgasbord there.

Buffleheads, North America’s smallest diving ducks, migrate from northern breeding grounds to spend their winters along the Pacific coast and nearby inland waterways. It is uncommon for them to collect in large numbers, but Lake Solano often hosts several flocks of thirty or more. Likely, this is because the lake provides a smorgasbord for them as well.

These diminutive divers harvest aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, and mollusks that thrive in the lake. Buffleheads swim buoyantly, so in order to reach aquatic delicacies, they compress their feathers to squeeze out the air, then leap forward and plunge downward. With wings clamped closely to their bodies, they use their feet to swim.

At the end of a dive, they pop to the surface like a cork…and that is what the eagles wait for. Swooping from above, eagles force the ducks to hide beneath the surface. Forcing repeated dives exhausts the ducks, making them easier to snatch when they bob back up. Eagles are most successful when they work in tandem to tire their prey.

On Lake Solano, Buffleheads are most commonly seen near the diversion dam, between Pleasants Creek and Lake Solano Park, and also upstream in the stretch between the campground and first island. Not surprisingly, Bald Eagles are most often spotted perched in trees overlooking these same areas.

Putah Creek’s endangered Chinook salmon yield an easy meal for Bald Eagles. Noted for their fishing abilities, the eagles capitalize on large salmon in the shallows and fresh carcasses along the banks of the creek. Eagles are not the only species to benefit from salmon. These anadromous fish accumulate marine nutrients from their time spent in the ocean and transfer these important nutrients to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems far inland when they die after spawning. The importance of salmon carcasses to plants, insects, and carnivores like eagles has been well documented. Spawning salmon have been seen from the Winters footbridge.

Several local organizations are working diligently to restore the Putah Creek salmon run, once again setting the table for Nature’s feast.

For more information about the Putah Creek watershed, please visit putahcreekcouncil.org.

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