What is is there to do at Quartz Mountain Nature Park in the winter? A lot actually. In winter Quartz becomes a “wildlife watching wonderland”. Now most of the animals are present year-round, though there are some special winter guests like the Bald Eagle and White Pelican. It is just that in winter they become more noticeable for a combination of reasons. There are less people in the park to disturb them. There are less leaves on the trees to conceal them and the animals are concentrating more on getting enough to eat, to meet the increased energy demands of staying warm.
So what wildlife can you watch at Quartz Mountain. As previously mentioned there are both seasonal wildlife residents to view and permanent residents. The Bald Eagle is definitely the “star attraction”. Bald Eagles arrive in mid to late fall when the temperatures begin to drop in their northern breeding grounds. They fly south to find water that doesn’t freeze over. Bald Eagles are primarily fish eaters and they can’t eat fish if their lake or river is a solid sheet of ice.
To see Bald Eagles you have to be aware of weather conditions. They can’t put on an extra jacket if the wind picks up they have to get out of the chilling wind. If the wind is out of the south the Bald Eagles are more likely to be found on the north sides of the mountain and/or trees. So at QMNP, Lodge cove and Hick’s Mountain boat ramp are excellent places to start your search. If the wind is out of the north the south face of Twin Peaks or Government Slough (the canyon behind the lodge that runs west-east and is underwater when Lake Altus-Lugert is full).
The White Pelican is another big attraction and “big” is the right word. These birds are almost five feet tall and have a wingspan of eight and a half to nine feet”. Bald Eagles for comparison are only about three feet tall. Eagles seem bigger as they are frequently observed perching in trees. White Pelicans spend more time in and on the water, paddling about with their long necks, fold almost primly.
White Pelicans are also fish eaters and are found near water. While Bald eagles catch their fish in fast “dives and snatches”, White Pelicans less showy. White Pelicans dip their uge beaks and scoop up fish while swimming in the water. Often they work in groups feasting on schools of fish. Bald Eagles have been known to dive into a pod of swimming Pelicans, snatch a fish and scatter the bigger birds at the same time.
If you’re wanting to watch either of these two special winter guests, dress warm. It always seems colder on or near the water as the dampness seeps in and chills more. It is never “too cold” to watch these birds, provided the water has not frozen over. In fact, the colder the weather the better your chances of seeing these birds because they will be needing to eat more! More on winter wildlife watching next week.