Why Lake Van Norden is so special to the Donner Summit Valley

We had an amazing encounter on Lake Van Norden this week that really brings home why the lake is so special to the Donner Summit Valley. In this incredible year where we have already been kayaking on the lake twice, we were rewarded this week with a wildlife moment that will not be possible in the future if the lake and wetlands is drained.


See that little dot. That’s an eagle.

A couple of days ago we loaded the kayaks into the pickup and headed down for our second paddle out on Van Norden Lake. That in itself is pretty special in March. As we started paddling east out into the lake from the spillway we spotted a couple of raptors skimming over the lake. At first I thought it was a couple of early Ospreys out fishing. As we got closer and got the binocs on them we were thrilled to see it was a pair of Bald Eagles, an adult and a juvenile. As we paddled out they flew up into a couple of tall pines to rest after their fishing. I got a couple of those “see that dot in the tree, that’s an eagle” shots which is what I usually get.

We continued out to the north end of the back bay area of the lake to check on whether the Western Toads had started their annual mating season in the shallow waters of that area of the lake. To our surprise, they had. We saw many toad heads bobbing on the surface and lots of courtship action, but that’s another story. As we were watching the toads all of a sudden this huge shape dove out of the air above us and scooped up a young fish about 30 yards from us. It was the juvenile Eagle. It proceeded to land on a rock about 10 yards from us and eat its catch. It seemed to be completely oblivious to us despite our close proximity. Needless to say, I was happily snapping away as it calmly devoured its meal and then sunned itself on the rock. It stayed on that rock for about ten minutes preening itself. I felt like the nature paparazzi.





When you bring up the point that majestic animals like the Bald Eagle, Osprey and White Pelican will no longer come to the valley to fish, you will hear some people say “well those animals are not endangered”. My reply is that like the old addage that all politics are local, the same goes for the natural environment. Those animals are very much endangered in the Donner Summit Valley right now and will become “extinct” there without the lake habitat that provides the fish they live on. Knowing that these animals may be living somewhere else does not replace the thrill of encountering them close up and personal right in our own backyard.

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