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Efren B. Adalem/Contributed file A bald eagle brings material for a nest to a tree at Pinto Lake outside Watsonville in March. It's believed to be the first time the endangered birds have nested in Santa Cruz County in years.

WATSONVILLE -- Tis the season for counting birds and this year a bald eagle might make the list.

Dozens of volunteers will be beating the bushes from Capitola to Davenport to Boulder Creek on Saturday as part of the annual nationwide Christmas Bird Count. More will scour the sloughs and slopes of South County on New Year's Day.

It's too late to sign up for the Santa Cruz Bird Club's count Saturday, but volunteers are needed for the Moss Landing Bird Count, focusing on southern Santa Cruz County and northern Monterey County.

America's national symbol isn't what counters might expect to see, but bald eagle sightings have been reported for the past month or so in the Pajaro Valley, most recently Wednesday at Pinto Lake.

"I looked up, and, wow, it was soaring past, extremely low," said Sharon Hazel of the California Conservation Corps. "It was huge. I could see the head. The wingspan was tucked in. It's beautiful."

Bald eagles have been spotted now and then in the county, and the area is within the species' historic range. But after the population tanked in the last century due to pesticide poisoning, it has become more of a rarity. But the species is recovering, and last winter, a pair built a nest in a eucalyptus grove on the banks of Pinto Lake, a first in the records of local birders. The eagles later abandoned the nest, and some speculated it was a trial run for a young pair that probably would return.

Pajaro Valley birder Bob Ramer said he saw the nesting pair earlier in the year, but has not spotted one recently. He's heard of sightings at Pinto Lake, as well as at Struve Slough and College Lake, though.

He said since bald eagles are not common here, it's a "safe assumption" that the recent sightings mean at least one of last year's pair has returned. It's too early to say if the pair will return to try nesting again.

"If they're hanging around, they may try to nest," Ramer said. "We're still two or three months away."

Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS

IF YOU GO

MOSS LANDING BIRD COUNT

WHAT: Part of the Christmas Bird Count, an national census conducted annually during the holiday season, with volunteers working 15-mile diameter circles.
WHEN: Sign up before Dec. 25 for Jan. 1 event
WHERE: Southern Santa Cruz County and North Monterey County
CONTACT: rjramer@sbcglobal.net