American Bald Eagles Winter in Burnet County
Some of the Winter Texans who flock to the Highland Lakes actually do just that — flock. Many American bald eagles call Burnet County home from October to March, perching high in the craggy canyons of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Buchanan. At least two nesting couples have been spotted returning each year to hatch and raise their young in the area.
Someone who knows the best places to spot wintering eagles is Tim Mohan, a guide for Vanishing Texas River Cruises.
“We get close enough where you could hit them with a baseball,” said Mohan, though neither he nor Vanishing Texas River Cruises Captain Shawn Devaney would ever do such a thing.
These two nature enthusiasts and the other crew members revere the birds, keeping track of their numbers and looking out for any problems that could jeopardize their safety. Any birds that appear sick, they report to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for possible rescue.
The cruise operation has been taking visitors up the river for more than 35 years on double-decker boats named The Texas Eagle. Mohan has been telling the story of the eagles on the cruise for 16 years. A resident of Lake Buchanan since 1978, he has seen the population of both people and eagles in the area grow, wane, and grow again over the years. Though the official eagle count has dropped in the last year, Mohan said there are still plenty to behold.
“They are always very good about flying to the boat and around the boat,” Mohan said. “They perch on trees in the cliffs and are easy to spot. Even people with only camera phones have gotten good pictures of them.”
EAGLES BY LAND
You don’t have to be on a boat to spot eagles in Burnet County. Visit the observation deck behind the Buchanan Dam/Inks Lake Chamber of Commerce to see one of the two known nesting pairs in the area.
Visitor center manager Steve Buchanan can point right to the birds’ nest, which is as big as a picnic table. The couple adds to the nest each year.
“Last year (2019), two eaglettes were hatched in this nest,” Buchanan said. “Supposedly, those have returned. We have a lot of juveniles in this area, but they don’t get their white tail and white head until four or five years old. It’s harder to spot the juveniles.”
Vanloads of birders are known to stop at the visitor center to take their turns behind binoculars to check on Ma and Pa Eagle. Another nest is on private property off of Texas 29 between Burnet and Buchanan Dam. The original nest, which was in a tree right on the highway, blew down in a storm several years ago. The birds rebuilt, but farther from traffic and prying eyes.
The birds upriver, which are spotted on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise, are not known to be nesting eagles. They come for the food, water, and spectacular winter weather before heading back north in the spring.
Vanishing Texas River Cruises is located at 443 Waterway Lane in Burnet. Call 512-756-6986 for more information.
Buchanan Dam/Inks Lake Chamber of Commerce is located at 19611 Texas 29 East, just west of the Inks Lake bridge. Call 512-793-2803 for more information.