About Lake County




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Playful otters show up around lake

Lake County has an abundance of wild animals and they are commonly seen throughout the county. There have been a number of mountain lion and bobcat sightings in recent weeks and even a rare sighting of a white deer. A number of lakeside residents are also reporting seeing a lot of otters on their docks. There are even a pair of otters residing in the vicinity of Library Park in Lakeport.

Otters have been in the lake for thousands of years. According to wildlife biologists, the otters in Clear Lake are river otters and probably migrated to Clear Lake by way of Cache Creek. The creek empties into the Yolo Bypass, which holds a large population of otters. Otters are very territorial and as ! the population in an area grows, a few otters are forced to leave and establish new territory. Otters can now be found in Clear Lake and Indian Valley Reservoir as well as at Upper Blue Lake and Lake Pillsbury.

Otters are the largest member of the Mustelidae family, which includes mink, skunks, weasels and badgers. They live about 15 years in the wild. An adult otter weighs up to 25 pounds and can be as much as 4 feet long. The head is small and round, the eyes and ears are also small, and they have webbed feet. Their body is perfect for swimming. The mother takes complete responsibility for raising the young. The adult male is called a boar, the female a sow, and the young are called pups.



Otters spend most of their life either in or around water. Their dense fur protects them from cold water and when they dive their heart rate slows to less than 20 beats per minute, which allows them to conserve oxygen and stay submerged for up to eight minutes. They are incredibly fast swimmers and have little trouble catching fish. At Clear Lake one of their primary foods is the crawdad.

The docks in the Lakeport area are often loaded with crawdad shells. What happens is that the otters dive and bring up crawdads and then climb up on a dock to eat them.

At one time trappers just about decimated the otter population because of their luxurious fur, but they have been making a comeback in ! recent years.

Otters are playful critters and are enormously curious. Fishermen often report seeing otters swimming around their boats. A few years ago a bass fisherman said an otter climbed into his boat and went to sleep on the rear platform. The otter stayed there for about 15 minutes before waking up and diving over the side.


Clear Lake is home to another animal that closely resembles the otter and is often mistaken for one. That animal is the mink.

The mink has the same features as the otter but is much smaller. It’s often found al! ong the rocky shores at Buckingham and in Soda Bay. There is e! ven a mink living in the rocks at Library Park in Lakeport.

A mink is one of the fiercest animals in the wild pound per pound. It preys on ducks and small animals such as rabbits and mice. They are cannibals and if agitated a mother has been known to eat her young. In the days when trapping mink was popu-lar, a mink would eat another mink that was caught in a trap.

At one time the mink was prized for its fur. There are even commercial mink ranches where they are raised solely for their pelts.

I trapped mink as a youngster growing up in Northern Minnesota. In those days a prime mink pelt would bring up to $40, which was a princely sum.

I bought my school clothes by trapping mink, muskrat and beaver.

Along ! with the many species of birds, the otter and mink are two other examples of the diversity of wildlife found at Clear Lake.

Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee,


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Quail in plentiful supply in county

The quail hunting season in Lake and Mendocino counties opens Saturday. Quail are a popular game bird among local hunters, one reason being there are thousands of acres on public land that offer excellenthunting. Lake and Mendocino counties hold two species of quail, California and mountain. Both can be found in abundance throughout the two counties, but California quail are the most popular. In fact, quail can be seen daily throughout the urban areas of both counties.

The California quail is the official state bird and is widely distributed throughout the state. The male is about 9 1/2 to 11 inches long and is more colorful than the female. He has a black throat circled with a white line, and the top of his head is dark brown with a plume of short and black curved feathers set at a cocky angle. A chestnut patch is in the middle of the stomach. His breast is scaled and his flanks are streaked with white. The female is mostly brown and the breast is scaled. The female does have a plume, but it is not as showy as the male’s. The average weight is approximately 6-7 ounces for both sexes.

Unlike many other species of wild birds, quail are monogamous in that the male takes only one female for the season and assists in raising the young. They are always found near water and will be found mainly in the lower foothills. The average size of a covey for California quail is from 10-12 birds and they are considered the noisiest of all the quail. They are constantly chirping and peeping while feeding. If disturbed, they give an alarm call and after being scattered they will give an assembly call for the covey to regroup. Hunters often use this constant chattering to locate the birds.

My favorite quail is the mountain quail, which is also native to Lake and Mendocino counties. Unlike their California quail cousins, mountain quail have much smaller coveys, averaging from six to eight birds, and they are much larger, averaging 8-10 ounces. The males and females closely resemble eachother and can be identified by the long and slender erect plume feather ontheir head. Unlike other quail that migrate by flying to lower elevations, most mountain quail walk. Some have been known to walk as far as 20 miles from their summer grounds to their wintering area.


A ready source of water is critical for quail to survive. They will gather around a spring or creek and spend a good part of the day there. When there is a drought, as we have had the past five years, the quail population decreases significantly. Like all wildlife, quail have a short life expectancy. Less than 25 percent of the quail hatched will live a year. Disease, lack of food and predation by hawks, eagles and other predators takes a tremendous toll of the birds.

The Mendocino National Forest is a prime area for both California and mountain quail. The Lake Pillsbury area holds mostly California quail but there are a few coveys of mountain quail scattered through the area. The prime locations for the mountain quail are at the higher elevations such as Hull and Snow mountains. Parts of the Mendocino National Forest are still

closed because of the recent wildfires. Hunters can go the Mendocino National Forest website for the latest updates on which areas are closed and which are open.

Quail also can be found at Indian Valley Reservoir and in the Cache Creek Wildlife area.

The hunting season runs through Jan. 27 and the daily limit is 10 with a possession limit of 30. In addition to a hunting license you must also have an upland game stamp. This will be the last year that lead shot can be used on quail. Starting next year only non-lead shot will be permitted.

Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 9/26/18


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Fish Numbers Point to Healthy Lake

Clear Lake has more fish per acre than any other lake in California. The good news is the sports fish population, including bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, continues to increase.

What this means is that the lake is extremely healthy. A good example of the lake’s health are the results of the NewJen bass tournament held Saturday. The winning team of Mike Rothstein and Adam Martin weighed in 29.54 pounds for five fish. Rothstein said they caught more than 40 bass during the oneday tournament, many of them in the 4-pound class. Just about every team weighed in a five-fish limit and most of the fishermen reported catching 25-50 fish.

Clear Lake originally was home to 14 species of native fish, nine of which are now extinct. Some of the species of non-game fish that were abundant a few years ago are now in sharp decline. For example, the once-abundant Sacramento blackfish and Clear Lake hitch have experienced dramatic declines compared to historic levels.

Most of the game fish in the lake now are nonnative. These fish include largemouth bass, white, channel and brown bullhead catfish, green sunfish, bluegill and black and white crappie. During the past 30 years these fish have also undergone a change. For example, in 1991 more than twothird of the anglers at Clear Lake had a catch that consisted primarily of largemouth bass while bluegill made up 15 percent of the catch. By 1994 those percentages were 85 percent bass and 2 percent bluegill. Today most of the fish being caught are largemouth bass

followed by crappie.

Creel surveys conducted in 1969 showed that crappie dominated the catch with 39.9 percent followed by bluegill (22.8 percent) and catfish (13.1 percent). Bass only made up .5 percent of

the catch. In 1994 crappie made for less than 1 percent of the catch.

What all this means is that Clear Lake has undergone some dramatic changes during the last 50 years.

In 1994-95 the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) did creel surveys and it was estimated that Clear Lake hosted 26,864 fishermen per year or 73.6 anglers per day. These fishermen spent an average of $65 per day on their sport. Since then the number of fishermen and their average spending has gone up sharply.

The DFW management plan also showed how professional bass tournaments have dominated the scene in recent years. On a typical year the DFW s about 40 event tournaments per year and more than 100 bass club permits.

The management plan also addressed the impact bass tournaments have on recreational fishing. According to the biologists, in California the mortality rate of tournamentcaught bass is 2 percent during the tournament, with a delayed mortality approximately 15 percent. Delayed mortality is when the bass die approximately two days after being released.

While there has been no study of tournament mortality on bass in Clear Lake, it’s probably close to the state average. The plan states tournaments have little or no impact on the sport fishery, the reason being that 600 or so bass caught during a typical tournament is just a tiny fraction of the number of bass in the lake.

Another subject addressed in the plan is whether holding all the tournaments in one location — be it Lakeport or Clearlake — will stockpile fish in these areas and cause an absence of fish in other areas. The plan says there is no evidence that releasing tournament- caught fish in one area has any impact on the remainder of the lake.

What was interesting was the high percentage of fishermen who called themselves tournament anglers. According to the report, 77 percent of fishermen who visit the lake are tournament anglers. That still holds true today. Many of the tournament anglers arrive here three or four days prior to the tournament and prefish to locate the bass.

The bottom line is that Clear Lake is healthy and continues to be one of the top fisheries in the nation.

- Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 7/3/19https://www.record-bee.com/

Pelicans - Magnificent to Behold


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One of the treasures of Clear Lake is its abundant bird life. There are literally hundreds of different species of birds occupying the lake. One of the more noticeable and popular is the American White Pelican. During the summer and fall months dozens of white pelicans can be seen cruising the lake and looking for baitfish.

Years ago only a few of these great birds would annually visit Clear Lake, but in in the past 10 years the population of white pelicans has skyrocketed because of the explosion of threadfin shad and other baitfish in the lake.

White pelicans are large birds and can weigh up to 20 pounds. They have a 9 1/2-foot wingspan. In spite of their huge size they sit high on the water because their bones are full of air and they have large air sacs in their body. Because of this, they cannot dive underwater. Their primary food is fish and crustaceans. An adult pelican can consume up to 5 pounds of fish per day and live to be 25 years.

Pelicans have a yellowish pouch connected to the bottom of their bill that stretches up to six inches. Their bodies are solid white with black wing tips. During the mating season the male develops a large growth on the upper part of his beak. The bill is also bright orange during the mating season. Their feet are orange and are webbed. Their legs are extremely short. A pelican has a hard time walking on land.

Unlike other species of pelicans, which dive for their food from great heights, the white pelican scoops small fish up into its pouch while swimming. The pelican dips its beak, which allows the water to drain out of the pouch. The pouch can hold up to three gallons of water. It then tips its bill upward and swallows the fish.


How they actually catch their fish is what makes the birds so fascinating. A flock of a dozen or more pelicans surround a school of baitfish and flap their wings on the surface of the water, driving the fish into the shallow water where the birds scoop up the fish. You could see this take place just about every morning during a recent stretch at Library Park in Lakeport.

The flight of the pelican is pure choreography in motion. The bird’s large wing surface area allows it to make a few flaps and then glide for

several hundred yards. When in a flock they usually fly in a single file or a v-shaped format. Their flight is oftendescribed as follow the leader because if the lead bird makes a dip all the other birds make the same dip.

White pelicans don’t nest at Clear Lake and it’s rare to see a chick on the lake. They normally nest in the northern states. The female lays two eggs and the nesting period ranges from 63-70 days. When the young are hatched they are naked and helpless and are unable to walk. Normally only one

of the chicks survives because the strongest of the chicks will harass or kill the weaker one.

Pelicans can be seen throughout the lake but two of the better areas are the sandbar just outside of Clear Lake State Park and the sandbar at the mouth of Adobe Creek. Pelicans also occasionally visit Indian Valley Reservoir and Lake Pillsbury.


Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee,


Spring Wild Turkey Season has Arrived

Lake County is loaded with big birds as season opens Saturday

The spring wild turkey hunting season gets underway Saturday throughout California.

Whereas deer hunting and waterfowl hunting have been in a steady decline for a number of years, turkey hunting continues to grow in popularity. One reason is availability of the big birds. Wild turkeys are now found in all but a few counties across the state. The population in Lake County has grown so fast that they are becoming a nuisance in many areas The season runs through May 5 with a two-week extended season for archers and junior hunters. Hunting hours are onehalf hour before sunrise until 5 p.m. The bag limit is one bearded turkey per day and a total of three for the season. This year, non-lead shot will be required for turkey hunting. Shotguns, archery and pellet guns that are .177 caliber or larger can be used. Leaded pellets in pellet guns are legal because they are not classified as firearms.

Lake and Mendocino counties are considered the hub of wild turkey hunting in the state. Wild turkeys can be seen in just about every corner of both counties. In fact, they are commonly seen within the city limits of Lakeport and Clearlake. Despite what many people believe, wild turkeys have only been in the county for approximately 40 years.

They are a fascinating bird. Some scientistsclaim wild turkeys aren’t native to California,but fossil remains of wild turkeys dating backmore than 15,000 years have been found. However, they disappeared from the state thousands of years ago. The first wild turkeys were introduced into the state back in 1857 although they didn’t become established until

the 1970s. Lake County didn’t have any wild turkeys until the early 1980s

The spring wild turkey hunting season opens Saturday throughout California. Lake County is loaded with the wild birds.

The two species of wild turkeys in California are the Rio Grande and the Merriam. Both exist in the county. The Rio Grande is the most common bird and is found at the lower elevations.

The birds seen along the roads in the county are Rio Grandes. The Merriam is a mountain bird and the only ones in the county are found on Hull Mountain near Lake Pillsbury.

Wild turkeys belong to the Galliformes class of fowl and include grouse, pheasants and quail. Weighing up to 25 pounds, the turkey is the largest game bird in North America. Wild male turkeys are called gobblers or toms. A juvenile male is called a jake.

The adult female is called a hen and an immature female is called a jenny.

The male can be identified by his bright red head, beard and spurs although a few hens also have boast beards. They are polygamous, meaning the tom will breed with any willing hen and does not assist in raising the young.

The breeding season starts in early March and runs through April and sometimes into May. The adult tom breeds with as many hens as he can entice. He attracts the hensby gobbling and strutting. Each flock normally contain eight to 10 hens, two or three jakes and at least one adult tom. The toms will fight during the breeding season and have been known to kill other toms by spurring them. They have even been known to attack humans during the breeding season.

With rare exceptions, a tom has what is called a beard that protrudes from its breast. The beard is actually a set of stiff feathers and grows continually throughout the bird’s life. 


To a hunter, a trophy beard is one that is at least 9 inches or longer. Occasionally a hen also has a beard but it’s normally smaller than a tom’s. The tom also has spurs and only the tom is capable of making a gobbling sound. The hen selects a nesting area, usually at the base of a tree or beneath a log, and builds a nest out of leaves and other debris. She will lay an egg or two a day and then return to the flock.

In about two weeks the clutch will hold from eight to 10 eggs and at that time she will leave the flock and incubate the eggs for 28 days. The young are all hatched within a day or two of each other.

After being hatched, the hen will take the young from the nest to feed on small seeds and insects. All turkeys roost in trees at night to protect themselves from predators. They fly up to the higher branches just before dark. It’s amazing to see a 20-pound turkey sitting on the highest branch in a tree. They are capable of hanging to the branch in even the fiercest windstorms and will remain in the roost tree until daylight. At the age of about 10 days the chicks are capable of flying up into the roost tree where they join their mother. The hen will fly up first and then call to her chicks to join her.

While the Mendocino National Forest is a popular hunting area for turkeys, parts of the national forest are now closed because of last summer’s wildfires.

Hunters can check which areas are open by going to the Mendocino National Forest website.

The breeding season starts in early March and runs through April and sometimes into May. The adult tom breeds with as many hens as he can entice.

Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 3/27/19


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