Eagle count at lake swells

SATURDAY, DEC. 17, 2011

Numbers nearly double to 259 at Wolf Lodge Bay

Bald eagles are mobbing Lake Coeur d’Alene in record numbers this week.

The annual eagle congregation to feast on spawning kokanee in Wolf Lodge Bay swelled to 259 on Friday, up from 136 seven days earlier.

The weekly surveys are conducted by Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist.

Friday’s congregation breaks the record of 254 eagles counted in the bay on Dec. 21, 2010.

The record previous to that was a mere 154 eagles in 2004.

Hugo counted 215 adults and 44 juveniles Friday, noting that most of the fish-loving birds were hanging out in the Beauty Bay area of Wolf Lodge and the hillside just across the water from Higgens Point.

More eagles could be coming in, since the peak of the congregation traditionally has been just before Christmas.

BLM, Idaho Fish and Game and Audubon Society volunteers are organizing the annual Eagle Watch Week, Dec. 26-Jan. 1, to educate visitors about this confluence of propagation, death and survival.

Albeit in much smaller numbers, bald eagles have been gathering here for decades to feed on kokanee that provide easy meals as they swarm into the area to spawn and die.

Lake Coeur d’Alene as well as Lake Pend Oreille are having the biggest kokanee spawning returns in many years, perhaps helping to attract the large number of eagles, said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game regional fisheries manager.

The Pend Oreille kokanee make their run earlier than the fish at Coeur d’Alene, and that could be the reason the eagles were slower than normal to show up at Wolf Lodge Bay in November, Fredericks said.

“We had a lot of eagles at Granite Creek (southwest of Hope), where we take the eggs from kokanee for the hatchery,” he said. “But I don’t know if anyone was counting them.”

Meanwhile, thousands of people show up from mid-November through early January to view the eagles at Lake Coeur d’Alene. Often the 10-pound birds show off their 80-inch wingspans as they swoop down from trees to snatch fish from the water.

BLM visitor surveys conducted earlier this decade found that 70 percent of eagle watchers showing up at Wolf Lodge Bay came from within a three-hour drive of the lake. The other 30 percent came from all 50 states and 36 foreign countries.

BLM, which administers much of the land, parking areas and trailheads around the bay, offers these suggestions for viewing the eagles:

• Avoid disturbing the birds. Do not approach them on foot.

• Stay as far away from the birds as possible. Binoculars are essential.

• Park off the road and stay in your vehicle if viewing nearby birds.

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