Sean Cole peered across a frigid bay at a great bird in a dead tree.
It reminded him of his cousin’s hat.
Cole, an 11-year-old sightseer visiting Tuesday from Richland, looked over shorter cousin Curtis Leitz - who was wearing a red, white and blue star-speckled cap - at a bald eagle perched near Wolf Lodge Bay.
For Cole, a new member of the Boy Scouts, the majestic white-topped bird served the same purpose as the decorations covering his 9-year-old cousin’s head.
“It makes me think about our country and how neat it is to have symbols,” Cole said.
Dozens of bald eagles are making their annual visit to Lake Coeur d’Alene, where they stop to feed on kokanee, a landlocked salmon, before migrating south. Tuesday, human onlookers flocked to the bay to glimpse a live version of a national emblem.
To some, the birds’ power and majesty reminded them why bald eagles grace everything from stamps to dollar bills.
“It is a good, strong country symbol,” said Mitch Miller of Newman Lake.
For others, this annual rite of winter was another symbol of gridlock: A federal government shutdown meant there were no federal bird experts offering educational programs.
Spokane resident Kathy McGinnis, for one, was disappointed.
“Last year they taught us all about the eagles - when they eat, what’s the best time to see them,” she said. “And they answered questions - especially for the children.”
Bureau of Land Management biologist Scott Robinson, who traditionally hosts the on-site interpretive programs, said this would have been the program’s fifth year. Last year nearly 1,000 people a day stopped to watch the birds near Wolf Lodge Bay.
“I was looking forward to it,” he said from his Hayden Lake home.
But the dozen BLM and Forest Service employees who rotate shifts were ordered not to offer tours or answer questions - even on their own time, Robinson said.
“If something were to happen, I guess there’s a liability issue,” he said.
Many who stopped seemed not to mind. Just seeing the winged tourists’ fluid grace and simple elegance inspired awe for Mother Nature.
Cora Colwell, who collects pictures of the birds to serve as models for oil paintings, returns to this spot each year to see the birds take flight.
“They’re so beautiful,” said St. Maries resident Sylvia Rogers.
“It’s an unknown attraction. I can’t put my finger on it,” Miller said, shrugging. “I guess it’s because I like the outdoors and everything about it.”
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