Dozens of bald eagles have returned to Lake Coeur d’Alene to feed on spawning kokanee. The annual show put on by the regal fishers draws thousands of birdwatchers and thrills hundreds of area students who take a field trip to the lake and climb aboard boats for an educational tour. There’s one person on the lake who has probably helped more people understand this recovered species more than any other: Elizabeth Paragamian, wildlife education specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. She recently won a Gold Award for Excellence in Interpretation or Environmental Education, given by the National Association for Interpretation, for her work speaking with 125,000 people each year. She has what many would say is a dream job. She talked Friday as she prepared to lead an eagle-watching boat tour for students.
Q.How can people best catch that iconic image of an eagle grabbing a fish out of the lake?
A.First, it’s about patience. And second, it’s about good timing. The eagles come to eat breakfast at dawn. And it’s important to watch a whole area. Focusing on one bird may not work.
Q.It’s freezing out here. Does the cold bother or slow the birds?
A.These birds are made for this kind of weather. They have 7,000 feathers. So no, the weather doesn’t slow them at all.
Q.How long have the birds been coming?
A.Probably since the 1930s, when kokanee were introduced to the lake. They migrate out of Canada, right down the Purcell Trench, and this makes a good stop.
Q.After the Lake Coeur d’Alene layover, where are they headed to next?
A.Many stop near Boise – there’s an eagle festival there – and then they go on to points south.
Q.What’s one of the oft-asked questions of you by schoolchildren?
A.“How did your eagles die?” (Paragamian has three stuffed eagles and a stuffed osprey she uses as teaching tools).
Q.OK. So … what’s the story behind some of your stuffed eagle displays?
A.The big golden eagle I have was shot in 1925 when the birds were considered pests. It was expertly stuffed. The immature bald eagle I show was hit by a car about 50 years ago. This big bald eagle we have died of lead poisoning years ago.
Q.Yours sounds like a dream job for those who love wildlife but spend their days in an office. Is there a downside?
A.You know, I do have a great job and I take pride in it. But it’s not all what people see. There’s a lot of paperwork, too. More every year. That’s the not-so-great part.
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