OUTNUMBERED – Bald eagles by the hundreds this week have smashed the record for their annual gathering at Lake Coeur d’Alene to feed on spawning kokanee.
A record 314 bald eagles was counted Thursday in the third survey of the eagle season by Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist. That exceeds the record 273 bald eagles counted at Lake Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.
She counted 283 adults with white heads and 31 immature eagles that won’t have the namesake “bald” head until about age 4. Wild bald eagles can live about 30 years.
The normal peak of the eagle gathering is still to come.
The eagles are lured each year to the Wolf Lodge Bay area of the lake where kokanee – a landlocked sockeye salmon – stack up to spawn and die from November into January. Hugo counted 37 eagles on Nov. 15 during her first weekly survey of this year’s eagle-watching season.
Last year, the congregation at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked in December at around 260 birds, according to Hugo’s surveys.
Kokanee numbers at Lake Coeur Lake are strong this year, as they’ve been in recent years, said Andy Dux, Idaho Fish and Game Department Panhandle Regional fisheries manager. The eagles should have plenty to eat, he said.
“However, so far we have seen fewer hatchery fish return to Granite Creek on Lake Pend Orelle than in the past few years,” he said Friday.
The run is still underway and could bump up in numbers, but the lower early return could be prompting more eagles to head to Lake Coeur d’Alene, he said.
The bald eagles provide a popular wildlife-viewing attraction with numbers of birds and viewers gradually increasing into December. Photographers carve out time every year to greet the eagles with cameras and long lenses on tripods.
An Eagle Watch Week with displays, eagle experts and spotting scopes at Wolf Lodge Bay locations is scheduled each year during the Christmas-to-New Year break.
Good eagle viewing points around Wolf Lodge Bay include Higgens Point and turnouts off Highway 97, including Mineral Ridge.
Idaho State Patrol officers warn eagle viewers that traffic rules must be followed and vehicles must be parked properly off the highway.