Many of the onlookers lining the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene on Sunday watched the eagles through camera lenses or phone screens, trying to capture the moment a bird dove from a icy evergreen tree, trailed its claws through the water and returned with a kokanee.
Every year, scores of migrating bald eagles stop at the lake from November to February to catch spawning kokanee salmon. The Bureau of Land Management has conducted a weekly eagle count over that period since 1974. Their Dec. 21 count tallied 229 eagles; the week before, 367 eagles were counted. That’s in the rough ballpark of eagle counts from the same time last year, when 326 eagles were counted on Dec. 20 and 248 were counted on Dec. 15.
The eagles’ numbers usually peak toward the end of December.
Updated eagle counts may not be available on Dec. 28, however, due to the recent federal government shutdown, which has reduced operations at several agencies including the BLM. Many federal government websites are down.
Elizabeth Flett, a Spokane woman snapping photos with four of her brothers on a dock at Higgens Point, said eagle watching might become a new family tradition.
“This is something we can do instead of sitting and visiting,” she said.
She said she, along with most of her siblings, enjoy photography, and they had been looking for something to do together after the recent death of their last surviving parent.
Flett said she wasn’t a fan of Sunday’s icy conditions, but even if there weren’t eagles flying across Lake Coeur d’Alene, she would still want to be there to take photos of it.
“[The lake is] pretty,” she said. “Even without the birds.”
According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife, kokanee were first introduced into Coeur d’Alene in 1937, making the eagles’ pit stop in their longer migration a 20th century phenomenon.
Kelly Blevins, who was accompanied by her miniature husky Cooper and family to watch the eagles, said normally the edges of Lake Coeur d’ Alene are crowded with people trying to catch sight of eagles.
She said the snowy conditions made it a little more difficult to travel up from the valley, but it was worth the trip.
“I don’t really do the whole bird watching thing,” she said. “But eagles are something special. They’re only here for a short time, so it’s nice to see them.”
The BLM recommends potential birdwatchers and photographers go to Higgens Point, Mineral Ridge Boat Ramp or the Mineral Ridge Trailhead to view the eagles.
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