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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Coeur d’Alene’s eagle-viewing season ending after lower-than-normal year

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 1, 2020

A bald eagle snags a fish at Beauty Bay along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 22, 2018. The annual migration of bald eagles includes a stop in North Idaho where thousands of spawned-out kokanee provide a source of nutrition for the birds’ long trip south. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
A bald eagle snags a fish at Beauty Bay along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 22, 2018. The annual migration of bald eagles includes a stop in North Idaho where thousands of spawned-out kokanee provide a source of nutrition for the birds’ long trip south. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The eagles have departed.

On Sunday, Bureau of Land Management biologist Carrie Hugo counted 22 eagles (20 adults and two juveniles) in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The relative dearth of birds means the likely end of the 2019-20 eagle-watching season.

“Due to the low numbers, we are only opening our Mineral Ridge boat launch site (last Monday) for Eagle Watch,” BLM spokeswoman Suzanne Endsley said in an email. “We are watching the weather and if we do get the heavy snow forecast, we may not open at all (Monday).”

Eagle numbers have been lower than normal this year. At the same time last year, Hugo counted 194 adults and 35 juvenile eagles. In 2017-18. she counted 141 adults and 38 juveniles.

Earlier this month, the number of eagles dropped unexpectedly.

The migratory birds flock to Wolf Lodge and Beauty bays to feast on spawning kokanee salmon, with their numbers generally peaking during the third week of December.

But the depressed numbers and earlier-than-normal end to the season are not a cause for alarm, Endsley said.

“(Hugo) talked with Idaho Fish and Game on Monday regarding the kokanee salmon population and the possible correlation to the timing of the eagle migration this year,” Endsley wrote in an email. “IDFG shared that their sampling indicates there are fewer spawning fish this year, but because of that they are larger in body size. They also said that spawning this year started strong and peaked in late November, but they (the kokanee) seemed to fall off quickly. They emphasized there is no cause for alarm as kokanee populations are typically highly variable over time and they have no concerns relative to the population of kokanee in Lake Coeur d’Alene.”

In 2017, 372 eagles were counted setting a record for the most birds spotted in one count. At that time, biologists believed the higher-than-normal numbers were due to a particularity cold winter in Canada – which led to lakes freezing earlier – coupled with a strong spawning year for kokanee.

Despite the low numbers, Endsley said she saw a “ton of hikers” at the Mineral Ridge trail which features commanding views of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“What a great winter activity for folks to get out and enjoy their public lands,” she said.

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