Posted on December 10, 2014 at 6:00 am
One of the best gifts we receive during the holidays, here in the Northwest, is the annual visit of the eagles to Lake Coeur d’Alene. A lot has been written locally about the eagle watch, and rightfully so. To live in the area and miss the yearly visit is an opportunity lost.
East of Coeur d’Alene, the eagles prefer to perch around Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay at the northern end of the lake. There are three viewing areas: Higgins Point right off I-90 and Mineral Ridge Boat Ramp or the Mineral Ridge Trailhead off of Highway 97. All three of these areas are great for viewing the eagles and during the peak of the annual visit, you’ll find photographers from amateur to professional set-up with their equipment ready for that perfect shot.
For a more unique eagle watching experience, the Coeur d’Alene Resort offers cruises. These two-hour cruises take you up-close and personal with the eagles as it circles around Wolf Lodge Bay. If I may suggest, these cruises make a romantic Christmas gift for a couple or an educational adventure for a family. I’m always more about giving an experience as a gift, rather than the tangible.
If you go, bring binoculars, a camera, and dress warm. The cruise is a lot of fun and a great family outing. If you drive to one of the observation points, park off the main road and stay away from the birds by viewing with binoculars.
I had the good fortune of enjoying one of these cruises in 2012, during the week when there were over 200 eagles spotted in the area. It was a bright, sunny day, but definitely wintry as we boarded at the Resort. Ordering hot cocoa and sliding into a booth by the windows, we were able to gaze at the gorgeous lake and listen to the naturalist give his eagle spiel at the same time.
The eagles that migrate through the area come from as far away as Alaska and head south looking for food, mostly kokanee salmon. When the hunting becomes sparse, they head farther south looking for the large unfrozen lakes, stocked with fish. The stop at Lake Coeur d’Alene is quite by accident, as the kokanee salmon are not native to the lake. The kokanee was introduced for sport fishing in 1938, and attracting the eagles is a welcome side effect.
About 30 minutes into the boat ride, we enter Wolf Lodge Bay and see a couple of eagles circling over the water, then one makes a dive down and comes up with a juicy fish. Oohs and ahhs emitted from my fellow passengers on the boat, the cue to leave the warm cabin and head up to the deck for a better view. As we sail toward the east end of the bay, there is a tree between the lake and Highway 97 that, on first glance, appears to be decorated with several white ornaments that turned out to be eagles perching on the branches. I counted 7 eagles in that tree alone!
Eagles are among the largest birds of prey. Thanks to their excellent eyesight, they can circle above the water and easily spot the spawning kokanee, dive down (they are good swimmers) and emerge from the water with dinner firmly in their talons. While light, weighing less than 15 pounds, they are large, standing about 3 feet tall with wingspans up to 90 inches. This impressive stature is only one of the reasons why the eagle is our national bird.
As we cruised along the south side of Wolf Lodge Bay, the number of eagles was staggering. Their white heads dotted the pines, tree after tree. There was a festive feeling in the air, as if the eagles were a reason to celebrate. The boat cruised close to the Mineral Ridge Boat Ramp, where a small crowd of photographers and observers had gathered. Greetings were exchanged between those on shore and the cruisers—all of us seemed to be a little giddy in the presence of these regal birds.