Look, I don’t know what it is about Bald Eagles, but they seem to bring out both the best and the worst of us. We tend to think they’re beautiful. Majestic. Powerful. But then we think maybe they’re stealing our salmon, so we put a bounty out on them and make sure they are practically extinct before repealing that bounty. We protect and admire them, yet we flock to their habitat with our kids and our minivans and our digital cameras with the hope of getting a peek.
So here I am, me and my kids at Wolf Lodge Bay, equipped with snacks, binoculars, maps, cell phone, camera, and doodle pad, ready to see some big birds. And my sweet, adorable daughter says to me, “Tell me one more time, Papa. Why are we going to see the eagles?”
In lieu of actually supplying you with an answer to that question, I’ll try and distract you by providing you with a little information regarding the eagles at Wolf Lodge Bay.
Once a year, the great white north (that’s Canada, eh) gets a little more great and white, and the eagles’ food source freezes over, so they head south. In the winter they tend to congregate where there’s good, easy food to be found, snacking on spawning salmon. The landlocked Kokanee salmon (insert lame beer joke) of Lake Coeur d’ Alene provide the eagles with an easy diet (after spawning, the salmon are slow and dying and easy prey), and the surrounding trees and hillsides make a good spot for eagles to daydream and watch for tourists (as of this writing, at least 49 eagles have already been spotted at Wolf Lodge Bay, and it’s not even the peak of the season yet).
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suggests the following when looking for bald eagles at the bay: 1. Bring binoculars (because you likely won’t get too close to the eagles … and if you do, you aren’t following the rules, Chester); 2. Stick to Higgins Point, Mineral Ridge Boat Ramp and the Mineral Ridge Trail head. Maps can be found on the BLM website or at the Mineral Ridge Trail head itself. 3. Do not stop on the road or look for eagles while you are driving because, well, not all of the locals will offer to tow you out of the bay.
Peak days to view the eagles are in the few weeks following December 25, coincidentally the same time you may be at home with kids who are sitting amidst a pile of new toys claiming there is “nothing to do.” So you pack ’em into the car, strap them into gamepods and iboys and tell them instead of doing nothing, you’re going to look at eagles.
On our trip, we didn’t start out seeing much until we’d been at the Mineral Ridge Trail head long enough to explore the outhouses (which, thankfully, were open) and return to the car. I spotted an eagle atop a snag tree across Beauty Bay, and pointed it out to my kids.
“See there. Not on that tall tree on top of the hill, but the one down at the base. Right on top. There’s an eagle on the top of that tree.”
“I see it,” says one.
“I don’t see anything,” says the other. So I’m trying to describe the tree for her in detail, thinking she’s probably looking at the tree at the top of the hill, when I happen to notice that the tree at the top of the hill has some interesting shades of green in it. And it’s particularly symmetrical.
“Hey,” I say. “That’s no tree. That’s a … it’s a … well it’s a cell tower made to look like a tree.”
You know what? One of the things that makes this place so attractive for watching eagles-you really aren’t that far from “civilization”-is also what makes me wonder how long we’ll be lucky enough to see the eagles stop here on their way south. They may just all fly off one day, and find a better place to find salmon-somewhere with fewer tourists. According to the BLM, some of the eagles have already been moving their winter perches, but it’s hard to say exactly how much human activity disturbs them-they at least tolerate us to some extent. And when we did see the eagles a little closer (without me putting the car into the lake), it didn’t take them long to decide to perch elsewhere.
I could get really preachy here and repeat the rules about watching eagles from a distance and remind you not to go pestering this rare and dignified bird, but I have a feeling that’s what you expect me to do, so it’s really quite unnecessary. Just use your head. See some eagles. Learn something. And if your daughter asks you one more time why you’re going out to see the eagles, be honest about it. Tell her what I did.
“Because they’re cool,” I said. And that’s just about the extent of it.
For more information visit:
When You Go:
About 8 miles east of Coeur d’Alene on Interstate 90, take the Wolf Lodge exit. Turn right and follow State Highway 97 to the BLM Boat Launch and the Mineral Ridge Trailhead.
By Terry Bain