Monday, January 2, 2012

Eagle eyes on Lake Coeur d'Alene

Jack Cotter and Greg Johnston were among more than 100 enthusiasts who spent the weekend photographing Coeur d'Alene Lake's eagles along Highway 97 at Beauty Bay during the bald eagle's annual feast of the lake's spawned kokanee salmon./Ralph Bartholdt

For years, Gregory Johnston has come for the birds.
Each winter around Christmas he travels from his Rathdrum home to Wolf Lodge Bay looking for bald eagles, snapping pictures and selling the images to stock agencies.
It's an annual ritual for many local photographers, from novices to pros.
The pros, like Johnston, set their tripods and mega lenses tipped with cameras, on places where they will get the best light and the best all around chance for killer shots of Lake Coeur d'Alene's bald eagles as they swoop down to catch landlocked salmon near the lake surface.
"After you've done this a while you kind of read what the eagles are about to do, and you know to be ready for a shot,"Johnston said.
He and many fellow pros prefer a particular point at the entrance of Beauty Bay just over the steel railing of Highway 97 where the land drops to the flat surface of the lake.
"We call this the $70,000 Club," he said. "Some of our tripods cost more than a camera."
Despite more eagles and the comeback of the lake's salmon population, Johnston has seen fewer eagles swooping across the stage in front of the $70,000 Club.
"This year hasn't been as good as last year, and the year before that was even better," he said. "A lot of the eagles are staying in the trees across the bay, and there are a few over on Higgins Point."
Jack Cotter of Otis Orchards doesn't mind that there are fewer birds close by.
He doesn't notice.
He is a newbie to eagle watching and for now, just enjoys being on the shore watching the birds flap by out of his camera's range.
"I bought a new lens and thought I'd come out and try it," he said.
Eagle watching on Coeur d'Alene Lake's north end is a good way to spend a few hours in the chill, or to enjoy unseasonably warm weather.
Either way, it's a great idea, Cotter said.
The eagles flock to the northeastern part of the lake at Wolf Lodge Bay following great schools of kokanee salmon, a small landlocked version of the the sockeye or red salmon that spend the summer migrating to the lake's north end to spawn either in the streams, or along the gravelly shoreline.
Once the fish are in shallows, it's meal time for the eagles.
A wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management counted 259 eagles - 215 adults and 44 juveniles recently.
According to Idaho Fish and Game, the number of adult kokanee spawning in Lake Coeur d'Alene has risen dramatically in the past three years.
Fish and Game counted 33,900 spawning kokanee in 2006; 34,000 in 2007; 28,000 in 2008; 333,600 in 2009, and 506,200 in 2010.
This year, it's estimating the adult kokanee spawning number will reach 767,000.
A kokanee's three-year life cycle ends around December as females lay eggs and males fertilize the eggs. After spawning, the fish die and float to the surface of the water, creating an abundant food source for the eagles.
Most of the eagles’ fishing takes place during the early morning. Some feeding occurs throughout the day.

"It's winding down for the season," Johnston said. "I will probably come out for another week or so."
And then the spawning dance of the fish and the eagle's feeding frenzy will be over until next winter.
  —Ralph Bartholdt
                                                Female kokanee salmon along the beach of Beauty Bay/Ralph Bartholdt
                                                                      Male salmon after the spawn/Ralph Bartholdt
Ralph Bartholdt
Agent Keller Williams Coeur d'Alene


  1. The eyes of eagle is so pretty, Thank u to share attractive topic.

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  2. Wow what a great post. I am impressed from it.

    Thanks for more sharing..........

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