Finding a Winter Wonderland at Lake Coeur d'Alene

Snowy Coeur d'Alene yields a plethora of eagles amid the scenic sights — after fighting icy roads and traffic to get there.

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Aa pair of bald eagles watch for fish at Lake Coeur d'Alene.

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Snow gives the Mineral Ridge scene a stark appearance.

The wagon's tires whined and thumped at 65-plus miles an hour as I jockeyed for an opening in the freeway wolf pack.

Darlene noted the 60-mph speed-limit sign that whipped past on her side of the road.

"Whose idea was this, anyway?" I said, trying to add a humorous tone to my voice.

"Yeah, whose?" she said.

I didn't see her smile.

I checked Nora the snoozing Schnauzer in the mirror and didn't see her smile, either.

Back on task, my own forced smile froze on my face.

We had been on the road for nearly five tedious hours of snow, ice and thundering 18-wheelers.

Well, a record 254 eagles, including 52 immature ones, had been recorded there on Dec. 23. So, at the prospect of seeing so many, we made reservations at a pet-friendly motel in the Spokane Valley two days after New Years.

Finally, when I hooked a right at Exit 22 eight miles east of Coeur d'Alene, I did so with lurking misgivings. Perhaps the eagles had gone?

At 11:42 a.m., we stopped at a Wolf Lodge Bay pullout on Highway 97 near reader boards telling how the lake formed and providing details about eagles.

While Darlene read and Nora stretched her legs, I unpacked the camera with the long lens for Darlene to hold.

We continued along the narrow road (aka The Lake Coeur d'Alene Scenic Route). In a minute we counted 10 eagles posing majestically in trees, another half-a-dozen circling over the mirror-like water and two standing on a sheet of shoreline ice with fish clutched in their stiletto-pointed talons.

The eagles feed on kokanee (land-locked salmon) after the fish spawn, die and lie near the water's surface.

"Well," I muttered and reached for the camera. "We've seen eagles."

With the road clear in front and in back, I stopped, rolled down the window and snapped photos.

A primary route for watching the eagles during their annual migration covers three miles along the south side of Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay.

Eagle watchers also gather at Higgins Point on the north side, near the I-90 freeway and Blue Creek Bay. It's accessible by taking the Sherman Street Exit 15 from I-90.

About 50,000 people visit the area during the 12 weeks that the eagles usually spend there, beginning in mid-November and lasting until mid-February.

The Bureau of Land Management's 20th anniversary of Eagle Watch Week had passed (Dec. 26 through Jan. 1), so we had light traffic on the narrow, twisting road.

The BLM also offers boat trips around the lake during the annual Eagle Watch Week.

As we poked along, I paused at pullouts to stand beside the car and aim the camera at flying or diving eagles.

After an hour, we stopped at the Mineral Ridge Trailhead at Beauty Bay, which has a toilet, across from a private boat launch.

Four eagles sat in trees near the boat launch. One ripped off chunks of a kokanee, downed them and then rubbed its beak on a branch.

Nora and I walked up the 3.3-mile switch-back trail through the woods for half an hour just to work out the kinks.

Then we drove another twisting mile up the hill above Beauty Bay. I photographed the wintry scenes there, including a view of the Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge on I-90, with white snow, dark sky and trees reflected in the dark, calm water.

Finally, with the light fading at 3:34 p.m. and with Darlene and Nora wondering what happened to lunch, we headed back to the motel in the Valley and an early dinner.

I planned an early start with a relaxing 30-minute drive to see the eagles the next day.

Editor's Note: Part two of this report about a trip to see the eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene will appear in this spot next Wednesday.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com

If You Go

It's about 190 miles from Walla Walla to Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene via the Dayton-Colfax route.

For more information about Lake Couer d'Alene eagles, you may reach the Bureau of Land Management's Eagle Watch website by typing "Eagle Watch Wolf Lodge Bay" in the Google search engine.

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