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Cruising with the eagles

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | December 6, 2020 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE – On a cloudy, cold Saturday morning, a bald eagle swooped down toward Lake Coeur d’Alene, glided gracefully, then snatched a fish with its talons off the surface.

The chase was on.

Another bald eagle soared from a tree at Beauty Bay, like a heat-seeking missile, quickly closing on its target. The first eagle dropped the fish. The second slowed, circled back, and grabbed its next meal still floating and returned to a tree.

The crowd watching from a Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises boat was thrilled.

“That was amazing,” said one woman.

“Wow. Cool,” added a boy.

"Did you see that?" a man asked a friend.

Such was the reaction of adults and kids during Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises first eagle-watching cruise of this holiday season.

Many had binoculars and cameras to capture views and pictures of these majestic creatures that arrive in North Idaho for a few months each year to feed on spawning Kokanee.

The boat departed from the docks outside The Coeur d’Alene Resort, crossed the lake, steam rising, to Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay.

With temperatures in the 30s and calm waters, the eagles seemed to be everywhere. White heads of these large birds of prey were visible on tree branches on the shoreline, as they put on a show for their admirers, including many families, watching from the upper and lower decks of the cruise boat.

If it got too cold outside, people went inside, where it was toasty warm with drinks and snacks available.

“I really thought it was good,” said 11-year-old Kolton Anderson. “It was really pretty. I saw a lot of eagles in the trees. It was really cool seeing them all in clusters.”

He said the bald eagle was “the coolest thing that God created.“

"It’s so unique. Yellow feet, yellow beak, completely different feathers, it’s the coolest things ever,” he said.

His grandfather, Ed Lesniak, nodded in agreement.

“They’re just beautiful,” he said.

The official eagle count for the day was 79.

“You picked a good day to go on a cruise with us,” said wildlife biologist Jane Veltkamp, co-author of “Beauty and the Beak,” a nonfiction children’s book that tells the true story of “How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle.”

“It promises to be a good showing this month in December for these migrating bald eagles here on Lake Coeur d’Alene,” she said.

Veltkamp acted as narrator during the cruise and offered insights to bald eagles, their history, biology and migration patterns. She described the bird as courageous and strong, with great vision.

They were once critically endangered and headed toward extinction “because of our careless use of pesticides,” she said.

But their population recovered, and it is estimated there are nearly 10,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states.

Lake Coeur d’Alene is a great place to see them in their natural habitat, Veltkamp said.

Last season, they counted more than 300 bald eagles during a cruise, and their numbers will likely continue to build through December before declining as their food supply runs out.

“This is one of the few places in the lower 48 where you can get on a boat and see eagles behaving naturally, where human disturbance is not a factor," she said.

Friends Roxanne Lindquist of Spokane and Shawnda Stevens of Whitefish, Mont., enjoyed the cruise and got some nice pictures.

“Fabulous,” both said when asked how they like it.

They said being on a cruise boat gave them a perspective of bald eagles they can’t get from land.

“We got to see some dive for the fish and catch them and we got to see two eagles competing for the fish,” said Lindquist, who bought a copy of Veltkamp’s book.

It was, she added, wonderful.

“I’d like to do this again," she said.

Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises offers eagle-watching cruises on weekends through Dec. 20, and daily between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3.

Tickets: 208-292-5670 or visit www.cdacruises.com

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BILL BULEY/Press

A bald eagle flies while another sits on a tree branch at Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises heads out on Lake Coeur d'Alene with guests for eagle-watching on Saturday morning.

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BILL BULEY/Press

People takes pictures and watch bald eagles from a Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises boat at Wolf Lodge Bay on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

A lone bald eagle is perched on a branch at Beauty Bay on a misty Saturday, as seen from a Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises boat.