Flocking to the lake
A bald eagle snatches a kokanee salmon out of Lake Coeur d'Alene at Higgens Point on Monday. The migrating birds visit the area from November through around mid-December to feed on spawning kokanee salmon. HANNAH NEFF/Press
A bald eagle soars over Lake Coeur d'Alene at Higgens Point on Monday. HANNAH NEFF/Press
A bald eagle swoops down to snatch a fish at Higgens Point on Lake Coeur d'Alene Monday morning. HANNAH NEFF/Press
From left, hobby photographers Jay Mlazgar of Moscow and Susie Courpet of Post Falls spent Monday morning photographing eagles at Higgens Point along Lake Coeur d'Alene. About 50 photographers and bird watchers lined the shores to get a shot of the migrating birds who come to the lake to feed on spawning kokanee salmon. HANNAH NEFF/Press
| November 23, 2021 1:09 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — About 50 photographers and bird watchers, and thousands of dollars' worth of camera equipment, spread out on the shorelines of Higgens Point along Lake Coeur d’Alene midmorning Monday.
All eyes were scanning the water to pick out the migrating bald eagles, making their annual appearance to feed on spawning kokanee salmon.
“It’s been slow,” hobby photographer Susie Courpet of Post Falls said. “They’re here but it’s not really concentrated yet.”
It takes dedication and patience to photograph one of these birds.
Although she’s photographed wildlife for about 10 years, Courpet said it’s only her second season shooting the eagles.
“The hardest part is following them as they come down and getting them right in focus, and just getting that shot we want where the claws are out,” Courpet said. “Those are the ones I’m trying for.”
Courpet said she comes out to shoot every day the entire season. She's gone out a few hours every morning and evening for the past two weeks.
“Sometimes it’s freezing cold, but it doesn't matter because if you get the shot then you don't care what the weather is or how cold you are,” she said. “Just doing it yourself, it's just so much more rewarding.”
Between Thanksgiving and early December is the best time for shooting, Courpet said. Usually by mid-December the eagles have migrated on.
Thursday’s eagle count totaled 65 adults and 11 juveniles, according to the Bureau of Land Management Lake Coeur d’Alene Eagle Watch.
Carrie Hugo, a wildlife biologist with the BLM, said historically the eagle count peaks around Christmas but in recent years it’s changed to peak around the first week of December.
“That's something that's different, but it's nothing really to be alarmed about,” Hugo said. “It's just that the kokanee are not there later in December in the numbers that would support so many eagles, so the eagles eventually leave.”
Hugo said, however, there's no concern about the eagle or kokanee populations. The peak season has just shifted to earlier in the winter.
Jay Mlazgar, a hobby photographer from Moscow, said he drives to Coeur d’Alene for eagle photography a few days each year.
“They're just regal, powerful looking,” Mlazgar said. “There's way more color in eagles' wings and stuff than people realize."
Post Falls resident Whitney Larsen was out for the fourth time this season to shoot eagles.
“They’re my favorite bird,” Larsen said. “I just like being outdoors.”
And for some photographers like Courpet, the best part is getting to meet and socialize with all the other photographers.
“Or getting that one shot that just gives you that adrenaline rush,” she said. “But then most photographers, we’re never totally happy with even a good shot, so that’s why we keep coming back.”