COEUR d'ALENE - After watching a majestic bald eagle glide overhead, and after snapping a few pictures as it swooped above Lake Coeur d'Alene, Bob Kelly stepped back. Then, he just smiled and shook his head in absolute awe.
"That's just amazing, isn't it?" said the man from Kennewick, Wash.
Kelly was one of hundreds who drove to the Mineral Ridge boat launch and the Mineral Ridge trailhead for the annual Eagle Watch Week. It has been a frenzy since the eagle viewing spectacular got under way Wednesday.
People, it's clear, are batty about bald eagles.
And the beautiful birds did not disappoint.
They flew high, dipped low, and banked down to snatch a kokanee floating on the surface. They perched proudly on branches, staring through falling snow, the wind ruffling their feathers.
People packing binoculars and cameras walked along the shoulder of Highway 97. Some drivers of cars, trucks and SUVs slowed and looked as eagles soared above the waters of Wolf Lodge Bay.
In the parking lots at the boat launch and trailhead, crowds gathered around powerful telescopes manned by staff with Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Through one of the scopes, folks could see four eagles, sitting closely on tree branches.
But right in front of an excited group of adults and kids, a mature bald eagle, with the distinctive white head, dived close to shore.
"He's going to go down for one right there. He got it," said Carrie Hugo, Fish and Game wildlife biologist.
The eagles, counted at 183 on Friday, around Beauty Bay, Blue Creek Bay, Wolf Lodge Bay and Higgens Point, have put on a great show for their admirers.
"The kokanee spawn is kind of going down so it's been fun. Sometimes the birds are fighting over a fish," she said. "There's a little bit more competition.
"The only thing that keeps them from doing a lot of fishing is when it's really windy, and it hasn't been too bad," she said Thursday afternoon.
People are still thrilled when they see a bald eagle, the country's national symbol. There's a short window, from late November to mid-January, to see them. We're fortunate, Hugo said, to have so many bald eagles congregated in one area and with easy viewing.
The season's peak was 260 on Dec. 19.
"They're a spectacular bird," she said.
Jason Funk and wife Heather Huber-Funk were joined by their two children, Hailie and Aazahn, as they arrived to see the eagles, which will sit for hours at a time on branches, only flying to feed or catch the rays of the sun's warmth.
"Awesome," Jason Funk said. "They're beautiful."
Mike Ramos drove over from Spokane with friend Terry Chudel to see eagles, which come to North Idaho from north central Canada and eastern Alaska.
"They're just amazing, amazing animals," he said, as Chudel gave a big smile and thumbs up.
Pete Gardner, with IDFG, said most of the kokanee will be done spawning soon. Then, the eagles will move on. Some will follow the Snake River and end up in southern Idaho and northern Utah for their next stop. Most will head up the Columbia River toward the coast.
"Most of these will be gone in a couple weeks as the spawn dies off and the fish aren't there," he said.
Eagle Watch Week continues through Sunday.
Eagle "ambassadors" will be on site each day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to answer questions about bald eagles. Each location offers covered shelter.
Some drivers, weary of the crowds, zip along the half-mile section of Highway 97 between the trailhead and the boat launch, so spectators are asked to be cautious.
An eagle rests on a branch along the shoreline of Beauty Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Bob Kelly aims his camera toward an eagle flying over Beauty Bay near one of the eagle watching stations.