COEUR d'ALENE - The eagles have landed in North Idaho.
Just not too often at Higgens Point.
Carrie Hugo, wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management, counted 136 bald eagles Friday afternoon - 112 adults and 24 immature - during her rounds that also cover Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay.
"I think I got the lion's share," she said. "There's a lot of eagles out there."
Higgens Point, at the east end of Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive, has long been a popular point to watch bald eagles soar, swoop and snare a kokanee from the lake, and perch on tree branches. There's plenty of parking and trails that make for easy viewing.
But so far this year, eagle sightings there are few. Last Saturday morning, there were none.
Hugo has a premise on why, and unfortunately it's partly due to the very people who go to see the majestic birds.
The eagles, when they can, prefer to avoid people. Combine that with the abundant kokanee spawning this year in the gravel close to shore, the eagles can be choosier where they eat.
"They can hunt other places and be successful," she said.
Higgens Point just isn't on their dining stop so far this year.
"That's my theory, anyway," Hugo said Friday.
Still, the latest eagle count is well above the 89 counted by Hugo last year on Dec. 8. The peak in 2010 was 254 on Dec. 23. Based on the numbers of eagles showing up so far, this year's peak could be higher.
Hugo, in her third winter of counting eagles for BLM, said her weekly count Friday afternoon took just over two hours. Her established stops include near the Beachouse restaurant, Bennett Bay, Boothe Park, Higgens Point and the Mineral Ridge boat ramp and trailhead. She uses a spotting scope and binoculars.
She follows the same route and makes the same stops each week, starting in late November for about eight weeks.
People often ask how she knows she's not counting eagles twice. Her answer? She is.
"I know I'm counting them twice," she said.
She said that she also misses some of the bald eagles. On Friday, for instance, with bright sunlight, it was difficult to pick out the immature birds. And on snowy days, the adults can be hard to spot.
As long as the method is consistent - same person, same route, same equipment, same effort - the count presents a solid snapshot of the season's eagle population. It is a way, she explains, to be reasonably accurate, more of a trend than a precise number.
"It's certainly not a perfect count," she said.
There's still plenty of time to see the eagles.
Sometimes next month, starting when the kokanee supply runs low, most eagles will head south. They'll visit Nevada, Utah and California, states with large lakes and rivers that don't freeze and have an abundant supply of fish.
Meantime, Hugo suggested eagle enthusiasts try stopping at the nearest rest areas en route to Higgens Point, park and walk to the beach.
Then, just wait and watch.
"You have a good chance of spotting eagles flying and fishing," she said.
Eagle fact box
• Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast, a white head, neck and tail, and yellow feet and bill.
• Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white. They reach full maturity in four to five years.
• Males weigh 8-10 pounds; females are larger at 10-14 pounds.
• Wingspan reaches from 72-90 inches.
• All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.
• Wild bald eagles may live as long as 30 years.
• Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies.
- Bureau of Land Management