The huge golden eagle startled me while I was on a January hike along the rimrock of the Mores Creek Arm of Lucky Peak Reservoir.
As I came over the rim in waist-deep sagebrush, the eagle, which had been sitting on carrion, launched into the air.
You could see its huge talons and muscular legs as it gained altitude with its long-sweeping wings.
I was bummed that I startled the bird, but who would of thought about seeing one on the ground? I usually keep an eye out for eagles on their perches and roosting areas, and I try to give them a wide berth.
Aside from that, it was a fantastic sighting. You never get tired of watching eagles, and winter is a good time to see bald and golden eagles in the Treasure Valley.
A general rule of thumb when eagle watching is that golden eagles like sagebrush desert and foothills terrain where they can feed on carrion, rabbits and other small mammals. They are attracted to the big game wintering areas near Boise, such as the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, where they can feed on critters killed by winter or motor vehicles.
Youll see them in the Boise Foothills, around Lucky Peak Reservoir and along the sagebrush terrain of Southwest Idaho.
Bald eagles hang out near open water to eat fish, ducks and other critters. Youll find them along the Boise, Payette and Snake rivers and at Lake Lowell. Hot spots are just below Lucky Peak Reservoir, Barber Park, the Barber Pool and other parts of the Boise Greenbelt.
Eagles migrate to the Treasure Valley because of the open water in winter and fishing possibilities. Some come from the Yellowstone area. Others migrate down river drainages from higher elevations.
Idaho Fish and Game estimates that as many as 20 eagles may spend the winter along the Boise River from Lucky Peak Dam to the city of Eagle.
There also are some local birds that stay in the area year-round.
Im not an eagle expert, and trying to identify immature eagles can really throw you.
My wife and I spotted a brown eagle along the Boise River over the weekend. See the photo of the eagle in a tree.
I sent the photo to the experts at the World Center for Birds of Prey, and they confirmed it was a juvenile bald eagle.
You can tell its a juvenile because its head doesnt have that beautiful white plumage of the adults.
They also identified the immature golden eagle in the photo above. That one was taken in the sky above Lucky Peak Reservoir up the Mores Creek Arm.
They said you can tell its an immature golden by the white on its wings. Adults dont have the white.
THERES STILL TIME
You still have time for eagle watching. They dont start to migrate from the Treasure Valley until around March.
Where do they go? Back to Yellowstone? Up north to Canada? Up to higher elevations? Its neat to think about their travels.
One thing, respect eagles where they are roosting. Its winter, and you dont want to disturb them and make them burn valuable energy.
You can watch them easily from a distance with a good pair of binoculars.
They are beautiful creatures, and its so great that the birds were protected to bring back populations.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors