While not so astonishing, they were witnessing a sight rarely seen near the New River in the state's southern mountains, where bald eagles are relative newcomers.
Two male bald eagles locked in a stalemate that attracted a line-up of motorists, backing-up traffic on the scenic route that winds beneath the landmark New River Gorge Bridge.
Rescuers Ron and Wendy Perrone of the Three Rivers Avian Center were called to the scene by local law enforcement and made a mad dash north to respond, unsure what they'd find.
"Some days a rescue-call is just plain funny," Wendy Perrone said. Many times staff from the center have otherwise been called to rescue severely injured owls, eagles, and other non-game birds.
Armed in thick leather gloves, with medical equipment that could be needed in a variety of avian emergencies, the Perrones found instead a kind of comedy in play, rather than a tragedy, though the two males might have severely injured one another.
"It's bald eagle nesting season here in the New River Gorge National River, and yesterday two adult males took exception to each other and decided to fight it out," Perrone wrote afterward in her rescue log.
"Normally this happens over water or in a more open area, but these two decided to grab each other's talons over the mountains surrounding the New River Gorge Bridge."
The two landed on the ground with each still grabbing the foot of its rival, she said, and both decided that they would not give in.
Perrone today said the pair had been spotted where they landed beside the busy Fayette Station Road off the US-19 expressway at Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Law-enforcement officers with both the state Division of Natural Resources and and the New River Gorge National River responded to the calamaty and had hoped, given time, that the two would end their dispute and leave the roadside.
"An hour and a half later, almost at dusk," she said, "they were still at square one," and so the center staff was dispatched to try to break it up.
"As we arrived, we saw the two birds exactly as you see in the picture," Perrone said. "Tired, but still mad at each other—just look at the one on the left!"
After discussing the matter with law enforcement, the Perrones gloved-up and slowly approached the eagles.
"When we got within about two feet, they looked at us and then each other, and you could just see them say, 'Uh-oh! This is serious.'
"They each let go simultaneously and took off, flying in opposite directions," she said.
"They were flying tired, but they were flying, and all is well. Some days a rescue is just plain funny, and it's even better when the birds fly free and safe."
The population of bald eagles across much of North America has recovered after decades of decimation by insecticides and other pollutants. The fish-loving birds have only come to live in the state in recent years, drawn by lakes and impoundments created over the last century.