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Birdwatching in the Skagit Valley

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpter Swans

Do you ever have one of those serendipitous days where you decide to visit an area but you don't have any specific plans and the day ends up magical? We had one of those days on Monday.

We called up a friend who likes to bird watch and suggested that we go to the Skagit Valley. He couldn't go on Sunday so we decided to go Monday. The forecast was unpredictable as usual in January in the Pacific Northwest. It has been extremely unseasonably warm and dry. Gray still but warmer and drier.

Skagit Valley is about 1 hour north of Seattle. The Skagit River forks just south of the city of Mount Vernon into two branches and creates Fir Island. This is rich farmland and also the winter home of snow geese, swans and bald eagles. Flocks of these bird migrate south from the summer breeding grounds in Alaska to over winter in the rich fields. We have seen the flocks increase over the years.

Birders share this area with hunters in the winter months up through January. Washington state Fish and Game have several areas set aside which are open to both hunters and bird watchers. It can be a difficult mix but part of economy of wildlife.

Fir Island is easy to get to. Driving north on I-5, you exit at Conway and head towards La Connor. We had just crossed over the south fork of the Skagit when we spotted a field of Trumpeter Swans. We have two favorite spots to stop. First is the Hayton reserve. We had seen a bald eagle in the trees west of the parking lot last year. Wow! This year there were at least 4 bald eagles in the trees and also a huge nest. We brought out the scope and watched the birds. We also noticed several bald eagles just sitting in the fields and one returned to the tree with a catch and we watched him eat it. We think it was some type of rodent caught in the field.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Eagle Nest

We moved on and headed to the end of Rawlins Road where we could access the dike and over look the salt marshes. A large flock of snow geese were in a field so we walked about 1/4 mile along the dike until we could see them. We had passed several hunters along the road and we could hear their runs in the distance. The flock were a little agitated but we had a great opportunity to watch the geese as they went through the field.

It was time for lunch so we headed to La Connor and the La Connor Brewery. There are several great places to eat in La Connor, the brewery, Palmers and Calico Bakery are good. We like the brews at the brewery so we always stop there.

After lunch we headed north towards Edison. This is the Padilla Bay and the estuary for the Samish river. We had heard that there might be a snowy owl near the out take of the Samish River. First we stopped at West 90. We saw very little bird life other than a Marsh Hawk. But on the way back we stopped to watch a flock of Trumpeter Swans near the highway. We were fascinated by their head bobbing just before two pairs would take flight. They would travel a ways out of distance and then after waiting a couple of minutes - they would return. We watched and listened to the gentle honking in waning light of the late afternoon.

It was time to head home. We decided to head back across Fir Island. There was an opening in the clouds and G was predicting a nice sunset. We crossed over the bridge onto Fir Island and I noticed a flock of Snow Geese near Maupin Road. I decided to stop. Just as we pulled up, the sun peaked under the clouds and the sky was starting to turn golden. We looked towards the north and saw groups after groups of snow geese heading towards us. We stepped out of the car and watched in amazement as each group approached over us and glided to the field for the night. It was so magical. It was one of those moments that you just could not capture.

After a short while, another car approached and for some reason, the geese were spooked. All at once the flock took flight and headed toward the water. The golden sunset was speckled with their wings.

It was growing cold and dark. We headed back to the car and Seattle. A satisfying end to a glorious winter day.

Skagit Estuary
Skagit Estuary

Snow Geese

Arriving for the evening

Snow Geese
A field of Snow Geese

Snow Geese
Snow Geese in the mud

Snow Geese Sunset
Snow Geese taking flight in the sunset

Sunset over the Skagiit

Here are some links:

Seattle Things To Do

Comments (7)

Your photos just get better and better all the time!

Love the snow geese. There were thousands of them along the Yolo causeway between Sacramento and Davis the last time we passed that way.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Marta, wow these are amazing photographs. May I ask what kind of lens you had? They are all so sharp. They are all beautiful photos. The bald eagle is very cool.

Thanks so much for sharing. Have a great weekend.

Oh my gosh, these are magical photos. I love that bald eagle and his yellow beak, also the geese in the sunset is so beautiful. I'm curious too, about the camera and lens you used.

Marta [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Thanks everyone. I am using a camera that I've had about 5 years now. It is a Canon 20D. It was an early model of their mid-range SLR. I think the current version is the 50D. I think it also helps that I am comfortable with the camera from the years experience.

I mostly used a Canon 75-300 IS telephoto lens. This has also been replaced by the 70-300 IS. It is a wonderful lens to use for nature. My only complaint is it was a little slow to focus so I couldn't get a great shot of the birds right overhead.

I wasn't able to get as close as I wanted in some of the photos such as both of the eagles. That is where the magic of cropping helped in large and focus the birds.

Thanks again - I really appreciate the comments and feedback. :)

Well that was an incredible read!

Gorgeous photos! You really inspire me with your talent. I am getting more serious about purchasing a DSLR camera now that I am taking a photography class. Did you get your lens fixed or is this a new lens?

Marta [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Girasoli - you do a great job with the camera you have and you'd love a DSLR. Classes are also fun - they give you time to be creative that is sometimes difficult to do. I haven't gotten my lens fixed yet. I've been using the fixed length lens which is kinda fun. It challenges me to compose the picture with it instead. I used it for the estuary picture.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 28, 2010 3:12 PM.

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