The Skagit River Valley sits along one of the major West Coast routes for migratory birds. Every fall and spring thousands of birds pass through the area, some taking up residence for the winter from Canada and Alaska. Over the past several weeks we’ve been enjoying quite the avian floor show and have made several bird watching trips.
There have always been interesting resident birds. Our yard is filled with hummingbirds, towhees, and other smaller birds. Since we’re on the coast we get herons and ducks of various types. We’ve seen a couple of ring-necked pheasants out in the fields. Mrs. Wright always talked about the “pole-sitters” – hawks and other birds of prey perched on telephone poles hunting over the flat farmlands. That includes the occasional bald eagle, an elusive bird when we first arrived…until now.
With the change in weather all sorts of birds have been passing through. I first noticed them when I went in search of Skagit City a few weeks back. One of the fields on Fir Island was covered with thousands of snow geese. I snapped a few photos and the next day grabbed Laura to head down there so that she could see them.
Over the next couple of weeks the fields around our island started to fill up with the geese. We would see small clusters of them grazing off of the corn that was left after harvest. One field closer to town was covered with even more than we had seen down on Fir Island. It was incredible (and noisy) when they took to the air.
We made more trips down to Fir Island and to the Skagit Wildlife area. Here we saw a couple of eagles…
…but the stars of the show were the dunlins. These small birds are similar to sand pipers. They flock together and when they turn in flight the mass of birds shifts from white to gray then back again.
I tried to catch some video of these birds in action.
There were several other birders there with long lenses and binoculars. One was after a particular owl he had spotted earlier. Birding groups have also been gathering in the fields near us, as long as the duck hunters aren’t around. Driving through the county one will come across a car pulled over in a random spot with a long lens or pair of binoculars aimed out over the fields. I had my first encounter with a “birding train”, as Duff calls them, out on the island. A line of cars stopped in front of our house. They rolled down windows and were looking at something over Duff’s house. I grabbed my binoculars to see what all of the fuss was about, but never spotted their target. They held up traffic for a bit, then continued on.
Among the flocks of white birds we started to notice some larger bodies. These were the trumpeter and tundra swans. They were also feasting on the remains of the harvest.
These tended to gather in smaller flocks than the snow geese, but were no less impressive when they took to flight. This was especially true when the white shapes were contrasted against the mountains or dark clouds.
Of course, being the geek I am, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities.
Which brings us back to true birds of prey…
I haven’t photographed them, but out in the fields we’ve seen Cooper’s hawks, Merlin falcons, and Harrier hawks. The eagles have also come back in abundance. In addition to the pole-sitters these would sit out in the fields.
In winter the eagles head upriver searching for fish. I remember one year when we saw probably about fifty of them along the banks of the Skagit River. Weather and snow permitting we may have to head up that way soon to see if there are more.
These are just a few of the photos I’ve taken. It’s hard to resist the urge to photograph every eagle and cool flock of birds we come across. However, riding out through the fields to see what might be coming through had become one of our favorite pastimes while we’re out here.