Birding in Skagit Valley
You have over 100,000 acres of Skagit Wildlife Area and farmland to birdwatch all year long. The return of the migrating birds in the winter marks the start of the Skagit Birds of Winter Experience!
Many of these acres are adjacent to Skagit Bay, between the mouths of the north and south forks of the glacier-fed Skagit River, the second largest in the state. They include a large part of Skagit Bay’s east shoreline, restricted mainly to second-class tidelands and intertidal marsh areas. Also included are many tributaries of the South Fork of the Skagit River and the islands between these tributaries, as well as some inter-tidal acreage in Port Susan Bay and an intertidal area on the Camano Island shoreline of Skagit Bay.
The farmlands are between I5 and the Salish Sea. Just exit I5 at Conway or Burlington and head west toward La Conner and/or Edison. If you are coming from the north, enjoy Chuckanut Drive to Edison and then meander over toward La Conner and Conway. Stay overnight and include a drive along the Skagit River (known for the Skagit Eagle Festival) east to the North Cascades National Park.
Tidal action and the mixing of fresh and saltwater create a rich estuarine environment. The characteristic habitats of the Skagit Wildlife Area include open water, island shoreline, tidal mudflats and marshes, forested uplands, and agricultural (diked) land. Most of the managed acres have agricultural fields, which are planted with cereal grains to provide food for wintering waterfowl.
The various units comprising the Skagit Wildlife Area contain a wide range of estuary- and riparian-dependent aquatic and terrestrial species, as well as federally threatened bald eagles, marbled murrelets, and anadromous Chinook salmon populations.
The list below describes some of the excellent birding areas in Skagit County. You may want to check Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird site, indicating the location and species of birds you would like to see. The Cascade Loop Great Washington State Birding Trail also features sites in Skagit County.
- Deception Pass State Park: Rosario Head (48.415936 -122.664247), Bowman Bay (48.416589 -122.651293) – best fall to spring – most species of the region’s loons, grebes, cormorants, sea ducks, gulls, and alcids. Bald Eagles, Black Oystercatchers , Black Turnstones, Belted Kingfishers. Also forest birds such as woodpeckers, wrens, kinglets, chickadees, nuthatches, and crossbills. Pass Lake (48.417071 -122.643899) –diving ducks and forest birds. Brushy areas are good for finding migrants.
- Anacortes Area: Washington Park (48.498873 -122.692653) – best fall through spring – outstanding seabird watching area including Pacific Loons, Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled Murrelets, gulls, cormorants, and many sea ducks including Harlequin Ducks. Bald Eagles and shorebirds such as Black Oystercatcher are likely. Rhinoceros Auklets are present from July to October and Ancient Murrelets are possible November to December. Many forest birds in the wooded areas. Guemes Channel (48.503900 -122.670290) – from the San Juan ferry terminal to Cap Sante (48.513407 -122.599219) includes Red-necked Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks, alcids, and cormorants. Anacortes Forest Lands (48.466394 -122.619748) – varied forest and wetland habitats with many possibilities including migrating hawks seen from Mt. Erie (48.453802 -122.626026).
- March Point: Fidalgo Bay (48.477294 -122.573157) – fall to spring – Brant (particularly gray-bellied race), scoters, Long-tailed and other sea ducks, cormorants, and herons. Padilla Bay (48.494433 -122.554143) – many wintering water birds, and Caspian Terns in summer. Snow Buntings have been found in this area in winter.
- Samish Flats: Between Padilla Bay and Alice Bay (the West 90 particularly: 48.547668 -122.4874989) – fall to spring – many raptors, waterfowl, and passerines. Good area for Snowy Owls (some years), Short-eared Owls, Peregrines, Gyrfalcons. Prairie Falcons, Merlins, and Kestrels are also present making this a target area for finding 5 falcon species. Red-tailed -Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Bald Eagles are common. Herons, Canvasbacks, large flocks of Dunlins, Black-bellied Plovers, dabbling ducks including large numbers of Eurasian Wigeons among flocks of American Wigeons are some of the possibilities.
- Skagit Flats: Fir Island (48.349580 -122.392004) – (the area between the north and south forks of the Skagit River) fall to spring – good place to see Snow Geese, Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, as well as raptors, Western Meadowlarks. Jensen Access (48.338421 -122.433554) – geese, shorebirds, sea ducks, eagles, Snowy Owls. North Fork Access (48.355569 -122.460000) – Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers. Skagit Bay- Skagit Wildlife Area – Wylie Slough Area (48.325001 -122.378109) – woodpeckers and other terrestrial species, Great-horned Owls, Northern Shrike. In summer there are many nesting species including Marsh Wrens, Virginia Rails, Soras, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Wood Ducks, Tree Swallows, and Northern Flickers.
- Butler Flats: Green Road Pond (48.524514 -122.334809) – Hawks and winter waterfowl. Spring and summer: Marsh Wrens, Yellowthroat, and other wetland species. Lazuli Buntings have nested on nearby hillsides along with many other more common species.
- Clear Lake Area: Beaver Lake (48.445888 -122.221061) – Redheads, Ring-necked and other ducks winter here. Trumpeter Swans are possible here. Johnson-DeBay Slough Swan Reserve (48.468971 -122.258543) – may have Trumpeters, Hooded Mergansers, Canvasbacks, and other ducks. Whimbrels are found in this area during spring migration.
- State Route 20, Rockport to Marblemount: Skagit River Bald Eagle Area (roadside viewing area at 48.491828 -121.549955) – This valley corridor in winter hosts Bald Eagles feeding on spawned-out salmon, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, American Dipper. In summer, Osprey, Spotted Sandpipers, Black and Vaux’s Swifts, Northern Orioles and Lazuli Buntings are possible.
- State Route 20, Upper Skagit Valley Area: Heading upriver east from Marblemount, the diverse forest and river habitats host a variety of species including Spotted (very difficult to find) and Barred Owls, Ruffed and Sooty Grouse, Pileated and other woodpeckers, Ospreys, Varied and Swainson’s Thrushes, Steller’s Jays, Pacific Wrens, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Western Tanagers. Warblers, including Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s Yellow-rumped, American Redstart, MacGillivray’s, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s, are possible, as well as Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers.
- State Route 20, County Line Ponds: (milepost 116.5) (48.640479 -121.313526) Late spring to fall – Riparian area with many species possible in season including Hammond’s Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, and American Redstart.
- State Route 20, Hardy Burn Area: (milepost 151) (48.568583 -120.780637) Summer to fall – around sand pit below Mt. Hardy Burn – Numerous species have been recorded here including Sooty Grouse, Northern Goshawk, Mountain Chickadee, White-winged Crossbill, Black and Vaux’s Swift. Hardy Burn – Hiking up to the burn., look for Black-backed, Three-toed, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Mountain Bluebird, Calliope Hummingbird, Gray-crowned Rosy finch, and Spruce Grouse.
- State Route 20, Rainy Pass (48.514718 -120.734684) and Washington Pass (48.526344 -120.650865) Areas – summer to fall – Clark’s Nutcracker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Gray Jay. Pygmy Owl is possible.
Skagit Valley Birds & Brew
If you love craft beer AND birds, grab your Skagit Farm to Pint passport and collect stamps for your pint glass prize along with some of the best birdwatching in the world!
Video Credit: Steviep Photography
Photo Credits: Nancy Crowell Photography