Skagit Valley Birds of Winter 2020 - Visit Skagit Valley - North Cascades National Park to Farmlands to Salish Sea

Skagit Valley Birds of Winter 2020

By Nancy Crowell

Human movement may have been restricted this year, but birds are still migrating. When the snow geese begin to return to the Skagit Valley each year it’s as if old friends are coming to visit. Every year, I like to note the first day I see snow geese. In 2019 it was October 3rd. This year I was out of town when a friend texted me that they had started arriving – on October 1st, but I have not yet had the opportunity to see them. Just knowing they are arriving, though, is comforting. Soon I will hear them flying over my house.

When the snow geese start arriving, I know the other amazing variety of birds that overwinter here can’t be far behind. I have already noticed more red-tailed hawks hanging on wires and sitting on fenceposts than I have seen all summer. And the eagle population will soon explode as they are never far behind the snow geese.

My favorites, though, are the short-eared owls and the rough-legged hawks. Northern harriers (a.k.a. Marsh hawks) are visible year-round, hovering over the fields, looking for tasty rodents, but when the short-eared owls show up they will have competition for those meals. The constant battle for survival makes for some high drama in the skies, with owls and hawks fighting over meals, and eagles swooping in to steal them.

When I first moved to the Skagit Valley some twenty years ago the only birds of winter, I could reliably identify were the snow geese and the trumpeter swans. (I didn’t even realize we also have tundra swans.) After years of observation and a few raptor i.d. classes I have begun to recognize more and more of these feathered visitors and each year I look forward to their return. Goshawks, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, northern shrikes, dunlin, an incredible variety of waterfowl and more . . . these active visitors get me outside in winter when I might otherwise be inclined to stay inside with a book and a cup of tea.

That’s the nice thing about birding and, in my case, also photographing birds. In these days of social distancing, it’s a safe activity that can be enjoyed solo or with others at a reasonable distance. And here in Skagit Valley, I don’t need to go very far to observe these winter visitors. With multiple nature preserves and farm fields aplenty, there is opportunity around every corner. That’s why I keep my binoculars handy and always take the long way to the grocery store. I know I’m not alone because it’s never a surprise to run across a handful of cars parked along a road next to open fields, watching the snow geese swirl and settle. If you’re looking for a safe outdoor activity this winter, what could be more inviting than spending time in nature watching the abundance of birds traverse this pastoral landscape? Grab your binoculars, fill your thermos with something warm, and head to Skagit Valley to feast your eyes and raise your spirits.

Nancy K. Crowell is a photographer and writer based in La Conner. Follow her on Instagram @crowellphotography, or see her web site

Learn More: Skagit Valley Birds of Winter Experience