Outdoors

Raptor Rapture

Eye on the eagles

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WHAT: Skagit Eagle Festival
WHEN: 9am-4pm every Saturday and Sunday in January
WHERE: Concrete, Rockport, and Marblemount
COST: Most events are free
INFO: http://www.skagiteagle.org or www.concrete-wa.com

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

It’s probably too late to sign up for renowned field biologist Bud Anderson’s perennially popular “Raptors of Western Washington” series of classes—which begin Thurs., Jan. 7 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship in partnership with Whatcom Land Trust—but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo both viewing and learning about the eagles, falcons and hawks that flock to Whatcom and Skagit counties this time of year to feast on spawning salmon.

For example, a recent email update by Wild Whatcom’s Holly Roger pointed readers to the Nooksack River for prime eagle watching. For easy viewing access, she recommends heading east on the Mt. Baker Highway and making your way to the Mosquito Lake Road bridge over the north fork of the river—also known as the Welcome Bridge. “We lost count after about 60,” she says of the number of eagles seen during a recent outing she took there with her kids.

If you’re “in need of a longer adventure,” Roger also recommends visiting the Deming Homestead Eagle Park on Truck Road. While the fields and forests edging the Nooksack River are lovely at any time of year, when the bald eagles congregate here from December through March, it takes the majestic beauty of the space to a whole other level. “If you’re lucky, an eagle will fly right over your head!,” Roger says.

More immersive birdwatching experiences can be found in Skagit County, where the annual Skagit Eagle Festival is in full swing every Saturday and Sunday through January.

In Rockport, the base of operations is the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. Year-round, the center offers opportunities to better understand the wildlife of the Skagit River watershed with an emphasis on the winter migration of bald eagles, salmon and the vital role each play in our ecosystem. During the festival, those who visit can find out about how these cohesive natural systems work via guided naturalist hikes in the park and presentations on everything from “Hiking in the Skagit Valley,” to “Glaciers of the North Cascades,” “Useful Local Plants” and “Salmon and Trout of the Skagit River.”

In Concrete, visit the information station on Railroad Street to get maps, schedules and directions for more Skagit Eagle Festival events there and in Rockport and Marblemount, such as eagle-viewing stations manned by knowledgable volunteers, river and forest tours, and educational hayrides through 250 acres of timber and pasture at Concrete’s Double O Ranch. There, in addition to spotting eagles, you can also see deer and elk and learn more about the property’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Project.

Of course, you can always just wing it and explore the eagle hot spots without the benefit of tour guides or maps or a plan of action. Just don’t forget to look up.

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