Skagit Eagle Festival
A private affair
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
For those contemplating a Skagit Eagle Festival day trip during the month of January, keep in mind that you should limit your interactions with the majestic birds of prey the same way you would if you were following human-related pandemic protocols.
For example, stay away from places where bald eagles are known to congregate en masse, watch them from inside vehicles whenever possible to allow for adequate social distancing, and bring along backup equipment such as telescopes, camera lenses or binoculars to get a closer look.
Unlike past festivals, this year’s lineup will be mostly a private affair, as many of the annual activities in and near Concrete, Rockport, and Marblemount have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. And while there won’t be any live music, fun runs, wildlife hayrides, birds of prey presentations, storytelling events or puppet shows happening during the weekends, the eagles have indeed landed—and those willing to cautiously venture forth can still observe them in their natural habitat.
Viewing sites in the vicinity include Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Mile Post 100 rest area at Sutter Creek on Highway 20, Washington Eddy in Rockport, and accessible trails near the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in Newhalem (the Marblemount Fish Hatchery is currently closed to the public).
The Skagit Wildlife Area (Skagit Flats) is an additional locale prime for viewing the abundance of bald eagles who come from as far away as Alaska to feast on the carcasses of salmon that spawn and die along the upper Skagit River from December to February. It’s where the river flows into Puget Sound, and has the bonus attraction of hosting thousands of migratory snow geese every winter.
Bay View State Park on Padilla Bay, Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island, and Washington Park in Anacortes are also places Skagit Eagle Festival organizers highlight when pointing to prime viewing sites. Near Bellingham, the Nooksack River east of the city is also on the list—including a viewing pullout just east of milepost 20 on state Route 542.
While volunteers may be on hand at limited locales to answer questions about eagles, salmon and the Skagit watershed, it’s best to check with each organization first to assess their status before planning a visit (a list can be found on the Skagit Eagle Festival website).
When heading out, keep in mind that even without COVID-19 concerns, protocols were already in place to keep the birds safe. In addition to the aforementioned recommendations, day trippers are also advised to keep away from the river’s edge and gravel bars where eagles feed (especially between 5am-11am), stay in public areas along the river and off of private property, and “keep noise low and your movements slow.”
Coronavirus cases are surging in Washington state and across the country, so visitors will also want to plan ahead when it comes to their own well-being. Carry winter emergency equipment, keep your distance from other people on trails and lookouts, have hand sanitizer readily available, and don a mask for chance encounters.
For those willing to play it safe, it’s likely they’ll be rewarded with eagle sightings, jaw-dropping views and a sense that, despite everything that’s wrong with the world right now, there is still beauty to be found in nature.
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