Photo by Visual Photography
The Birds are Back…
Who would think that winter birding would be a good idea? Seems like a better time to stay indoors, warm and dry, rather than be out in the cool, moist weather. Winter, however, is an amazing time to be out observing birds. With the leaves down, birds are easier to view, and it’s the perfect time to practice bird identification skills. As an incentive, the winter season brings us our very own winter resident birds—right in our backyard.
Are you interested in birding, but not sure where to start? Official “birders,” as you may know, are an indomitable species of their own. They will travel miles to walk all day in rainy weather, with hopes of catching sight or capturing the perfect image. Not all of us are so dedicated; however, and for you, we offer this novice guide to birding. Eager to get started? Here are some tips for birding this fall and winter.
What to Expect
While snow geese and trumpeter swans may be the first birds to come to mind, a Snowy Owl can be spotted from time to time, too. Waterfowl and shorebirds, such as plovers, yellowlegs and scoter sea ducks, like to congregate near shorelines and mud flats of local estuaries. Eagles, owls and hawks—known as raptors—frequent farmland and can also be found where the Skagit River empties into Puget Sound. Owl photo by Terry Green
What to Bring
A rain suit complete with rubber boots will help insulate against the cold. Keep toasty warm with a thermos of coffee, cider or hot cocoa. And of course, don’t forget a set of binoculars. All Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) areas require the Discover Pass, which can be purchased for $30 online or at most sporting goods stores. Otherwise, the day pass is $10. Upcoming Discover Pass Free Days, where passes aren’t required to visit Washington state parks, are November 11 and 27. The Washington Audubon created an app for the Great Washington State Birding Trail, which is available for both iPhone and Android. The app shows nearby birding destinations and features a directory to help identify birds. While traveling, just be mindful of posted hunting grounds, as bird-hunting takes place October through January.
Where to Bird
Kayak Point County Park is home to a variety of grebes, chickadees, kinglets, gulls, woodpeckers, loons, eagles and cormorants. In Silvana, Norman Road and other roads off Pioneer Highway offer spots to check out birds near the Stillaguamish River. Walk the dike at Hatt Slough for a chance to see peregrine falcons, merlins, snowy owls and short-eared owls. The dike at Big Ditch leads to a marsh where you might spot owls, snow geese, and red-tailed hawks. You can also start at the Skagit Area Wildlife Trail in Conway, then drive Fir Island Road to Talking Field No. 3 to learn about the Goose Reserve.
Across Davis Slough bridge is access to west Leque Island (lek-wee), where you’ll find killdeer, plovers, sandpipers, snipes and dowitchers. English Boom Preserve is a county park providing access to a beach that goes all the way to David Slough, offering views of ducks, songbirds and Dunlins. Lookouts near Utsalady Bay are great for checking out loons, grebes, gulls and goldeneyes. Maple Grove Boat Launch attracts shorebirds like cormorants, loons and gulls. Finally, Iverson Spit Preserve is home to over 150 species of birds, such as eagles, ducks, songbirds, the Caspian Tern and mourning dove.
Read All About It
Birding can be a great way to get the kids out of the house on those rainy winter days—what better way to supplement your field trip with a great book? The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico is probably one of the most well-known stories; but also try out The Snow Geese – A Story of Home by William Fiennes, or The Snow Angel by Christine Leeson. Remember to check the age suggestions for literature—our local Sno-Isle Libraries would be more than happy to help you find more resources.
Bird Watching Tips & Etiquette
- To birds and other wildlife.
- To other people (other birders, other outdoor enthusiasts, neighbors).
- The environment.
Be polite to the BIRDS:
#1: Put the birds first
It is magical to see a huge flock snow geese fly off in unison but please don’t chase or alarm the birds. We have lots of eagles and typically every 20-30 minutes they pester the flocks and cause them to take wing. Be patient and let the eagles do the agitating. Also, if you approach the flock very slowly, the snows probably won’t mind, but if they move away, that’s a sign that your actions are disturbing the birds – and you should move back.
#2: Dogs and birding just don’t mix
It would be best to leave your dog home. However, if you must bring Fluffy along, please be responsible for your pet. However, some birding locations and birding groups do not allow dogs at all, so be sure to check before you leave home.
- Fluffy should always be on a leash.
- Make sure Fluffy is not ruining the experience for others (barking, jumping on people, knocking over equipment)
- Pick up after Fluffy.
Be polite to other PEOPLE:
#3: Don’t trespass on private property. Fields and vacant lands are “vacant” – but not “unowned”. Publicly owned lands are typically very well marked – and may require a Discover Pass for parking. When in doubt assume it is private land. Please don’t trespass.
Please observe the No Parking signs on Fir Island Road. There are MANY signs so don’t pretend you didn’t see them. This is for your safety and that of others. Most of our rural roads have little or no shoulder so while it may be legal to park, it may not be safe to park due to soft shoulder and/or big drop offs. If you must park on a road, please make sure your car is completely off the roadway and be sure to walk against the traffic.
#5: Dress for the weather and for birding
So you and your group can enjoy the entire day, remember that February in western Washington can be cold and wet so be sure to bring your rain gear, boots, hat, and gloves. Birds don’t like bright colors (whites, yellows, and reds). Try wearing camouflage colors so you can blend into the background. Once you are out in the field, be sure to move slowly and quietly. Keep your conversation volumes low.
#6: Tips for birding in a group
Usually birders will offer to let you look through their scope. But don’t hog the view. Make sure you aren’t standing in front of someone’s camera or telescope. Be sure to keep your conversation volume down. Stay with the group so you don’t end up being the person who flushes the special bird before the group is ready.
Be polite to the HABITAT:
#7: Stay on trails and paths
#8: Leave no trace