Watching winged friends

Trumpeters flying
When the crops of the Skagit farmlands are put to rest for winter, they come.
With the sky’s gray backdrop so common to a winter in western Washington, they glisten like diamonds. Birds. By the hundreds, thousands even, they flock from near and far to the fertile, tilled soils at the mouth of the Skagit River, one destination of many on their migratory journey.
Snow geese. Trumpeter swans. Bald eagles. These are but a few of the many species you will find on an adventure of bird watching across the flats. Other local residents, such as a variety of hawks and ducks, the barred owl, and the infamous great blue heron, paint an elaborate portrait in winter, making the Skagit Valley one of the most prized destinations for bird watching in the Pacific Northwest.

Trumpeter swans(Title) Trumpeter swans in flight (Above) Coming in for a landing near Fir Island
OwlAn owl seeks solace along Bow-Edison Road near Padilla Bay Nat’l Estuarine Reserve
Great blue heronA great blue heron sweeps across the waters of Padilla Bay

This winter season, take a walk and watch our winged friends. Listen to the trumpeter swans as they honk, bobbing their heads up and down. Watch with curiosity as a lone snow goose waddles your way across fields covered in frost near the Fir Island Farm and Hayton Reserve. Stare up at the sky along Maupin Road, near where the Skagit River enters Skagit Bay, and witness the wonder of a great blue heron in flight. Smile as mallard ducks socialize along the trails bordering Padilla Bay. Along Bow-Edison Road, stand in silence as a bard owl twists its head to look at you from a fence post.

SnowgooseA lone snow goose traverses across an icy field
EaglesTwo bald eagles in an elaborate nest near Hayton Reserve
HawkA red-tailed hawk feeds in the tall grass
Heron & Skagit BayA great blue heron’s silhouette is cast by fading winter light on Skagit Bay

Local locations for wildlife viewing are plenty. If you are interested in winter bird watching in the Skagit Valley, be sure to bring some binoculars, a field guide, warm layers and a spontaneous spirit. If you feel compelled to not just watch, but learn, about these magnificent creatures, North Cascades Institute is offering a Winter Wings: Birds of the Skagit Flats field course on February 20th.
There is a dream I carry from childhood, a dream of flying. I have come to realize, as I grow older, that though I may never fly myself, I feel closer to reaching that dream when I am outside gazing upward, watching my winged friends.

Photos courtesy of Kelsi K. Franzen.


  1. Tim Colman

    Great shots — and all reminding me of heaven that is the Skagit. Thanks.

  2. David

    On my way to work, I drive past several fields that are favorites of migrating geese and swans. Hard to continue on when I’d rather stay and watch. At least when I get home, there’s almost always a honk overhead to greet me — the benefits of living in a flight path. Thanks for the great photos.

  3. Fiona Cohen

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