At this time of year, I routinely head north to the Skagit flats on through January and into early February. Many eagles who have dined in the upper river on returning salmon rest between feasts in trees down on the flats. One tree that I encountered decades ago had 22 eagles resting on it! But then a couple started an annual nest there and there have never been more than a handful since.There are other trees with one or two eagles or on telephone posts or rarely on the fields themselves. One can often see red tailed hawks as well.
However, the more widely known attractions at this time of the year are the migrating flocks of snow geese, and the smaller groups of the larger trumpeter swans. Farmers are compensated for these recurring encroachments.
I have gradually developed a standard route, which has usually lead to productive sightings, but has a few fixed features to make the trip always a worthwhile venture. It can be done point-to-point in just over two hours north from Edmonds, but plan on three to four hours, including a picnic or other meal. Head north to just past Highway 20 and take the Chuckanut Drive (Highway 11) to the northwest. Then turn left on Bow Hill Road and follow it shortly into the companion town of Edison, where you will be aiming at the Breadfarm bakery. If you’ve ever stopped there, you’ll know why it flourishes in this tiny town. (Tip: You can just stop by, but if you are wise, you’ll have made an online pickup order after 7 a.m.).
Turn left through town, then right onto Bayview-Edison Road, and you should see the very large nest by the farmhouse ahead. Note: You have to respect property rights and safe road travel and might have to just slowly pass or go to one of the few public spots off the road and walk back.
I generally only do this trip on weekdays. Of course, one could do the trip via bike, if capable. During this trip, I only got to view the regal couple leaving the nest so I’ve put in a few shots from other trips.
Continue on Bayview-Edison all the way along Padilla Bay. In addition to the nice views, you should see more eagles, perhaps hawks, lots of waterfowl — and maybe some llamas. I highly recommend stopping at the Padilla Bay Reserve Center (open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) but you can picnic there at other times. A quick tour of the local ecology including great aquaria and tidal tanks. Note the octopus!
Cross Highway 20 (possible food stop at the Farmhouse restaurant) and follow La Conner (named for Louisa A Connor) via Whitney Road into that town, where you can break from fauna and dine, or — gasp — shop. But while going toward town and after leaving towards Conway, which puts you much closer to Edmonds than your northern leg of travel, you still may see one or more flocks of geese or swans — particularly if you make a side loop on Fir Island.
Give this day trip a try over the next few weeks. Since today was not one of my better times (nature gets to arrange your success), I’ll probably do it again later this month, after I run out of Breadfarm bread!
— Story and photos by Kevin O’Keeffe’