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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Skagit County Birds and Vistas

I was over on the mainland for two days and had a chance to drive around Skagit County. Last time I was there, in March, it took me four posts to talk about all the amazing bird encounters I had, particularly with raptors and swans. The birds weren't quite as abundant this time, but I still saw 32 species in the three or so hours I was driving around.

One highlight was a flock of 3000+ snow geese on Fir Island (nestled between the north and south arms of the Skagit River). The grayer birds are the juveniles, who will stay with their parents on both the southbound and northbound migrations. The family groups will only separate at the start of the next breeding season:

Last spring the raptors were very cooperative when it came to photographs, but they proved to be a bit more skittish this time around. I did still see four red-tail hawks, six northern harriers, a token America kestrel, and about seven bald eagles, including this pair perched on a utility pole with the top of Mt. Baker visible in the background:

At the Fir Island Skagit Wildlife Area, a highlight was about ten Wilson's snipes that flew back and forth overhead. The view from the parking lot wasn't bad either, looking across the Skagit farmlands towards Mt. Baker in the distance:

Rawlins Road is where I saw the short-eared owls last time, but as far as I know no one has seen them there recently. I'm not really sure what their seasonal movement patterns might be. There were several hundred northern pintail a ways off in the bay. With a scope several other species of ducks might have been visible as well. Probably the most unexpected find of the day was a northern shrike that perched briefly on a bush at this stop. Here's a sample of the landscape at Rawlins Road, with the multi-colored marshlands in the foreground, and an island covered with evergreens out in the bay in the background:

Before heading back to catch the ferry I drove around Padilla Bay to take a look at some seabirds. In addition to the ubiquitous glaucous-winged gulls, I saw a flock of 30 ring-billed gulls and another of maybe 40-50 Bonaparte's gulls (stay tuned for a post about a MUCH bigger flock of Bonaparte's I saw recently). Also in the bay were several common loons, and about 30 horned grebes - sure signs we're heading towards the winter birding season!


Kelly said...

Oh wow! The field of Snow Geese is gorgeous. I'd love to see a huge flock like that! Sounds like a wonderful day of birding.

eileeninmd said...

Love the flock of Snow geese. It is amazing to see such large groups of them. I enjoyed your scenic photos too, especially the mountain.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Now that's what flock of snow geese should look like! rather than our somewhat paltry by comparison 27 or so...still wonder if they were wild or not.


PS really looking forward to the Bonaparte's Gull post.

Warren Baker said...

That Rawlins Road spot looks a good place to find a few bird species Monika.

Love those Bald Eagles!

Monika said...

Kelly - It's pretty impressive. I didn't see it this time, but its even more impressive when they all take off!

Eileen - It's amazing to see thousands of anything in one place, and then imagine that it's only a small part of the whole population. Especially when I deal so much with the Southern Resident orcas, who have 85 whales in their whole population!

Dave - If they were escapees, where would they have come from?

Warren - It sure is. I only discovered it last March. There's fairly limited public access, but with a scope you should be able to pick up more sea birds to add to all the raptors you can see there.