Eagles of the Skagit
By Kara Furr
Hundreds of bald eagles from Alaska and northern Canada migrate to the Skagit River every winter to prey on the thousands of salmon that swim upriver to spawn. People flock to the Skagit River valley to catch a sight of this yearly display.
The bald eagle, once nearly extinct due to loss of habitat and the use of DDT, has rebounded over the last few decades, and was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. While bald eagles have begun to thrive throughout the continent, their numbers remain largest in Canada and Alaska. In western Washington, the eagle population swells from late November to late January as northern eagles follow their food sources south, with numbers usually peaking from the last week in December through mid-January.
You can observe the eagles perching along the river from both water and land. The Skagit River eagle float is a popular yearly tradition for kayakers, canoeists and rafters. Whether
you head out on your own or with a commercial rafting trip, this is an up front way of appreciating the beauty of both the river and the eagles.
Otherwise, there are many pullouts along Highway 20 in the Bald Eagle Natural Area which comprises 2,450 acres of protected land along the upper Skagit River at its confluence with the Sauk River, east of Concrete.
Another great place to stop is Howard Miller Steelhead County Park in Rockport, home to the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center (skagiteagle.org), open Saturday and Sunday from the first weekend in December to the last weekend in January. The center is a great resource for information on eagles and viewing sights – they also offer guided walks.
You can combine your bird watching with enjoying the Skagit Eagle Festival (skagiteaglefestival.com). The month-long festival takes place in Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount every weekend in January. The festival features a variety of free tours, walks and educational programs, as well as arts and crafts, wine tasting, river rafting, music, dance and more.
Whether by land or on the river, this great migration is a spectacle that’s not to be missed. X
The following outfitters offer guided tours on local rivers:
Blue Sky Outfitters
Cascades Fly Fishing Expeditions
Pacific NW Float Trips
Triad River Tours
Wild & Scenic River Tours
Eagles in B.C.:
For eagle viewing in southern British Columbia, check out the Squamish River in Brackendale just off the Sea to Sky highway five miles past Squamish. The best viewing area is on the municipal dyke on Government Road in Brackendale. To reach it, exit Highway 99 at Mamquam Road and head north on Government Road to the dyke across from the Easter Seal Camp.
Head to Brackendale anytime in January for the annual Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count. Visit their website at brackendaleartgallery.com for more information.
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