Saturday, February 02, 2019

River of Eagles

Pack a picnic and get an early start, for our Nation’s national symbol is at the heart of this trip to the Skagit Valley. At just 46 miles from start to finish you’ll have plenty of time to stop at all the way-sides to look for Bald Eagles. You can find eagles here anytime of the year, but your best bet to photograph these gorgeous raptors is between the end of November to the beginning of March so make sure you bundle up and bring your longest lens.
Bald Eagles migrate into the Skagit River Valley during the winter to feed on spawning salmon battling their way upstream to end their life cycle and nourish another. The eagle numbers are so great here that the towns in the Skagit Valley host an Eagle Festival every year and wildlife spotters help tourists identify and understand these great raptors. That’s one of the reasons I love this trip – all the little waysides that will get you close enough to really watch eagles roost and hunt or scavenge.

Our first stop on this trip is on Padilla Bay not too far from the mouth of the Skagit River at a little park named Bay View State Park. Padilla Bay and its mud flats filled with tasty bird treats (insects and small marine life) are well known in birding circles. While looking for eagles roosting high in the trees, keep an eye out for wintering water birds in the bay or Great Blue Herons perched on the shore. Just north of the park is the Breazeale Padilla Bay Interpretive Center. Swing by to learn more about the role the area plays in the healthy eco-system.

Thirty miles east along the Skagit River, just off highway 20, is Rasar State Park. Perfectly situated along a stretch of wide shallow water, eagles love to roost in the trees looking for the perfect salmon to snack on and screech at each other. From the parking lot, hike down through a meadow with views of Sauk Mountain and listen for the high-pitched screechy call in the trees above. Once you get to the river, walk easterly and look up. Eagles enjoy roosting in the leaf-bare alders here – better fish viewing for them and better bird viewing for you.

As your morning winds down, hop back in your car to drive another 16 miles east on highway 20 to Rockport State Park. While there isn’t river access from this park, the thick old growth forest aides in keeping the river healthy so salmon and Bald Eagles return every year. Check the calendar for one of the ranger led walks through the forest ecosystem to learn more about the interconnectedness of the forest, river, salmon, and eagles.
If you want to continue your adventure, keep heading east on highway 20 through the towns of Rockport and Marblemount. There are several stops along the way with opportunities to photograph eagles. The first is in Rockport at the Howard Miller Steelhead Park where you will find an eagle interpretive center and can take part in interpretive walks. Further along the road at milepost 101, a small park has open views to allow for eagle viewing. And in Marblemount, head across the river to the boat access where you can walk a trail leading down river a bit and eagles watching from trees. 
Directions from Mount Vernon (mileages are approximate):
To Bay View State Park: In Mount Vernon, follow highway 536 through town to the junction with highway 20 in 7 miles. Head west on highway 20. In 2 miles turn north onto Bay View Edison Rd and drive 1.5 miles to the park. The entrance is one your right then you’ll need to take an immediate left into the to drive under the road to the day use area and the shoreline. The Padilla Bay Education Center is just a half mile up the road from the park.
To Rasar State Park: Drive back into the town of Bay View then head east on Josh Wilson Rd. Stay on this road for 8 miles to the junction with I-5. Head north on I-5 for a mile then take the exit to Cook Rd. Follow Cook Rd through 2 round-abouts. The first one, take the second exit. The second one, take the third exit, this will have you driving on highway 20 eastbound. Follow highway 20 for 15.5 miles to Lusk Rd and turn right. Turn left onto Cape Horn Rd and in 1 mile you come to the park. On the left is the group camp area and the right is the campground and day use area with the trail along the river.
To Rockport State Park: Head back to Cape Horn Rd and turn right (east) then turn left onto Russell Rd. This will take you back to highway 20. Continue east on highway 20 for 13.5 miles. Access to the park is on the north side of the highway, but the park spans the highway.

No comments: