Fidalgo Island is part of the Great Washington Birding Trail, and for good reason. The island has a rich array of fresh and salt water, and easily accessible woodlands. The rocky beaches, tideflats and marshes provide both novice and advanced birders a variety of ways to see our feathered friends.
On a winter day one might see surf scoters, western grebes and buffleheads bobbing in the water; or belted kingfishers flying along the salty shoreline. Along the forestland trails keep an ear open for chestnut backed chickadees, kinglets, spotted towhees and red-breasted nuthatches that flit within the safety of the brush. Stay on the lookout for bald eagles, resting high in the tree tops.
Deception Pass State Park
This park is Washington’s most-visited state park for a reason. “Mysterious coves, rugged cliffs, jaw-dropping sunsets and a stomach-dropping high bridge make this park a go-to for locals and international travelers alike,” the state’s description reads.
In addition to the spectacular scenery, the park is home to most species of the region’s loons, grebes, cormorants, sea ducks, gulls, and alcids, as well as anything that starts with a “B”: Bald Eagles, Black Oystercatchers , Black Turnstones, Belted Kingfishers. The park’s forested areas are great places to look for woodpeckers, wrens, kinglets, chickadees, nuthatches and crossbills.
This 110-acre county park protects an important segment of undeveloped waterfront on Fidalgo Island. It comprises a legacy gift from the Sharpe family, which settled here many years ago. Boasting nearly a mile of rocky shore, the park also includes an impressive and in places difficult to navigate bluff rising more than 450 feet from the water.
“The bird life out there is phenomenal,” park volunteer Rick Machin told the Seattle Times. “I’ve seen bald eagles and peregrine falcons, along with all the usual suspects of birds you’ll find in the low, grassy areas where we’ve cleared the [Scotch] broom — juncos, white-crowned sparrows and finches, which in turn attract Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks and northern harriers.”
According to the county guide, “The Sares Head trail will take you to the Sares Head overlook, a journey that will pass Fox Pond, a small wet-land habitat hosting several species of ducks and migrating songbirds. The trail takes advantage of the unique features of the region, meandering through a diverse ecological landscape before opening to majestic scenery.”
Home to more than 100 species, this 220-acre park offers especially good winter birding. In saltwater, look for marbled murrelets, pigeon guillemots, common loons, red-necked and western grebes, double-crested and pelagic cormorants, brant, surf scoters, hooded mergansers and harlequin ducks.
Black oystercatchers and bald eagles frequent the shoreline. Look in trees for brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches, golden-crowned kinglets and bushtits; downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers; and possibly migrant warblers.
Mount Erie and Anacortes Community Forest Lands
The Community Forest Lands cover nearly 2,800 acres within the City of Anacortes, including Mount Erie, which rises 1,273 feet above sea level and provides expansive views on clear days. These lands are a mosaic of forest, wetlands, lakes and meadows, and are home to Barred owls, Pileated woodpeckers, varied thrushes and a wide assortment of other forest birds.
The extensive trail system through these woods is divided in to three sections: the Cranberry Lake Area Trail System, Whistle Lake Area Trail System and Heart Lake Area Trail System (click on links for maps).
March Point & Fidalgo Bay
Although one might not be naturally attracted to a neighborhood that features the tanks and columns of two refineries, March Point is home to many Northwest birds including bald eagles, hawks, kingfishers, brant, scoters, Long-tailed and other sea ducks, cormorants and herons.
During the spring this peninsula turns into one of the largest Great Blue Heron colonies in Western North America. In 2016, 546 heron nests were counted at this site, which provides easy access to feeding grounds for the herons. The March Point Conservation Area is owned by the Skagit Land Trust, whose mission is “to conserve wildlife habitat, agricultural and forest lands, scenic open space, wetlands, and shorelines for the benefit of our community and as a legacy for future generations.” See the organization’s website for more information on this property.
Be aware that although March Point Road is a public road, much of the property on the point is privately owned. Take care to respect private property if you pull over, and be prepared for occasional traffic including tanker trucks.
The varied habitats near Deception Pass, from old growth forest to the open waters off Rosario Head, attract a variety of birdlife. Expect to see winter songbirds, waterfowl, gulls, and other seabirds. Discover Pass (parking permit) required.
This portion of Deception Park State Park is jointly managed by the Swinomish tribe and State Parks and is a lovely place for a walk almost any time of year. There is very little parking space, so carpooling is highly recommended if you are going as a group.
A variety of habitats include brushy edges, views from beaches onto Skagit Bay on both sides of this peninsular island, and a walk on road or trails into mature second growth forest where secretive songbirds and some not so secretive, can be found in sheltered sites. Round trip walk is about two miles, mostly on the road. Scopes are useful for distant water birding and binoculars for forest birds.
See here for maps and more information on the Kukutali Preserve.