The winter home of over 50,000 Snow geese and countless dabbling ducks, the Skagit River Delta has been identified as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. This area hosts the largest number of bird species found in the Skagit Valley – 262 according to eBird, and in 2012 it was designated as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site.
This cluster is loosely defined as the Fir Island, between the North Fork and South Fork of the Skagit River, and the surroundings estuaries, bays and farmlands. Birders benefit from the large tracts of land set aside for wildlife habitat and recreational use by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Moreover, the fertile farmlands of the Skagit Delta provide important foraging habitat for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl.
Please note that this area is popular with hunters, who also use WDFW and private lands. The Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit (see below) is an exception and has been designated as a non-hunting area.
Skagit Wildlife Area Headquarters Unit, aka Wiley Slough
This 190-acre tidal marsh (estuary) on Fir Island, west of and adjacent to Freshwater Slough, is predominantly vegetated by cattail and sedge and used extensively by waterfowl and other waterbirds as well as the raptors that prey on them. The area is used for waterfowl hunting, fishing, bird dog training and bird watching.
This unit includes a visitor information shelter with seating for about 50 people, a parking lot, and two toilet facilities. For more extensive information about the site, see this article Wylie Slough or Wiley Slough?
Directions: Take Exit 221 on I-5 and head west from the freeway and turn onto Fir Island Road at the roundabout, following the sign for Conway/La Conner. Proceed across the river and a little over one mile from the bridge turn south onto Wylie Road. After about one mile you will come to a sort of T-intersection, where you will turn left and follow the WDFW signs to either of the two parking lots. (Google Maps link) Discover Pass required.
Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit
This managed agricultural and intertidal land (225 acres on the south side of Fir Island Road) was purchased in 1995 to create an upland snow goose reserve. This non-hunted Game Reserve is managed to provide a winter feeding and resting area for snow geese adjacent to the Skagit Bay estuary. The management of this site occurs through a lease agreement with a local farmer who plants a commercial agricultural crop that is harvested, and an over-wintered cover crop of winter wheat for snow goose forage.
In 2016 a salmon habitat recovery project was completed at this site, restoring 130 acres to intertidal estuary while maintaining 100 acres of agricultural land for snow goose forage. This reserve is a popular wildlife watching site and has a gravel road and parking area with two ADA parking spots.
Directions: From Interstate 5, take Exit 221 (Lake McMurray/Conway) and turn west. Drive 0.1 mile. Turn right (west) onto Fir Island Road. Drive west 3.2 miles. Turn left (south) at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sign. Drive 0.5 mile to parking area. Discover Pass required.
This site is heavily used by hunters during the season, but after January 28, 2018, this is a good spot to pop up on the dike separating the saltwater estuary from the farmland and have a look around for 5-10 minutes. The area is often patrolled by harriers and eagles and sometime short-eared owls around dusk. With a good spotting scope you may also find some interesting waterfowl out on the bay.
Directions: Take Exit 221 on I-5, West on Fir Island Rd 4 mi. to Maupin Rd, 1 mi. on Maupin to Jensen Access. Google Maps link. Discover Pass required.