Fir Island, Skagit Valley Washington
Hayton Bird Reserve
My friend recently brought me to a beautiful place for a day of bird photography. Fir Island is in Skagit County near La Conner and is a well known place for bird life. Amongst the acres of farmlands and tide flats live thousands of migratory birds feeding on what is leftover from the crops. In normal years up to 50,000 Snow Geese all the way from Siberia winter in Skagit Valley.
Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are present in the thousands as well also feeding and resting before returning north.
They begin arriving in late October and the Swans leave by mid march. The Snow geese stay until mid April. Also in abundance are Bald Eagles, falcons, and too many other birds to list. Snow Geese are all white and their wing tips are black which you can see when they are flying. Swans are significantly bigger with long necks.
As we drove onto Fir Island my friend told me to scan the fields for large patches of white, and to also keep an eye on the trees we were passing by for Eagles, owls, falcons, etc. Our first stop was Hayton Reserve which is maintained by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. From where we turned onto Fir Island Road, this is about 3 miles onto the island. Here you can park and walk on the trail while searching for birdlife. Here we saw two bald eagles perched in the tall trees and a pretty large heron daring me to come closer.
As we drove the farm roads in search of the flocks of Snow Geese and Swans, we came upon several trees with Bald Eagles looming above. This is a little tricky if you want to stop and take photographs as you are forced to pull over on the side of the road as far as you can to avoid the cars passing by, but it can be done safely.
Finally after driving for a little while we came across a carpet of white in the distance. As we got closer it was evident that this was a very large flock of Snow Geese and they were feeding right off the side of the road in the fields. We parked along the side of the road with other photographers and bird watchers and marveled at the amount of geese in front of us.
They didn’t mind our presence and happily continued eating and moving about. Just when I thought I had seen the best of what Fir Island had to offer, something spooked the flock and they all decided it was time to change locations…all at once! The sky was filled with thousands of honking geese flapping their wings to make a sound I will never forget. Imagine thousands of wings creating this amount wind, the sound was unforgettable. The sky at this point was not visible and there was a literal wave of flying geese. This is something I will never forget.
A few minutes later we stumbled across another flock also close to the road, we felt extremely lucky. Across the street from the geese were several turkeys gobbling and fussing over our presence.
I actually felt like they were discussing what to do about our being there. A few moments later they all walked across the street in a line to join the flock of geese. First they had to manage to get over the ditch that stood between them and the field. I have never seen a turkey attempt to fly so this was quite comical. It was only a short flight but it was done in a rather clumsy manner.
As the turkeys ventured closer to the flock of geese it was noticeable that the geese were somewhat uncomfortable with their being there. I am not sure if this is what sparked another abrupt flight of the snow geese, but again we were experiencing a sky full of white. Simply breathtaking. We had witnessed two of these amazing sights in one day; I guess we chose the perfect day.
The swans that we encountered were beautiful but fearful. The closer we came the further they walked away. I was only able to get a handful photos and most of them were of their hind ends as they walked away.
This photo was taken on another day I had visited the area. I love how this turned out, their necks resemble an incomplete heart.
Whether you are a bird enthusiast, photographer, or just love wildlife you should someday visit Fir Island. It is about 25 miles north of Everett near Conway. Take exit 221 (Conway) and drive west, turning right onto Fir Island Road. Be sure to bring either boots or old shoes as the terrain in most places can be quite muddy.