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Sunday, November 8, 2009


I knew last weekend that I would be making my way north. I heard the Snow Geese flying over home. They have a high pitched call that sounds almost like Canada Geese. But when I hear it I know it is the time to visit the Skagit.

The Skagit Flats , north and west of Mt Vernon and Fir Island, south and west from Mt Vernon is the wintering home of thousands of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans as well as many thousands of Snow Geese. They come from Wrangle Island in Siberia. It is possible to find swans with neck collars and leg bands identifying their nesting site in the Arctic. When I find them I record the numbers and send them to Washington DC where the central bird banding data base is kept. Information gathered allows scientists to keep track of changes in the population movements over the years.

The area of Fir Island has been heavily managed and protected for hunting and conservation of the birds. Farmers have historically planted barley and other crops to attract the birds. This supports conservation and provides the farms with mulch and fertilizers. In recent past there has been some issue with the masses of people who drive to the area to enjoy the sight of the large flocks. Many locals have become disenchanted with those who would trespass or drive recklessly in pursuit of their viewing pleasures. Many small property holders have suffered losses from floods and the economy.

This is a tricky area to bird now. Areas are given over to hunting at this time of year and access is strictly enforced. Even with a Fish and Wildlife permit, if hunters are in heavy attendance, agents might send you away from the protected areas for safety reasons. The Wiley Slough near the Skagit NWR HQ is undergoing rehab and management. In the past this has been a great area for general birding. Now several dikes have been breached to return this area to a fresh and salt intertidal zone. This has pushed out some of the hunting area and makes the land a bit more restricted. The area in the picture below use to be open field for hunting game birds, now it is an intertidal area.

I drove the back roads, trying , and failing, to figure out where the new swan protection and viewing area has been set up. It is OK since I love the green and gray broodiness of this area on a gloomy day like today. When the sun is full out, and the mountains are out, it is glorious. Geese and swans often appear far in fields away from available access and viewing. Not so many years ago you could drive along most planted fields and easily watch from your car. Now that there are fewer farmers and fields, the population has spread out. Many bird flocks appeared far in fields well away from any access area. Smart birds!!

I had one great fly in and managed to capture a flock of Snow Geese arriving at a field. There were a few Trumpeter Swans already on the ground.

As you can see from these pictures, there is more than one type snow in the region. I don't think the snow level in the hills behind can be that high, Perhaps 2000 feet? This northern third certainly gets winter weather earlier than we often do in the central portion of the Sound.

Having only a few nibbles and viewings I set out on my second purpose for coming up here. I read an article about the Bow / Edison area. This is another popular birding hot spot in winter. North from Mt Vernon and Highway 20 it is a community of farms on the flats just west of Chuckanut Drive. It marks the end of the flats as they are cut by Chuckanut Mountain. Bow/ Edison little more than a couple of bends in the road has attracted artists and small shops, notably bakery deli and a few "slow food" sources. Local goat and cow milk cheeses, vegetable stands, seafood suppliers.
My quest was for ALL THINGS APPLE at the Rosabella Garden Bakery. They are on the Farm to Market Road, the "main drag" out of Edison and a few miles out of town. (note to the family, that is the corner up from Duck Camp where the liquor store is. I waved to the Duck Camp as I went past)

The article told of their hard cider with tastings available. I love cider and find it challenging to find one as wonderful as the first cider I had in Belgium many years ago. Perhaps my memory is a bit biased (or foggy) towards the large bowls of drink and crepes you had to have with it. I was so eager to try a small, locally crafted cider.

But one detail was missing from the article, the shop is closed on Sundays.

AH!!! Well, it will certainly be there another weekend. Perhaps if I plan it right I can have breakfast at one of the other bakeries in Edison. Or the place "where the farmers hang out" or The Rhododendron
So many choices...

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