Last fall, when planning our trip to the North Cascades, I tried my best to find a time to travel that highway before it closed for the winter and also to see the Snow Geese that arrive in late fall to spend the winter in the area. It was not meant to be, so we enjoyed the fall colors in the mountains, vowing to return in winter, if possible, to view the snow geese.
As the new year began, I started planning a road trip to return to the Skagit, which I visited last October . It was snowy again, but it looked like the weather pattern might ease a bit around the middle of January, so I booked a hotel for the 13th and 14th. On the 11th, I talked to Mom, who lives in the Portland area, and learned that the road to her house was impassable. I bumped our reservations to the 14th and 15th, figuring one more day should see the roads clear. Saturday, January 14th arrived and I set out just after dawn for Portland. The roads were clear until Portland and the car did some slip-sliding the last 2 miles to Mom’s house, where I had to park a block away and fetch her on foot.
After that shaky start, everything got better from there. The farther north we drove, the warmer the temperatures climbed, from 17°F in Portland to 44°F in Seattle and no snow in sight. It was a sunny day and when we approached our destination, I pulled off the I-5 freeway at Conway. There was a gas station to the right and in the field beyond, there was a flock of trumpeter swans. They were too far distant for a good photo, but there was no mistaking their long, elegant necks. I took it as a sign that this was going to be a fine outing and just what was needed for relief from the winter blues.
Having previously checked the eBird Hotspots map for interesting bird sightings, I drove west on Fir Island Road until I noticed a nondescript Dept.of Fish and Wildlife sign. At the end of a gravel road, there was a small parking lot and an inviting footpath. The sun was getting low in the southwestern sky, painting some clouds gold over the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
At first, I was concerned with keeping other people out of the shot, but then I realized that the glory of this sight was felt by others, as well. It truly was a moment to share and remember.
Just a few minutes later, a flock of Sandpipers flew around and over us, so close I could feel the draft from their wings. What a marvelous moment!
Returning to the parking lot, we looked up and saw a Bald Eagle near her nest.
As we traveled the few miles to our hotel in Burlington, several flocks of Snow Geese settled onto a field for the night. My first sighting of Snow Geese – and it was breathtaking!
We were up well before the sun on Sunday morning and it took a few minutes to clear the frost from the car’s windows before we could head east. Our timing was good, as dawn arrived just as we reached the town of Concrete and the section of the Skagit River where Bald Eagles are known to spend the winter feasting on salmon. We did see a couple of eagles, but the highlight of our time there was the sunrise and spectacular scenery.
And even the mist that formed on the river just as the first rays of the morning sun touched the water.
Back in the lowlands of the Skagit River estuary, after lunch, we drove around Fir Island. I know from experience that a good part of successful birdwatching is patience and luck. It is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Birds are mobile. They tend to move around a lot. After an hour or so of wandering around back roads, we came upon a huge flock of Snow Geese in a field right next to the road. There wasn’t much of a shoulder to pull off the road, but I did the best I could and set the flashers going to alert anyone driving through that I was parked half on the road. Thankfully, I was not alone in that, as other drivers who happened by, also stopped to look and snap a photo or two.
Just a bit farther on, I finally got a closer look at a pair of Trumpeter Swans – my first real sighting ever.
Eventually, I found my way back to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife reserve that we visited yesterday. This time, the Bald Eagle’s mate was there.
On another back road, I got my first good look at a Northern Harrier.
We ended the day exploring the town of Anacortes. There is a large marina just a block away from the heart of town, where we took a moment to admire the Lady of the Sea. A plaque at the base says: “Dedicated to those who work and play in the sea, and the families and friends who wait for them.” Sculpted by Deborah Copenhaver, 1994.
Across Fidalgo Bay, mile long trains bring oil to the Tesoro refinery and tanker ships take on loads of petroleum products.
High atop a peninsula in town is Cap Sante Park, where we enjoyed stunning views of Mt. Baker to the northeast and the marina to the south.
Having glimpsed the Anacortes shipyards after dark when we were here last, I made a point of seeing it in daylight. While there, looking for a decent point of view for a photo, a man in a hard hat came out and volunteered information about what I was seeing. Four ships were in drydock – three for repairs and this one, which he described as the first Euro-style fishing trawler to be built in the United States.
Because inquiring minds want to know, I did a bit of research when I got back home and learned this, which I will share with the nerds among my readers. According to Dakota Creek’s website:
This US flagged Amendment 80 replacement vessel designed for Fishermen’s Finest by Skipsteknisk AS (ST-116XL) specifically for catching and producing frozen at sea white fish products, groundfish, including yellow and rock sole species. Operations will be the North Pacific Gulf of Alaska, Chukchi Sea and Bering Sea. The ship will be built to class DNV GL rules for fishing vessels including clean class, and have hull notation +1A1, Ice 1B. Powered by MAN 8L32/44CR diesel engine, utilizing the latest Common Rail technology. This will be the first ST-116XL design to operate in the United States.
Length: 262 ft. Beam 50.5 ft. Draft: 18.4 ft. Speed 15 knots, berths: 49 persons + hospital. Delivery: November 2017.
Monday morning, as we began our trek back to snowy Portland, the sunrise was spectacular. I was doing about 70mph on I-5 at the time, but I was able to manage this shot over my shoulder.
I’ve been told that a red sky in morning means “sailor take warning”, but to us, it seemed to signify A New Day Has Come and I was reminded of a song by that name:
I was waiting for so long
For a miracle to come
Everyone told me to be strong
Hold on and don’t shed a tear
So through darkness and good times
I knew I’d make it through
And the world thought I had it all
But I was waiting for you
I see a light in the sky
Oh it’s almost blinding me
I can’t believe I’ve been touched by an angel
Let the rain come down
And wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul
And drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls
For a new sun
A new day has come
A new day has come
Written by: STEPHAN RICHARD MOCCIO, ALDO NOVA
Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.,
Universal Music Publishing Group