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Published: Sunday, December 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Simple, practical gifts for outdoors fun in Northwest

My nephew, Devin, recently moved to Seattle. It didn't take long for a new friend to take him on a hike near North Bend.
It wasn't a difficult hike, the friend assured him.
So Devin, who had spent most of his life on the flat lands of the Eastern Shore of Maryland and kayaking the flat waters of its rivers, joined him.
He said that a few hours into the climb, he thought he was going to die on this "not-hard" elevation-gaining hike.
Welcome to the Cascades, nephew.
I was reminded of this story when thinking of a holiday gift for Devin, whose only other experience with a Washington hike was walking down Mount Constitution on Orcas Island.
What better gift than a state Discover Pass ($30; $35 if purchased at a licensed dealer, by phone or online).
With that pass, Devin has entry into more than 100 state parks, more than 350 primitive recreation sites (including campgrounds and picnic areas), almost 700 water-access points, nearly 2,000 miles of designated water and land recreation trails, and more than 110 natural and wildlife areas.
Those options offer landscapes far different than the Eastern Shore, including alpine meadows and Western Washington's shrub-steppes and deserts.
This holiday, give your relative a Discover Pass. For more information, go to www.discoverpass.wa.gov.
Another option is one or more of the Jeff Corwin and Waterford Press Explorer series of pocket naturalist guides.
Corwin is the award-winning TV host and producer of Animal Planet programs, "The Jeff Corwin Experience" and "Corwin's Quest."
The 8.25-by-4-inch, six-fold laminated guides ($7.95) are a good introduction to various animals. Each guide focuses on one animal, such as bears, snakes, sharks or primates, using short text blocks and photographs.
Each focuses on specific areas: introduction, senses and anatomy, behaviors, interaction with humans, threats and conservation, and facts and distribution.
Size matters: Large wintering birds create an excellent opportunity for casual bird-watchers as well as expert birders.
The wintering birds tend to concentrate at food sources, often close to roads (think snow geese) while foraging in fields.
Identifying ducks is generally easier for beginners than identifying small birds that use trees and brush for cover.
It's a good idea to spend a little time with a bird-identification book before you leave home, familiarizing yourself with several likely to be seen species.
Be respectful: Enjoy the view but let them feed in peace and quiet. It is selfish and potentially harmful to deliberately or thoughtlessly cause snow geese, for instance, to flush.
It is a beautiful sight, but they should fly on their own schedule, not yours. They are here to eat and rest, and pack on calories for the long flight north in late winter.
If you are within sight of the birds move slowly, and watch with a small group to be less disturbing.
Here are some viewing sites that reliably provide good views of waterfowl.

  • Skagit Wildlife Area, including the Johnson DeBay Swan Reserve, Johnson/DeBay's Slough Game Reserve, Fir Island Farm/Fir Island Farm Game Reserve, Skagit County.
  • Birch Bay State Park, north of Bellingham, 94 acres with more than 8,000 feet of saltwater shoreline.
  • Semiahmoo Spit, Whatcom County Park on Drayton Harbor, Blaine; 0.8-mile paved trail on the east side of the spit.
  • Union Bay Natural Area, University of Washington (Montlake Fill); 74 acres, 4 miles of Lake Washington shoreline, one of the best bird-watching sites in Seattle.
  • Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island; more than 600 acres of brackish marsh, freshwater marsh and mudflats on the western side of the island.
  • Tennant Lake Wildlife Area, Ferndale; best birding spots are on the boardwalk loop trail, river access trail and from the tower. A spotting scope would be helpful.
  • Samish Flats, Padilla Bay and Alice Bay, Skagit County.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Bird-watchingOutdoors

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