Bald eagles return to Skagit River, and so should you

  • By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
  • Friday, December 7, 2012 3:50pm
  • Life

Our national symbol, the bald eagle, has made quite a comeback since nearing extinction in the 1970s.

A ban on the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides has allowed the majestic bird to significantly rebuild its numbers. Among the areas where that comeback is most obvious is along the Skagit River, where eagles migrate every winter to eat the carcasses of chum salmon, the last of the Pacific salmon to spawn each year.

The Skagit flock is typically the largest wintering population of eagles in the United States outside Alaska.

They’ve started showing up already. Hundreds will gather and hang out into February, sitting in the cottonwoods along the riverbank or feeding on dead chum along gravel bars.

Eagle-watching along the Skagit is a great outdoor activity.

It can be as simple as packing the family into the car and driving along Highway 20 from Rockport to Marblemount. Or you can get a little more up-close and personal by hiring a river guide and taking an eagle-watching float trip.

Eagle central is the Skagit River Interpretive Center at 52809 Rockport Road in Rockport. That’s at the Howard Miller Steelhead Park adjacent to the river. The center opened Dec. 1 and will remain open each weekend.

It offers guided walks at 11 a.m. and speakers at 1 p.m. And you can also check out locations for some of the best viewing areas.

Getting to Rockport is fairly easy, with some nice scenery along the way.

The most direct route is to take I-5 exit 230 north of Mount Vernon and then head east along the river on Highway 20. It’s about a 37-mile drive to Rockport. You can also get off I-5 at Arlington and head east along Highway 530 to Darrington. The highway then goes north to Rockport and Highway 20.

The Highway 530 route is a little more meandering, but I like it better because it follows the Stillaguamish and the Sauk rivers and is more scenic.

Whichever way you go, you’ll definitely want to dress warmly and prepare for rain. And for the best viewing, bring your binoculars, a spotting scope or a camera with your biggest telephoto lens.

There aren’t a lot of places to eat in the area. Marblemount is probably your best bet for restaurants. The Marblemount Fish Hatchery, 8319 Fish Hatchery Road, is not far from town and is also a good location for eagle viewing.

If eagle watching isn’t enough of an outdoor activity, the anglers in your family can take an hour or two and fish for steelhead on the Skagit. Winter steelhead are just starting to come into the river now

The Howard Miller park is not a bad place to wet a line in winter. There’s a decent run right at the boat launching ramp in the park. And if you like the idea of winter camping, the park has campsites for rent throughout the winter.

Eagle facts

Height: 31 to 37 inches

Wingspan: 6 feet

Weight: 9 to 14 pounds

Vision: Six to eight times better than that of humans

Lifespan: 30 years in the wild

Source: U.S. Forest Service

Eagle information

Howard Miller Steelhead Park: This Skagit County park is open for camping year-round. Call 360-853-8808 or go to tinyurl.com/79hlbol.

Skagit River Interpretive Center, in the steelhead park. The center will be open through the last weekend in January. It offers guided walks to view eagles and speakers on Saturdays and Sundays. Call 360-853-7626 or go to www.skagiteagle.org.

Float trips: To hire a guide for eagle float trips, call 888-6-SKAGIT.

More in Life

Beer and cupcakes: Snohomish brewer, baker form unlikely duo

Pacific Northwest Cupcakes uses SnoTown’s brews to make beer-infused sweet treats.

The art and science of weathervanes

They told the direction of the wind and aided in forecasting the, well, weather.

Hundreds of ways to pamper your home and yourself

Find fancy fridges to sparkling jewelry under one roof at home and gift shows in Everett.

This is exactly how a cleaning expert organizes her space in 20 minutes

Try these realistic and attainable tricks to land yourself a cleaner home.

Snohomish brewer flavors beer with chilies from mom’s back yard

Beer of the Week: Smoked rye forms sturdy foundation for SnoTown’s well-balanced Loose Rooster.

Fall is just another blooming season

October can be a time of spectacular colors in your garden.

Woodward Canyon Winery continues to weave masterpieces

Owner Rick Small uses grapes from vines he used when he made wine in his back yard in the 1970s.

Great Plant Pick: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo,’ purple-leaf ninebark

Grow it with shrub roses and perennials, and it combines with with ornamental grasses.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Dash to Diamond Knot: Flying Unicorn Racing is teaming up with Mukilteo’s… Continue reading

Most Read