By Sharon Wootton
One free day is better than no free day at all.
National Public Lands Day, Sept. 29, means no fees to enter state and national parks as well as national forests.
Volunteers (170,000 nationwide) will be at many locations to work on projects or educate visitors about the importance of preserving natural resources.
Forest Service lands, for instance, contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone, according to Forest Service information.
Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year.
Put away your Discover Pass if you’re headed to a state park on that day. And don’t worry about fees at national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management properties.
Caveat: A Discover Pass is still required to access lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Public Lands Day.
To give the national parks their due, 264 of the 397 national parks never charge an entrance fee.
Swift count: Vaux’s swifts’ bills were counted at the Swift Night Out in Monroe earlier this month at Wagner Elementary school.
The number of swifts pouring down the chimney at dusk was mind-boggling. Starting Sept. 9, the counts were: 5,077; 3,537; 3,147; 3,627 and 8,460, according to Vaux’s swift expert Larry Schwitters.
Avian action: Birds are definitely on the move, winging their way to various winter homes. Others are staying around, content with their full-time residences.
An Everett birder reported an interesting sighting on the Tweeters email list. She was walking along the shoreline trail at Padilla Bay and sighted some great blue herons.
That wasn’t a remarkable sighting until she counted 17 on a tiny inaccessible (to humans) stretch of grass with dead-looking trees.
I’ve seen several herons spread far apart on Blind Bay in the San Juans, but nothing close to 17.
Being in the right place at the right time helps, but you have to be outdoors to benefit from it, so take advantage of this weather, pack your binoculars and favorite bird-identification book and go to it.
Birding heaven: This is why birders will spring for the cost of a pelagic tour out of Westport.
Westport Seabirds recently took birders to Grays Canyon, a submarine canyon about 35 miles west of the mouth of Grays Harbor.
In and above the ocean, the birders saw albatrosses, 1,100 pink-footed shearwaters, 2,300 fork-tailed storm-petrels, 13 South Polar skua, auklets, puffins, jaegers and 18 humpback whales.
For more information, go to www.westportseabirds.com. The next tour is Sept. 29. Hope for calm seas and clear skies.
If you’d rather bird closer to home, head to the Edmonds Marsh and try to find the hummingbirds (Wesley and Elmer), or the Virginia rail.
On another note, Audubon Washington now has a mobile app for the Great Washington State Birding Trail. Go to wa.audubon.org for information and videos.
Birding with a guide: Pilchuck Audubon Society (www.pilchuckaudubon.org) regularly schedules field trips for the public led by an experienced birder. It’s a good way to learn more about birds and enjoy the company of like-minded people.
In October, destinations include parks and wetlands of the King and Snohomish county line, Fidalgo Island and Deception Pass State Park, and Green Lake.
An August trip to the North Cascades, for instance, brought sightings of 35 species, including an ibis, mourning doves, Anna’s hummingbird, flycatchers, tree swallows, Bewick’s wren, yellow warbler and cedar waxwings.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.