Port Susan birding festival begins on Saturday

Stanwood’s February festival is named after its most popular winter visitor, the snow goose, but that’s not the only thing it’s about.

The Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival, which runs Feb. 22 and 23 this year, is a free event for lovers of all types of birds, from eagles and owls to shore birds and bluebirds.

The snow geese get top billing because they worked hard to get here, flying more than 3,000 miles from Wrangell Island in the Russian Arctic to spend the winter in the Northwest.

Some 70,000 snow geese migrate to the region, traveling from their breeding grounds in Wrangell, north of Siberia in the Arctic Ocean.

Last year, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife attached satellite transmitters on some of the geese to get a better handle on their travels, both during their migration and while they’re here in the Northwest.

The geese usually spend the night in Port Susan or Skagit Bay, heading out during the day to forage in a variety of farm fields.

“They’re spreading out more in the valley,” said Kristine Kaufman, a member of the festival planning committee. “During the day, smaller groups are going to Arlington, Everett and other communities (to feed).”

Russian senior scientist Vasily Baranyuk, who has studied the geese on Wrangell Island and in the Northwest, will talk about what scientists are learning during a presentation at the festival Feb. 23.

Kaufmann said the festival, which is in its ninth year, will also include talks on successful efforts to reintroduce native bluebirds in the San Juan Islands. “They’re just beautiful,” she said, noting the next step is to expand their range.

Also speaking will be Ruth Milner of the state wildlife department, who has done extensive work on shore birds.

The National Audubon Society has designated the Skagit and Stillaguamish river deltas as a critical habitat for shore birds, and the festival will acknowledge the event during a reception on Saturday, Kaufmann said.

She noted that last year, the area received a similar critical habitat designation.

“It’s nice that a little strip of a fairly urban area is important habitat,” she said.

In addition to a number of presentations, the festival will feature a series of classes and outdoor tours.

Identifying waterfowl was a popular on-the-water class last year and will return again this year, Kaufmann said.

Wildlife photographer Karen Ulvestad will also present a class on taking better photos.

And buses will take people on a tour of the Nature Conservancy property along the Stillaguamish River. And there will be tours to look for snow geese and swans as well as shore birds.

Young people and adults will also be able to build their own owl nesting boxes during a workshop on Feb. 23.

Kaufmann said the festival averages about 1,000 visitors a year, depending on weather. People interested in taking any of the tours should sign up on the festival’s website, www.snowgoosefest.org, because they usually fill up early.

Snow goose fest

What: Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival.

When: Feb. 22 and 23.

Where: 27130 102nd Ave, NW, Stanwood.

Cost: Free.

Information: www.snowgoosefest.org, for information and to register for tours.

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