By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
STANWOOD — They’ve had to fly about 3,000 miles, but they’re here now and waiting for you in Stanwood.
Thousands of snow geese are visiting for the winter from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia’s Siberia, just in time for the city’s seventh annual Snow Goose Festival.
The free event, scheduled for Feb. 25-26, is a good opportunity for serious and casual birders to learn a lot about the geese, migrating trumpeter swans, and other birds such as eagles, which enjoy eating snow geese. There are a number of lectures and some popular tours and bird walks. There also are events for kids.
Laura Byers of Coastal Bank’s Stanwood branch is chairperson for the event, established to promote wintertime tourism. “We wanted something we could do in the offseason to attract people to the Stanwood area,” she said.
Because of its location near the Skagit delta, the Stanwood area gets several thousands of the snow geese. They birds are part of a population of at least 35,000 of the migrating waterfowl wintering in Washington and in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, B.C,. every year before returning to Wrangel to lay their eggs.
Vasily Baranyuk has been studying the geese for more than 25 years at Wrangel Island and will be one of the featured speakers at the festival. He’ll talk about his work and show videos and slides of the geese on both days.
Also speaking will be Martha Jordan of the Trumpeter Swan Society; Jim Watson, a raptor specialist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Daniel Froehlich of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory.
The Sarvey Wildlife Center will bring some injured birds that have been rescued but weren’t able to be released to the wild.
There also will be a visit to the Port Susan Nature Preserve that is owned by the Nature Conservancy and maintained to aid the area’s wildlife and migratory visitors. The preserve isn’t generally open to the public, but there will be a series of public tours during both days of the festival. Sponsors make the speakers and events free to the public but people need to register to ensure a seat. Byers said the tours always fill up quickly, so people interested in them should sign up early rather than just showing up.
You can register at www.snowgoosefest.org/Home.html
Other events include a bus tour of trumpeter swan sites, a nature walk on Iverson Spit on Camano Island, and self-guided trips to areas such as Fir Island Farms/Hayton Snow Goose Reserve west of Conway or The Big Ditch north of Stanwood. Hayton Reserve and Big Ditch require a state Discover or vehicle access pass for parking.
Byers said that depending on the weather, the festival typically attracts 700 to 1,000 people. “For a community as small as ours, they have a pretty significant impact,” she said.
Headquarters for the festival is the Stanwood Area Historical Society, located at 7108 102nd Ave. NW in Stanwood. Society members will be offering a light breakfast, a lunch and snacks for sale on both days. There also will be a $5 pancake breakfast and a silent auction next door to the headquarters.