Winter is a good time for birding in the Northwest.
Some birds, like eagles and woodpeckers, are here year-round; others, like osprey and some hummingbirds, leave for warmer climates; and a few, like snow geese and swans, spend the winter here before heading back north to raise their young.
Birding is a good excuse to get outdoors and stretch your legs, especially in the winter. It’s a great family activity. Generally, there are fewer people and less competition for good viewing sites in winter. And some birds can be easier to find because they’re working a little harder to find food and spending less effort at hiding.
Winter birding spots in Snohomish and Island counties
• Snohomish River Walk and Spencer Island
A visit to Everett’s Langus Park is nice in itself, but the park can also be a jumping off point for a paved 2-mile hike to Spencer Island in the middle of the Snohomish River. The walk or bike ride along the river to the island offers an opportunity to see a variety of birds, including herons, woodpeckers, ducks and geese. In April, osprey return from Mexico and South America.
Spencer is a former family farm now turned Snohomish County park with trails and portable toilets. If you don’t like the idea of a 2-mile walk, you can drive past the park on Smith Island Road just east of I-5, park and walk a shorter distance to the island.
Where: 400 Smith Island Road
• Port of Everett
The port’s property along Everett’s waterfront provides a lot of opportunity to view birds. The 10th Street boat launch off Marine View Drive is a good spot to see ducks and geese, herons, eagles, mergansers, terns and other birds, especially when some young salmon start showing up in saltwater in March.
Take binoculars, because osprey start arriving in April to rebuild some of the nests atop area pilings. There is parking available, and you can walk on several routes along the waterfront. Check out portofeverett.com for a printable map of trails and public areas.
Where: 10th Street, west of Marine View Drive
This is mostly a drive through farm fields in the communities of Stanwood and Silvana. Swans from Alaska and British Columbia and snow geese from Wrangel Island in Russia winter in the area, spending nights in Puget Sound’s Port Susan and local lakes and days in farm fields in Snohomish and Skagit counties. A drive through farm roads near the Stillaguamish River often produces feeding birds.
Where: Check the roads off Marine Drive, south of Stanwood
• Bob Heirman Wildlife Reserve
The Snohomish County park is a tremendous spot to see wintering ducks, geese and swans. The swans often spend the night at Shadow Lake below the parking lot, so you might be able to see them either early or late in the day, but remember that the reserve closes at dusk. The site is a former gravel pit and offers about 3 miles of trails.
Where: 14913 Connelly Road, Snohomish
• Eide Road/Leque Island
Located west of Stanwood on the way to Camano Island, this state property is a former farm that is home to wintering sparrows, short-eared owls, snow geese, hawks, northern harriers, ducks, herons and songbirds.
Once a salt marsh, the area was diked for farming and now has wetlands and fields. The state pays farmers to plant grains for wintering waterfowl. There is parking and a portable toilet. The island is just west of the Mark Clark bridge. State Discover Pass required.
Where: Eide Road
• Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary
Located just across the street from Boeing Co.’s Everett factory, the sanctuary is an unexpected delight. It’s a small wetland that provides a good winter home for ducks, geese and the occasional heron.
The sanctuary has an exterior trail and an interior boardwalk. Either way, it’s a good way to stretch your legs. Avoid the slick boardwalk in freezing temperatures. Restroom, benches.
Where: 6921 Seaway Blvd., Everett
• Riverview Wildlife Refuge
Established in 2013 with help from the Pilchuck Audubon Society. The refuge has about a three-hour walk atop a river dike along marshy fields and city water treatment ponds. In winter, there are many ducks and gulls, herons, kingfishers and hawks. There’s also a heron rookery with about seven nests.
Park on the south side of First Street as far west as you can. Then walk west to a sewage pump station. The trail is on the left side of the building.
Where: 1805 First St., Snohomish
• North Creek Park
This former farm south of Mill Creek has forest and marsh habitats, and includes nearly a mile of boardwalk that can be slippery in freezing weather. It has a variety of birds in winter, including harriers, hawks, herons and kingfishers.
The floating boardwalk offers a flat-grade trail that was built by installing plastic foam floats under decking. It allows you to explore the marsh without getting your feet wet. Restrooms, picnic shelters, picnic tables, playground.
Where: 1011 183rd St. SE
• Your backyard
If you don’t have a feeder already, consider placing one in your yard. Bird species that remain here in winter will be attracted if you provide food and water. It also helps to put feeders near trees and bushes that provide cover for the birds and make them feel safer while eating.
That same cover can also make a good background if you like to take photos.
More about birding
If you’re interested in birding, you might consider joining a local club for more information and activities.
The Pilchuck Audubon Society has members from Snohomish County and Camano Island. It offers weekly outings, classes, regular meetings and a host of local and general information at its website, pilchuckaudubon.org.
Whidbey Island is served by www.whidbeyaudubon.org. Its site offers local information on unusual bird sightings, bird photos, classes and a club newsletter.