It’s hard to compare bird species numbers in one county to another. King County has the largest number of birdwatchers who are reporting their findings, and they are looking in more bird-concentrated areas because civilization covers much of the landscape.
Snohomish County has fewer birdwatchers than King, but more bird-friendly habitat, making it the home of many birding hot spots.
Birder Rick Taylor knows about those hot spots.
“Most of the good ones are either in river valleys or the estuaries along the Snohomish and Stillaguamish,” Taylor said.
Taylor has seen 265 species in Snohomish County.
“Other folks have seen more, lived here longer,” Taylor said. “I tend to bird the entire state.”
Taylor, usually birding with his wife, Tina, has seen at least 175 species in every county.
Spring migration is the best time to find the most variety of birds on their mad rush to the Canadian boreal forests or the Arctic breeding grounds.
“It’s often surprising the small area used by some birds. They have very precise breeding locations and are faithful to them, just like they’re faithful to a migration time,” Taylor said.
“When the migration comes through, if you know what their habitat preferences are, what they sound like and how it flies, you have a fairly good chance of seeing high numbers of species,” he added.
In the spring, birds have a strict migration schedule.
“They’re surprisingly regular in the schedule. They arrive this week, they leave that week. They have little windows of time when passing through, and they’re pretty faithful to those windows. That helps you to be in the right place at the right time,” the Everett resident said. “If you’re just wandering, you’re unlikely to find many (species).”
Experience, research and preparation have been the keys to Taylor’s success and basis for his advice. While many migrant species have already passed through, there are plenty of species headed north.
For instance, Western and least sandpiper flocks are here. The best view is the tip of the Leque Island Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area west of Stanwood, between Port Susan and Skagit bays. Many birdwatchers refer to this as Eide Road, Taylor said. Be there when a 6- to 7-foot rising tide pushes the birds up the mud flats, closer to shore.
Taylor can be specific about the arriving and departing species and the most likely hot spots based on years of observations and recordkeeping.
May 7-June 4. Eastern kingbirds, Spencer Island, Fobes Road (Snohomish).
April 21-May 15. “Bank swallows keep to a hard schedule.” Spencer Island, Eide Road.
April 10-May 10. Chipping sparrows, White Horse Park, Darrington. “You’ll hear them first.”
April 11-May 15. Lazula buntings, Monroe Prison Farm pond. “Always a delight.”
April 1-May 14. Yellow-headed blackbirds, Eide Road, Port Susan Bay, Spencer Island.
May 2-June 7. Rose-breasted grosbeak, Powder Mill Gulch (Everett).
And remember to slow down. Look at every bird with binoculars to find the oddity in the flock, or that first of a species on your life list that you just assumed was an oft-seen common species.
Be prepared. Love surprises.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.