Mike Benbow / For The Herald A heron looks for food in a drainage ditch in a farm field.

Stanwood festival is all about — you guessed it! — birds

STANWOOD — Birders spend a lot of time in the outdoors looking at birds.

And that’s what next weekend’s Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival is all about, rejoicing in the birds — snow geese, swans, and shorebirds — that visit the Stanwood area each winter, as well as looking at those that stay in the region year-round.

This year’s festival takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 28. The headquarters are at 27130 102nd Ave. N.W. in Stanwood.

As usual, the event is free and includes indoor seminars, some outdoor guided tours, and the information needed to conduct self-guided trips along good birding spots.

The guided trips tend to fill up quickly, especially in bad weather, so register and sign up for what looks good ahead of time at www.snowgoosefest.org.

One of my favorite events every year is the guided tour at the Nature Conservancy’s preserve on Port Susan Bay. There are a couple each day during the festival.

The conservancy purchased the preserve area, which used to be part of the Stillaguamish River delta.

The land had been diked and used as farm land for many years. The conservancy breached the dike, moved it back, and created a new delta that is popular with herons, eagles, swans, snow geese and a wide variety of other birds and wildlife.

The new dike location allows visitors to take a nice waterfront walk along Port Susan.

Since the preserve isn’t typically open to the public, the festival is a good time to see what’s happening with the property and to have professionals explain its importance.

The Stillaguamish and Skagit river deltas were recently cited as important habitats deserving preservation by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Another popular guided tour, this one by bus, offers a look at the festival’s namesake — snow geese — as well as swans and eagles.

There will be several bus tours each day staffed by biologists who can tell you about the big white birds from the north that visit the area in winter.

The snow geese come from their breeding grounds on Wrangel Island in Russia; the swans come from Alaska.

New this year is a three-hour tour of good birding spots on Camano Island. Experts will explain what you see and there will be stops at English Boom, Camano Center, Cama Beach State Park, and Iverson Spit Preserve. You can leave the bus at each stop for a 30-minute guided tour.

In addition to tours, the festival headquarters offer a number of presentations from birding experts.

Martha Jordan, of the Northwest Swan Conservation Association, will talk about our native swans.

Swans are the largest waterfowl in North America and were hunted almost to extinction. Jordan will talk about the issues they face here, including poisonings from lead shot, and what should be done to ensure their future

Karen Ulvestad will talk about improving techniques for bird photography. She’ll also provide tips for locating birds and advice on what equipment to buy. She also offers a related field seminar on the topic.

Experts Gary Slater and Ruth Milner will provide a presentation on how to identify common shorebirds based on plumage and calls.

Last but not least, Vasiliy Baranyuk, a former senior scientist at Wrangel Island Nature Preserve in Russia who has observed snow geese for 30 years, will talk about snow goose summering grounds in the Russian Arctic, which he visited last summer.

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