Swan watching makes great focus for day in country

  • By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
  • Friday, January 4, 2013 12:25pm
  • Life

Eagles aren’t the only things that migrate to the region from colder climes each winter.

There are flocks of beautiful swans from November to March as well as snow geese and other waterfowl.

For me, the winter visitors are often the answer to the question, “What am I going to do today.” The birds are beautiful to see and fun to watch as they soar overhead or graze in farm fields.

For one thing, the swans are enormous. Trumpeters can grow to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 30 pounds, developing wingspans as long as 8 feet. With the Cascades capped with new fallen snow, the swans can also be the subject of some nice photographs.

For me, a swan viewing usually involves a trip to farms in the Silvana or Stanwood areas. I take my camera and my biggest telephoto lens. In addition to swans and snow geese, I usually see an eagle or two.

Sometimes I stop for breakfast or a sandwich at Willow &Jim’s Country Cafe in Silvana or go down the street to pick up something special to take home from Silvana Meats, like some grass-fed beef.

That’s the thing about swan viewing road trips. They can be tailored to your interests or needs of the moment whether they involve a leisurely breakfast in Silvana, a delicious burger at the Conway Tavern, or a trip to the shops and perhaps dinner in La Conner.

Families may want to link a swan trip with a visit to the Breazeale Padilla Bay Interpretive Center in Skagit County because of its variety of things to see and do.

The center is especially nice for families because the walks are short and easy, and there are often some interesting classes.

On a recent trip before Christmas, I saw a big flock of swans as I drove to the center from I-5 along Josh Wilson Road. I parked and spent a half-hour or so photographing them. Then I spent another half-hour in the center’s parking lot photographing a heron that didn’t seem to mind modeling for me as long as I didn’t get too close.

The center is situated on the former Breazeale family farm, which was donated to the state to protect the land from development.

If you want a little exercise with your road trip, there’s a 2.25-mile trail atop a dike along the southeast shore of Padilla Bay and an even shorter upland loop trail.

The dike trail is paved for bikes or for wheelchair access and the upland trail is part pavement and part gravel. You can take your dog if it’s on a leash. And you can check out binoculars and bird guides at the center’s front counter.

The center itself has a number of exhibits to explain how estuaries and salt marshes work. There are also a few aquariums with sea life and a fair number of classes involving things like winter birding.

Breazeale Interpretive Center

10441 Bay View-Edison Road, Mount Vernon; 360-428-1558; www.padillabay.gov.

Hours: 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

Cost: Donations accepted.

Upcoming classes

• “Our Fine Feathered Friends,” for kids ages 3 to 5, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, call or register online.

•  “Swans,” for kids ages 6 to 9, 10:30 and noon Jan. 18 and 19; call or register online.

• ”Dabblers, Geese and Swans, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19, for all ages, call or register online.

• Aquarium tour and fish feeding, 11 a.m. Jan. 26, for all ages, just show up.

• ”Estuary Habitats,” for kids from 3 to 5, Feb. 13 and 14, call or register online.

Getting there: Take I-5 north to exit 231 and head west. Go through two roundabouts and get on Josh Wilson Road to the bay. Follow the signs north to the center.

Swan etiquette

To prevent stress on the birds, experts recommend that you stay in your vehicle while watching or photographing them. They tend to ignore people in cars or at least feel less threatened by them

If you do get out of the car, stay on the roadside. If you see swans or snow geese while hiking, biking or kayaking, move slowly and quietly.

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