Samish Flats (Skagit County)
Late fall and winter are great times to be birding in Western Washington. One of the special places I like to go is the Samish Flats area in Skagit County.
Contributed by Brian H. Bell
Roughly bordered by I-5 on the east, Samish Bay on the north, Padilla Bay on the west, and Bayview Ridge on the south, the Flats are a rich agricultural area that attracts birds of many kinds from about late October into February and March. The fields usually provide a good supply of rodents (good for hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls), are often flooded (good for ducks, geese, and swans), and have lots of mud (good for shorebirds).
When to go: Clear days after storms are ideal.
How to bird it: The area along Chuckanut Drive is usually good for hawks and Trumpeter and Tundra Swans (cruise the side roads where it's easier to park). West of the town of Edison, the fields are good for waterfowl and shorebirds, and the wires and trees are perching spots for hawks and eagles. The WDFW access (also called the West 90) on Samish Island Road can be good for Short-eared Owls.
Along Bayview-Edison Road, flooded fields may attract large flocks of shorebirds (Dunlin and other sandpipers) who in turn may attract Peregrine Falcons and Merlin. On Samish Island, scanning Samish Bay can yield a wide variety of waterfowl.
If you're lucky: The Samish Flats are one of the few spots in North America where you have the opportunity to see up to five species of falcon (American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and possibly Prairie Falcon or Gyrfalcon) in a single day.
Practicalities: Always pull well off the road to park; many places don't have shoulders and roads are busy. WFDW parking requires a Discover Pass (or, until March 31, a Vehicle Use Permit). Stay clear of hunting areas through January.
Photo: Cloud of Snow Geese by Marc Hoffman
Brian H. Bell is a master birder, professional guide, and co-author of Birds of Washington State (Lone Pine). He teaches classes and leads field trips for Eastside Audubon, and his annual December trip to the Samish Flats is a perennial favorite.