Skagit Eagle Festival ensures easy viewing of magestic birds

January in the upper Skagit River Valley means one thing — bald eagles.

America’s national bird flocks by the hundreds along the river through eastern Skagit County and into the mountains to feast on dead and dying salmon from the fall spawning runs. Often, eagles mass in the largest congregations seen anywhere in the Lower 48 states.

Nowhere in Skagit County is the eagle more revered than in the town of Concrete, along the North Cascades Highway east of Sedro-Woolley, which hosts the annual Skagit Eagle Festival, a series of January weekend events that revolve around the majestically iconic raptor.

Held every Saturday and Sunday in January, the festival is a series of activities designed to educate and assist eagle-watchers and enhance their viewing experience in Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount.

Most festival activities are in downtown Concrete, where visitors can stop at the Skagit Eagle Festival Information Station, 45821 Main St., which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturdays for maps, directions, and information. The center has restrooms and free popcorn and coffee and souvenirs. For more information, go online to concrete-wa.com or call 360-853-8767.

Events this weekend include the free “A Year of the Eagle” presentation from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan.10, in the Concrete Theatre, 45920 Main St. Nature photographer and writer Kevin Ebi tells the story of a year in the life of Pacific Northwest eagles, including their wintering habits and how eaglets learn to fly. For more information, go online to yearoftheeagle.com and concrete-theatre.com.

A free “Little Eaglet Story Time” from 11-11:45 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, features stories, songs and a simple craft geared toward small children in the Upper Skagit Library, 45770B Main St., Concrete. For more information, call 360-853-7939 or go online to upperskagit.lib.wa.us.

From 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, is free “Winter Jazz” music with a local ensemble at the gluten-free 5b’s Bakery, 45597 Main St., Concrete. For more information, go online to 5bsbakery.com or call 360-853-8700.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, is a free Wildlife Hayride and Campfire at Ovenell’s Heritage Inn and Double O Ranch, 46276 Concrete Sauk Valley Road, Concrete. See eagles, deer, elk, and more in a wagon ride through 250 acres of timber and pastureland. Participants will learn about the ranch’s conservation projects, selective timber harvesting and ranching practices, including its participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, an agricultural land retirement project. There will be coffee, hot chocolate and cookies by the fire. Activities for children include a wildlife footprints matching game and ranch lore. Participants are urged to dress appropriately and note that extreme weather may cancel the ride. For more information, email breakfast@ovenells-inn.com, go online to ovenells-inn.com or call 360-853-8494.

At the Marblemount Community Hall, 60055 Highway 20, Marblemount, is an American Indian festival featuring history, storytelling and music from 10 a.m.to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 10 and 11. Local and native arts and crafts vendors will have items on display and food and hot drinks will be available for sale. Admission is free; donations appreciated. Events include “Saga of the Sockeye Salmon” puppet show from 10:30-11:30 a.m.; Rosie James, Samish tribal elder, historian, storyteller and drummer from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Peter Ali, native flutist, at 2 p.m. At 3:30 p.m. Sunday only is JP Falcon Grady, Blackfoot Nation musician. For more information, contact kathyhunter@hotmail.com or 360-770-3173.

For natural history displays and suggestions for good viewing sites, the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in January in Howard Miller Steelhead Park, 52809 Rockport Park Road, Rockport. This weekend features a free guided hike and avian presentation at 11 a.m. Saturday, led by Melvin Walters, an avian specialist with Puget Sound Energy. At 1 p.m. Sunday, Ebi repeats his free “Year of the Eagle” presentation. For more information, go online to skagiteagle.org or call 360- 853-7626.

Eagles may be seen in the area of the Marblemount Fish Hatchery, which offers free guided tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in January at 8319 Fish Hatchery Road, just outside Marblemount. Visitors will see all phases of the salmon life cycle without disturbing salmon in the wild. Self-guided tours are offered daily. For more information, email education@skagitfisheries.org, go online to skagitfisheries.org or call 360-336-0172 ext. 30. Pets must remain in car. Some activity is weather-dependent. Some of the tour is outside, so dress for changing conditions.

At Rockport State Park, 51095 Highway 20, Rockport, one-hour Deep Forest Tours of the 670-acre old-growth forest are from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The park has a Discovery Center with crafts and interactive wildlife displays, books and games. Tours are free but admission requires a Discover Pass or $10 day-use fee. For more information, contact rockport@parks.wa.gov or 360-853-8461.

North Cascades Institute and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will staff Eagle Watcher Stations from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday with trained volunteers who can answer questions about bald eagles, salmon, and the Skagit River watershed. They’ll have binoculars and spotting scopes available for use. Viewing stations are at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport, Sutter Creek at Milepost 100 on Highway 20, and at the Marblemount Fish Hatchery. For more information, email pkincare@fs.fed.us, call 360-854-2631, or go online to http://skagiteaglewatchers.wordpress.com.

Another great viewing spot is the Bald Eagle Natural Area, a state Fish and Wildlife viewing site on Martin Road off Highway 530 south of Highway 20, just south of the Skagit River bridge.