Families

It doesn’t get much more Pacific Northwest than enjoying this Whatcom County activity

A bald eagle leaves its mossy perch above the Skagit River near Marblemount in Skagit County.
A bald eagle leaves its mossy perch above the Skagit River near Marblemount in Skagit County. TNS file

With the start of the rainy season each fall comes a chance to see the Northwest’s most iconic creatures – salmon and bald eagles.

After spending much of their adult lives at sea, salmon return to the creeks and streams of their birth, where they spawn, lay eggs and die.

Later in fall, eagles flock in large numbers to feed on salmon carcasses.

Kendra Krantz, program coordinator at the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, said that Whatcom County is home to all five species of Pacific salmon: chum, chinook, pink, sockeye and coho.

Where and when they can be observed depends on the time of year and the species of salmon. Chum salmon are common in November in Whatcom County creeks that are easily accessed, such as Whatcom Creek, Chuckanut Creek and Padden Creek.

To see salmon, Krant advises observing silently along a creek and waiting for the fish to move.

NSEA offers free Salmon Sighting tours in fall, scheduled this year for noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 3 on Mud Creek at Camp Lutherwood, noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 10 at Oyster Creek and noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 17 on Chuckanut Creek at Arroyo Park.

NSEA naturalists will be available to answer questions from at each event. Hot beverages and snacks provided, along with free polarized glasses to reduce surface glare, and salmon bingo with prizes. Partners for the Nov. 10 event are Taylor Shellfish and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group and oyster farm tours will be available.

Go online to n-sea.org for details.

As salmon die, eagles arrive

Late fall and early winter typically brings the end of fall salmon runs and the best time to see eagles.

These majestic raptors prowl the airways and lurk in the trees above rivers and streams, looking for dead and dying fish.

Just before noon on a cloudy day is the best time to see eagles, because they tend to feed in late morning, and the birds will be most active then.

Cloudy days find eagles perched in trees or flapping lazily only a few dozen feet in the air. On sunny days, they’re flying higher.

In Whatcom County, best eagle viewing is on the Nooksack River near the Mosquito Lake Road bridge, just south of the Mount Baker Highway intersection; at Deming Homestead Eagle Park; and along Rutsatz Road, east from the intersection of Highway 9.

While you’re in the South Fork Valley, stop for lunch or a treat at the Everybody’s Store in Van Zandt or let the kids play at Josh VanderYacht Memorial Park.

Skagit County sees a massive influx of eagles along the Skagit River Valley every fall and winter, from Mablemount west to the Skagit River Delta.

Best places to watch eagles are the Rockport Bridge and Henry Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport; milepost 100 along Highway 20; and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

Also good for seeing eagles – plus hawks, harriers and falcons – are the fields around the rural Skagit County towns of Edison, Bow and Bay View. Wander the back roads surrounding Farm to Market and Bay View-Edison roads.

Both the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery are open in December and January every year to offer tours, programs and information about salmon and eagles.

Marblemount Fish Hatchery, at 81319 Fish Hatchery Road, is open free from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from the first weekend in December through the last weekend in January.

Visitors will be able to watch the entire life cycle of the salmon. Salmon can be seen at nearby Clark Creek, along with the eagles that come to feast on their carcasses.

Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center is in Howard Miller Steelhead Park, 52809 Rockport Park Road, Rockport. Its free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from the first weekend in December through the last weekend in January. It’s also open daily from Dec. 26-30.

Eagle watchers should remember to dress for the weather – in layers, especially. Bring boots appropriate for slogging though mud and a change of shoes for the car (plus a plastic bag to transport the muddy boots).

Binoculars are a plus. It’s handy to have bird books or smartphone to help with identifying the various bird species you might see.

Respect private property. If you pull off to the side of the road, make sure you drive past the fog line and use your car’s four-way flashers. Be careful of traffic, and watch small children.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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