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Where can I see eagles returning to feast on salmon?

Watch bald eagles along the Nooksack River

December is the time to watch bald eagles feasting on salmon along the Nooksack River.
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December is the time to watch bald eagles feasting on salmon along the Nooksack River.

Even though the bald eagle is a year-round resident of Northwest Washington, late fall and early winter offer prime viewing opportunities in Whatcom and Skagit counties as the iconic birds gather to feed on the carcasses of salmon that have died following their spawning runs.

In Skagit County, the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center is open weekends through January with special programs, guided walks, and advice on where eagles are congregating. The center is devoted to natural history and environmental education, telling the relationship among bald eagles, salmon, the river and the old-growth forest. Nearby Rockport State Park provides companion programs.

The Skagit River Valley is known to host the largest concentration of bald eagles outside Alaska. Often, hundreds of eagles are counted in a season.

Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through January, when bald eagle numbers start to dwindle. Admission is free, and donations are accepted. The center is closed Dec. 24 and 25, but it will open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Veteran eagle watchers say the best time to watch is just before noon on a cloudy day. Eagles tend to feed about 11 a.m., so 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 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.

Find a list of presentations at the interpretive center’s web site, skagiteagle.org. For information, check the website or call 360-853-7626. Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center is in Howard Miller Steelhead Park, 52809 Rockport Park Road, Rockport. Take Highway 20 east to Rockport and turn right on Alfred Street.

Also during late fall and winter, the Marblemount Fish Hatchery 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 with tours led by the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group. Salmon can be seen at nearby Clark Creek, along with the eagles that come to feast on their carcasses.

Marblemount Fish Hatchery is at 8319 Fish Hatchery Road, Marblemount. Plenty of parking is available. Tours start inside the visitor center. For information, go online to visitskagitvalley.com/blog/fish-hatchery.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

Eagle viewing

Some of the best places to see bald eagles in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Be careful of traffic if walking on country roads, and obey parking regulations.

▪  North fork Nooksack River near the Mosquito Lake Road bridge, just south of the Mount Baker Highway intersection.

▪  Deming Homestead Eagle Park, Deming.

▪  Along Rutsatz Road, east from the intersection of Highway 9. Be careful of traffic on the bridge.

▪  Milepost 100 rest area on Highway 20.

▪  Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Rockport.

▪  Marblemount Fish Hatchery, Marblemount.

▪  Fields around the rural Skagit County towns of Edison, Bow and Bay View are good for seeing raptors in general.

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