Bird Watching on Fidalgo Island
Bald eagles, marsh wrens and oyster-catchers; these are just a few of the birds one can spot on Fidalgo Island. Whether you are in Anacortes for the day or staying for the weekend there are plenty of birding opportunities to let loose your inner birder. With a pair of binoculars and a favorite birding reference guide handy there is plenty to see while strolling on the beaches, hiking in the forests or taking in the viewpoints.
Fidalgo Island is part of the Great Washington Birding Trail which features 365 birds throughout Western Washington. Washington Park, at the east end of Fidalgo Island overlooking Rosario Strait, is prime birding territory. The 220 acre park is home to year-round and seasonal birds that find prime habitat amongst the firs, cedars, and madrona forests skirted with grassy shorelines and rocky beaches.
On a winter day one might see belted kingfishers flying along the salty shoreline or surf scoters, western grebes and buffleheads bobbing in the water. At Green Point oystercatchers play on the rocks and double-crested cormorants fly inches above the water. The grassy area with picnic tables has a great view of Rosario Strait and the San Juan Islands. A telescope comes in handy for getting closer views of birds resting in the water offshore. Along the 2.3 mile loop or forest trails keep an eye out for chestnut backed chickadees, kinglets, spotted towhees and red-breasted nuthatches that flit within the safety of the brush.
Near the Anacortes Ferry terminal, Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve has trails along 2,000 feet of beach front and a wooden boardwalk across 25 acres of fresh water wetlands. This habitat makes for an interesting mix of bird viewing. From the viewpoints along the shoreline cormorants dry their wings on pilings nestled between a variety of gulls, like the mew gull. American wigeons dabble and golden eye ducks dive in the water. In spring, purple martins nest in bird houses next to the pilings. On the boardwalk trail through the marsh red winged blackbirds fly through the trees. Then, ruby crown kinglets dart from branch to branch. You’ll also see great blue herons stand in the marsh. If you’re lucky you’ll not only hear, but see, the Pacific wren.
Kiwanis Park, next to the Guemes Island ferry terminal, has two acres of shoreline with benches and picnic tables overlooking Guemes Channel. Here, red breasted mergansers and brandt cormorants drift on the water and Anna’s hummingbirds might perch in the trees.
A short walk from historic downtown, Rotary Park offers views of Cap Sante Marina. You can also travel along a paved trail to the breakwater and various trails through Cap Sante Park. Common loons, golden eyes, buffleheads and gulls float in the harbor and American robins hop through the forest.
There are plenty of trails for a birder through Anacortes Forest Lands with fresh water lakes and streams, such as Cranberry Lake, Mt. Erie, Heart Lake and Whistle Lake. Inland trails offer more chances to see pileated woodpeckers, great horned owls and jays. At Deception Pass, Bowman Bay, Lottie Bay, Lighthouse Point and Rosario Beach have more birding opportunities with trails skirting along inland forests and opening up to marine viewpoints. Keep a look out for bald eagles, Thayer’s gulls and marbled murrelets.
Skagit Audubon Society has free birding field trips throughout the year in the Skagit Valley. With so many knowledgeable leaders, the excitement for birding is contagious. Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has maps of birding areas in the valley. They also have on-site shoreline and upland trails and observation decks for views of Padilla Bay. In winter, Skagit Valley’s fertile fields are dotted with snow geese, trumpeter and tundra swans. These grassy fields offer chances to see northern mountain blue birds. In January, approximately 400 eagles migrate to the upper Skagit River nestled in the Cascades to feast on salmon. The Skagit Eagle Festival also has a range of activities throughout the month.
Fidalgo Island has a rich array of fresh and salt water, and easily accessible woodlands. Our beaches and marshes provide novice or advanced birders a variety of ways to see our feathered friends. With approximately 320 species of birds that live year-round or migrate through Fidalgo Island a trip to Anacortes will give any birder’s counts a chance to soar.
originally written January 21st, 2014 by Lara Dunning – updated January 3, 2017