Located in one of the richest birding regions in North America, Anacortes makes for the perfect nest from which to discover the area’s feathered riches—for an afternoon, a weekend, or even a week.
It’s not just ducks that love Northwest winters. When skies ricochet between crisp blue to leaden gray, the air wraps you in a fleece-worthy chill, and twilight sets in at 4 pm, Anacortes birdwatchers and photographers rejoice!
Credit the Skagit Valley’s abundant, varied—and easily accessible—landscape: Nestled between the salt water ocean and glacier-peaked mountains, the western edge of Skagit County is a flourishing delta, freckled with fresh water ponds, sloughs, marshes, bays, and brackish shorelines. A nourishing home for local birds and an important pit stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating species. Lush habitats and a varied food supply offers a permanent or temporary home to more than 320 species of birds.
Likewise, Anacortes offers an inviting habitat and food supply for bird-loving humans. Multiple lodging options and excellent restaurants provide a welcoming base camp from which to explore the avian wealth of Deception Pass State Park, Washington Park, Wiley Slough, Padilla Bay, and the Skagit and Samish Flats.
Day 1: Start by tempting your gear craving with a stop at Anacortes Ace Hardware, stocked with spotting scopes, binoculars, Discover Pass you’ll need to visit Washington State parks and wildlife lands and so much more for the outdoors. Reach Ace Hardware by exiting Hwy 20 onto R Ave just short of the main route through Anacortes. Take the short-cut past Ace’s Garden department and you’re back on Hwy 20/ now Commercial Avenue. Check into your hotel, grab a picnic or bite to eat at any one of the local great eats and pick up the latest bird guide at Watermark Books.
With gear packed, continue west on Hwy 20 west (12th Street) for the 3-mile trip to Washington Park, a 220-acre Anacortes treasure. Walk or drive the 10 mph, two-mile loop road or venture onto any of the many trails for wildlife viewing and expansive vistas at both the water’s edge and in deep forested interiors. The park’s free excellent interpretive guide includes a trail map and birding pointers.Next stop, Deception Pass State Park (you’ll need your State Parks Discover Pass) for loons, grebes, Bald Eagles, and more from numerous shore and woodland vantage points.
Day 2. Hike the Padilla Bay Shore Trail, the short drive from Anacortes to the farm lands is filled with falcons, hawks and heron perched roadside amidst the local fence lines making the drive an adventure of its own. A quick left turn from Hwy 20 onto La Conner Whitney Road, two short winding corners with parking on the left. A winding trail that separates fertile farm lands from the Padilla Bay shoreline the 11,000-acre preserve is a bird watcher’s paradise. The trail twists and turns along sloughs, tidal flats, and salt marshes, allowing you to scope out herons, eagles, falcons, dunlins, brants, and scores of other winged residents. In addition to the profuse bird life, you’ll be treated to unhindered views of surrounding mountains, islands, and farmland from this delightful and level path. It’s an incredible sight for beach combers, walking enthusiasts, and birdwatchers alike.
A few miles of beauty filled with quiet sounds of wintering birds and wildlife, a great photo opportunity.
Head back onto Hwy 20 West to March Point Road to the right. This shoreline route offers up-close and personal encounters with Brant, scoters, Oldsquaws, cormorants, and herons.
So get out your map, dust off your binocular and spotting scope lenses, charge your camera battery, grab your journal, and download Skagit Audubon’s detailed list of where and what to look for around Anacortes and the Skagit Valley. You’re all set for a high-thrill, low-cost adventure in winter wonderland.
Originally written January 26th, 2012 – updated January 2016