Whether or not we want to believe it, winter has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures are dropping, rain is falling and the dark of night is upon us by 5 o’clock. If you are looking for ways to brighten up the season, however, wildlife watching can be an enjoyable and exciting winter activity.
You might be asking yourself, what might be around to watch for in winter? Don’t most animals migrate or hibernate during the colder months? While a lot of animals do disappear until spring, many stay right here and make the most of what winter has to offer.
Some excellent bird watching occurs in winter when food sources are scarce and birds come to backyard feeders. If you are looking to attract a wide variety of birds this winter, try using black oil sunflower seed. This type of sunflower seed has an unusually high fat and protein content, very appealing to winter birds. The seed shells are thinner and easier to break than traditional sunflower seed and result in a wider variety of big and small birds feeding on the seed.
Black oil sunflower seed can be used in a variety of feeder types from tube to platform feeders. Squirrels and chipmunks also enjoy this tasty treat and will stuff their cheeks with seed to bring back to their winter cache. Try hanging a feeder or two and start a “feeder list” of all the different animals you see. A good bird guide and a pair of binoculars will allow you to enjoy the wildlife from the warmth and comfort of home.
If you are feeling adventurous and ready to brave the weather, bundle up and head out to the mountains for more wildlife watching fun. Each winter, wild Roosevelt elk are forced down to lower mountain elevations as snow covers their food sources. Elk are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn.
So, head out in the twilight hours to areas with open meadows that border forests for the best chance to spot the local elk herds. Although the rut, or breeding season, has ended, you might still get a glimpse of bull elk engaging in antler sparring.
Winter also is a great time to see the bald eagle. Eagles will congregate along local rivers awaiting the runs of spawning salmon. They feast on the carcasses of these native fish and will gather by the hundreds when the fish runs are at their peaks. In some areas of the upper Skagit River, from Concrete to Marblemount, a winter population of nearly 500 eagles gathers until early spring.
Whether it’s bird or mammals, large or small, there are plenty of exciting wildlife watching opportunities all around the Sound this winter.
If you are looking to make the most of the season’s wildlife watching opportunities, visit Northwest Trek Wildlife Park Friday through Sunday in December and daily Dec. 26-Jan. 1 for the Winter Wildland celebration. Learn more at nwtrek.org.
Vieiwng the eagles
What: The Skagit River Bald Eagle Awareness Team has opened the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center for the season. For six years now, the center in Rockport has been a focal point for watching bald eagles along the upper Skagit River. Volunteers are the center provide eagle viewing information and there are educational displays and souvenirs. About 3,000 people visit the center each year.
Where: The center is located at Howard Miller Steelhead Park, 52809 Rockport Park Road, Rockport.
Center hours: Fridays-Sundays through January, and daily from Christmas to the New Year’s Day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Free, but donations are requested to help fund operations.
Information: 360-853-7626, skagiteagle.org
Skagit Eagle Festival: The annual event features tours, walks, speakers, workshops, concerts, display, river rafting trips, arts and crafts, wine tasting, music, dances and information booths. The festival is held every weekend in January in Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount. For details, go to concrete-wa.com/skagit-eagle-festival-2012.