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Skagit Valley Short-eared Owls

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Some people make resolutions at the start of a new year. I admire them, but I can’t bring myself to commit. It’s enough work getting through the “daily grind”, why add extra items to my “to do” list? Instead, I choose one word that I can use to guide me throughout the year. This year, the word is EXPLORE!

Explore can mean so many things, but ultimately, for me, it symbolizes possibilities without the pressure of expectation — so refreshing! With my newly proclaimed word of inspiration, I set out to do just that in an area I hadn’t spent much time in. After my last encounter with a long-eared owl, I was excited to track down more “wise friends”. My research led me to the Skagit area, where local birders had spotted short-eared owls. My plan was set! I would start the year on a quest to locate and capture an image of this beautiful owl soaring over the fields of their natural habitat.

Short-eared owls like open fields and are more likely to be spotted in winter – they fly low to the ground hunting for small mammals. They were easy to spot from a distance but hard to get a shot as they didn’t sit still too often. Take the scenic Chuckanut Drive from the Mt. Vernon side heading north and you’ll be sure to spot some in the nearby fields.

When the day arrived, my family was not too enthusiastic about traipsing off into the marshes! Luckily, my mom offered to be my spotter for the day. The plan was set! We would leave early to have a better chance of seeing the birds during their morning hunting routine.

We set off early and as we drove, a breathtaking sunrise greeted us coming up over the mountains. What a great start to the day! I was feeling hopeful..  I had mapped our arrival to the Skagit Wildlife Area Wiley-Slough. After our leisurely drive, we arrived. First impressions were good, there were at least three other groups of people geared up with cameras and binoculars. It seemed we had come for the same reason. After a quick chat with a fellow birder, we learned that duck hunting season was in full force and were warned to stay within the clearly marked “safe zones” and to wear bright colors. Oops! I didn’t get the memo and was literally wearing olive green and black! Needless to say, we stuck to the clearly marked safe zones.

Almost immediately upon arriving, at least three bald eagles and two Great Blue Heron welcomed us by posing in the fresh morning sunlight. Breathtaking! Soon after, we were startled back to reality! Distant gunshots reminded us to stay on the path. We did some more exploring around the area. After several brief drives and short treks, I wasn’t sure the owls were in the vicinity. After chatting with another birder, I was directed to wabirdguide.org, a free website with maps of known birding areas. I pulled up the Skagit Flats and Fir Island map, which listed at least four other locations nearby.

I cross-referenced these with my ebird app and found other reported sightings, which ultimately led us to Rawlins Rd. It was here that I finally caught up with my muse for the day – the short-eared owl! Getting a clear shot was not going to be easy. These birds keep their distance and are fast! Luckily, I wore rain boots, which allowed me to carefully wade into the muddy marsh. I stood on a log to get my shot. I would warn you to be careful if you decide to leave the trail. Jumping from log to log with a camera is not for the faint-of-heart! I did get a nasty bruise from a fall but, for me, it was definitely worth it!

  • Discovering a new area.
  • Doing something I love for fun with no distractions.
  • Spending quality time with my mom.
  • Meeting new, like-minded people.
  • Learning something new.

These are what the word “explore” is all about! If this is any indication of what this year can bring…I am so ready for more!

Things to note:

  • Active hunting area until end of January, pay attention to the SIGNAGE!
  • Wear brightly colored clothing for safety.
  • Wear rubber boots to maximize your ability to navigate the landscape.
  • Check out all our other birding and nature adventures here.
  • Please check out our resources page to learn more about the camera we used to take these shots!
  • Most of these shots were taken with the Sony a7 along with the Sony FE 200-600mm lens.
  • Always bring bug spray and sun screen!

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One Comment

  1. Danielle Danielle

    Amazing Photos!!!

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