Posts Tagged ‘marblemount’

eagle watch13

A bald eagle perches in a cottonwood above Highway 530 bridge in Rockport, Washington.

Story and photos by US Forest Service Kelly Sprute


Everett, Wash., Jan. 16, 2013—It isn’t an easy job: standing six long hours in rain, sleet, hail, sun and snow every weekend starting in December through January.  Armed with binoculars, spotting scopes and a love for bald eagles they greet and teach thousands of people who pilgrimage to Skagit River for a glimpse of eagles roosting in trees and eating fish along the banks. And these Eagle Watcher volunteers do it for free.

Eagle Watchers are stationed at three locations along the Skagit River on the North Cascades Highway: Howard Miller Steelhead Park near Rockport, Wash., nature viewing area at milepost 100 and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades Institute created the program in 1992 to control crowding that disrupted the birds and caused traffic problems on the highway according to Tanya Kitterman. The Forest Service Eagle Watcher coordinator said the Skagit River watershed boasts one of the largest wintering populations of bald eagles in the continental United States.

“The birds flock to the Skagit River for three reasons: the abundance of food, the river has good flows for spawning and it doesn’t ice over,” Kitterman said. Each year it takes 45 volunteers run the program, but most are eager to return, so she usually only needs to recruit about five people.  All it takes to be an Eagle Watcher is enthusiasm about eagles and be an adult.  “I bring the canopies, scopes, tri-pods and binoculars and they run with it. Their passion for the eagles is contagious,” Kitterman said.

The Forest Service trains volunteers about eagle biology and how they fit into the Skagit River ecosystem, readying volunteers for a multitude of questions: “How long do they live? How big is their wingspan? How much do they weigh? Why is the female bigger than the male? Where are they from?”

Harry Ota, a retired US army colonel who lives in Mt. Vernon, Wash., is a 20-year veteran Eagle Watcher.  “It beats getting cabin fever,” he said. He still gets ready for the season every year by digging out his reference books and reviewing old videos.

Eagle Watcher Program volunteer Harry Ota scans for eagles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery in Marblemount Washington.

Eagle Watcher Program volunteer Harry Ota scans for eagles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery in Marblemount Washington.

“The eagles that arrive here are frozen out of their territory and food source up north and follow the salmon traveling south. It is amazing how nature works together. As one spawning route ends, another begins and the eagles move to follow,” Ota said. They are hungry when they arrive on the Skagit. “You’ve heard the saying about eating like a bird. Well, eagles are very voracious eaters and eat about a pound of meat a day. That is like us eating 40 quarter-pounders,” Ota said.

The years of observing these birds have given Ota insight into the eagle’s behavior.

He has noticed that some have become attuned to the presence of human activity.  Although most will fly away from their meal when a boat drifts down river, some eagles just stop, guard their salmon, watch the boat pass and continue eating.

“Eagles are incredible animals with personalities. They have a favorite perch they return to, just like we do. Some watch the world go by, others fight over food, and a rare few perform flybys worthy of jet fighters over the bridge near the Howard Miller Steelhead Park,” Ota said.

In 2000 he got to help trap, tag and release eagles along the Skagit River for a Washington State wildlife research study.  “Holding an eagle in my hands was an experience of a lifetime,” Ota said. They tagged 23 eagles and tracked them for five years. “The study discovered the eagles came from up north in the Yukon and were flying down the coast to northern California or east across the Cascades following the Yakima River,” he said.

One of Ota’s favorite stories is of the eagles’ resiliency and recovery. “In the 1950s there was an estimated 412 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The bird was later listed as an endangered species. By the 1990s the eagle’s population had rebounded to an estimated 115,000 and was later removed from the endangered and threatened list in 2007,” he said.  But Ota said what keeps him coming back every year is seeing peoples’ face light up when they view an eagle through the scope for the first time. “It is wonderful,” he said.

You can view the bald eagles each weekend until the end of January.


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Bald Eagle viewed from Rockport Bridge

If you are heading out to look for eagles over the weekend, dress warm and bring your raingear. Luckily, there are plenty of indoor activities as well which offer a chance to get out of the rain and snow and warm up. Aside from the Skagit River Interpretive Center and Marblemount Fish Hatchery, which are always open weekends throughout the winter, there are some unique activities available January 14 and 15 2012 only.

Dana Lyons

Saturday only in Concrete, the Concrete Heritage Museum is open from 12-4, songwriter Dana Lyons is performing at Concrete Theater at 2:00 ($10), and Ovenells Heritage Inn is offering a hayride and bonfire at 3:30, with chili, coffee and cocoa.

Saturday and Sunday, head to the Marblemount Community Club between 9 and 4 for native American drumming and dancing plus crafts from Upper Skagit artisans. Artwork, breakfast (biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage) and lunch (Indian tacos and fry bread!) will be available for purchase. Special performances will be at 2pm each day. 

Samish Indian Nation

Saturday from 2-3, historian and legend storyteller Rosy Cayou of the Samish Indian Nation and Indian drummer Tsul-Ton from the Upper Skagit tribe/Samish Indian Nation will be sharing history and legends of the northwest ecosystem through stories and song.

Sunday from 2-3,  Black Eagle (Neqax Kwelengsen) singing group  of the Samish Indian Nation will share song, dance and stories of the native culture

Also on Sunday, local pilot John Scurlock will present a slide show of aerial photos of the Cascade Range.

This event is FREE!

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Dipper diving and swimming

Here’s a video Scott took near the Hatchery a couple weeks ago. Isn’t the dipper fun to watch?

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Photo through scope shows a golden head.

Photo through scope shows a golden head.

I’m posting the most exciting news first: Some lucky visitors to the Upper Skagit during the 2009 Eagle Festival got a rare treat – a subadult Golden Eagle hanging around the Marblemount Fish Hatchery. Congratulations Judy Blount and Kathy Smith for making the first ID. Andrea Warner took these lovely pictures and showed them to Bud Anderson of the Falcon Research Group who guesses she is a female due to her large size. Besides perching and flying she spent plenty of time on the snow taking her turn at a carcass. Visitation at the Hatchery was about 200 people each day (including the official Eagle Fest Tour Bus!) so plenty of interested birders (–this definitely includes me and the EW volunteers–) got a chance to practice identifying this eagle who is more likely to be seen east of the Cascade Crest.
Note that the leg feathers go all the way to the talons. The subadult Golden also has a distinctive white band on the tail.

Note that the leg feathers go all the way to the talons. The subadult Golden also has a distinctive white band on the tail.

There were subadult bald eagles of various ages and an occasional adult bald eagle to compare and contrast – all right there before our scopes. And if we happened to get bored with that we could watch the crows bully the eagles, walk down the trail to see dippers, look in the ponds for goldeneye and mallards, or check the raceways for trout and steelhead. What a weekend!

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I couldn’t resist taking a drive up the Skagit yesterday to take some pictures for you. I have never seen so many eagles. Hopefully they will still be around next weekend when we are out there. At this point I expect we WILL have eagle watching sites set up on January 3rd and 4th.
Click on any of the thumbnails below to see a larger image.

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