Skagit Valley: Winter birding at its very best!
by Lexi Foldenauer
Located in the northwestern corner of Washington state, the Skagit River meanders through several small towns that make up the Skagit River Valley. The Skagit Valley encompasses the beauty of lush, old-growth forests, and is an ideal habitat for birds migrating across the marine waters, wetlands, prairies, and estuaries. The area attracts visitors year-round with annual events like the Tulip Festival, La Conner Daffodil Festival, and the months-long stretch of bird watching between October and April.
Peak season for birding falls between December and February, with 362 species that pass through during annual migration. It also attracts the largest winter gathering of Snow geese and Trumpeter swans in North America, at over 50,000 each year. There are over 20 designated birding sites throughout the region, each offering a unique perspective of the birds for avid birdwatchers and novices alike.
You may visit Skagit Valley for the birds, but the excellent food and eclectic sightseeing will keep you coming back all year round."
La Conner on the Waterfront
La Conner is a favorite stop for many, for birding as well as a relaxing getaway. It is best known as a quaint, walkable town with rich history, covering an area of only about one square mile. Visitors have the rare convenience to park and walk to nearby sights at their leisure. The La Conner Channel Lodge is the town’s only waterfront hotel, situated near the La Conner Marina. Guests can see boats traveling across the channel from their room, or take a nearby stroll along the boardwalk. “Being on the waterfront, we have a gorgeous view of the boardwalk so you can walk the entire length of town along the Swinomish Channel,” said Heather Carter, Executive Director of La Conner Chamber of Commerce.
Visitors may come to see the birds, but often stay for the unique qualities of La Conner, said Director of Sales and Marketing for La Conner Channel Lodge, Katie Hayton. Nearby is over a dozen locally owned restaurants, historic and art museums, and charming boutiques dispersed throughout the town. “The feel of the Channel Lodge is very relaxed and Northwest-themed,” said Hayton. “It’s a good retreat.”Guests can unwind with features like in-house spa treatments, original works performed by pianists in the lobby, and complimentary wine tastings next door. The hotel’s neighboring property, La Conner Country Inn, sits a couple blocks away from the water on 2nd Street, in the heart of town. The inn offers pet-friendly rooms for those traveling with animals.
A hot meal after a very cool day
Foodies can appreciate the diverse restaurant options Skagit County has to offer. A favorite among locals, The Trumpeter Public House is situated on the waterfront in downtown Mount Vernon, and offers patrons a gourmet menu in a casual and inviting atmosphere. A selection of spirits with a focus on imported whiskeys is available at the bar, along with micro and import beers, and an assortment of regional, new, and old world wines. The Trumpeter will be celebrating 10 years of business, and has remained committed to supporting Skagit Valley farmers by integrating local produce and harvest from their rooftop garden into the menu. A gluten-free and allergy menu is also available.
For nearly 50 years, the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op has been a staple in the community. Within walking distance sits C-Square, which opened in Fall 2016. It is home to the Third Street Cafe and specialty food counters and kitchens, all under one roof. Each day, menu options are prepared from scratch in the C-Square kitchens, incorporating the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op’s sustainable mission and connection to local farms and purveyors. C-Square is cooperatively owned by the nearly 25,000 Skagit Valley Food Co-Op members helping to sustain the local food movement.
Along with a satiating menu and craft cocktail list at Third Street Cafe, C-Square also includes handcrafted organic ice cream, a bakery, a charcuterie, and an espresso bar. The menu is described as seasonal Pacific Northwest cuisine with a good mix of traditional and innovative dishes, said Marketing and Outreach Director for the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op, Nicole Vander Meulen.
Birds of Winter: A Skagit Valley Experience
For those visiting Skagit Valley specifically for the birds, the first annual birding event, La Conner Birding Showcase will take place January 27, 2018 to January 28, 2018, 11am to 3pm on Saturday and 11am to 4pm on Sunday. Different retailers and organizations focused around birding will be featured. It is part of a larger festival called Birds of Winter: A Skagit Valley Experience, designed to incorporate communities from Concrete to La Conner, and Burlington/Edison down to Conway. Guest speakers will include Paul Bannick, renowned author and bird photographer, sharing excerpts and photography from his book Owl: A Year In The Lives Of North American Animals, Martha Jordan of the NW Swan Conservation, and other experts.
The event will also include master gardeners teaching how to plant for birds, optical equipment will be demonstrated, and the Skagit Audubon Society will be speaking about different bird habitats. If you can’t make it to the event, detailed information about bird species, a detailed map, along with general birding information can also be found at the Skagit Valley Chamber of Commerce website. You may visit Skagit Valley for the birds, but the excellent food and eclectic sightseeing will keep you coming back all year round. (Photo: Landing Trumpeter Swans ©Lee Mann)