Where to Spot Your First Bald Eagle

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It’s that time of the year again when parents all over the Puget Sound area are wishing they could make like a black bear and hibernate through the cold, dreary winter months. Or at least that their cubs would. But for those times when cabin fever sets in and your kiddos are running rampant with pent up energy, you need a fun activity to keep them entertained and get them out of the house. And since we know how animal crazy our little ones are, venturing out on an eagle-spotting nature excursion is the perfect activity for budding birdwatchers and pint sized naturalists.

Start your visit at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport, Wa where staff can provide directions to “Eagle Watcher” sites with high-powered scopes, information handouts, guided interpretive walks, slideshows, and tours.

When to go: Peak eagle watching season runs late November to the end of January with eagle numbers peaking from Christmas through mid-January. For 2013, the interpretive center is open Saturday and Sunday, 10:00am – 4:00pm until January 27. Guided walks are at 11:00am.

Travel time: Rockport, Wa is about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Seattle via I-5 and SR20, and makes for a good day trip.

What to expect: Keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring on flat wings as they ride “thermals” (warm air currents), or perching on the bare limbs of cottonwood trees. They can also be spotted on the river bank eating spawned-out chum salmon. The sight of them swooping down to the water or ground with feet thrust forward to snatch their prey is amazing. Spend some time spotting other birds and wildlife that also use the waterways: ducks, geese, blue herons, deer, beaver, otter, and bear.

How to dress: Wear warm, waterproof outdoor clothing, hats and gloves, and sturdy footgear. And don’t forget to bring a change of clothes!

Cost: Free, although the center is accepting donations to keep the facility open for more years to come.

Eagle spotting tips:

  • Eagles are easily scared off by humans so tread lightly and keep your distance. Purchase a good pair of binoculars for optimum eagle watching. The Seattle Audubon Society’s Nature Shop sells a compact, lightweight pair for under $30–ideal for little hands and your pocket!
  • If you can get to the viewing sites between dawn and 11:00am (hooray for parents with early risers!), you will be rewarded with a concerto of twitterings and ‘chak-chaks’ as the bald eagles have breakfast.
  • Cloudy or overcast days are the best days to see bald eagles because they stay close to the river, perching in trees, digesting their morning meal, and conserving energy.
  • On sunny days, look up. The eagles are likely to be more active and airborne, soaring thousands of feet above the valley floor.

Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center
Howard Miller Steelhead Park
52809 Rockport Park Road
Rockport, Wa
Online: www.skagiteagle.org

While you’re almost guaranteed to spot a bald eagle or two if you head out to the Skagit Valley, you have a good chance of spotting them in Seattle too. Here’s where:

Seward Park
Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center
5902 Lake Washington Blvd S
Online: sewardpark.audubon.org

Free guided nature walks geared toward families on the second Saturday of every month (at 1:00pm) drop by one of two bald eagle nests in the park, guaranteed.

Discovery Park
Visitor Center
3801 Discovery Park Blvd
Online: www.seattle.gov/parks

Owls and seals are worthy sightings even if you don’t spy any bald eagles.

Union Bay Natural Area/UW Botanic Gardens
3501 NE 41st Street
Online: depts.washington.edu

Bald eagles are often spotted here in the good company of other shore birds like the blue heron, mallard duck and Cooper’s hawk.

West Seattle
Alki Beach Park
1702 Alki Ave SW

Lincoln Park
8011 Fauntleroy Way SW

Online: www.seattle.gov/parks

Rumor has it a pair or two of bald eagles love to hang out along Alki Beach and in Lincoln Park.

Where have you seen bald eagles around Seattle? Know any other good birdwatching spots that should be on this list?

— Pat Tanumihardja

photo credit: Allison McCarthy for Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center