Sports

Stepping Out: See the Skagit eagles

"Did you see that on the side of the road? I asked Woody. We were on State Route (S.R.) 20 between the towns of Marblemount and Rockport, where the highway parallels the Skagit River. It almost looked like an arm, or something, I said.It was a salmon, Woody replied.Must have gotten tired and tried to thumb a ride upstream, I said. Woody gave me a weird look. An eagle probably dropped it, he said.I knew that, I said.Sure you did.We had spotted at least ten of the huge birds on our trip to Newhalem. I use the word huge because the wing span of an adult bald eagle can be longer than the height of most NBA centers, supposedly some 7.5 feet. Up close and personal with one can be scary, too. The lucky hiker or climber who encounters an eagle face to face as it rides the winds along a ridge will know what I mean. Try looking into the soulless eyes of the critter if you ever get that close. Brrrrrrr. Shivers down the spine.That day the eagles were taking advantage of a salmon run on the Skagit. Spawning salmon make easy prey for the hungry birds, which are always ready to feed on the weak, dying, or dead. Some view eagles as a noble bird, but I think of them as little more than a glorified vulture or a high-falutin' crow. Eagles are pigs with wings; they're critters that will eat anything they see, quivering or not. Readers who would grow indignant at this suggestion have probably never seen an eagle pick at roadkill. I have. It's not an aesthetically pleasing sight. Nevertheless, plenty of people like to watch eagles, and so do I — when they're soaring, diving, or perching in trees. And Woody and I spotted plenty of bird watchers, too, as we drove along the Skagit. Every now and then a car pulled over to the shoulder of the road, spilling occupants with binoculars in hand.Bird watchers can fill their eyes with sightings at this time of year. In fact, it's almost time for the Thirteenth Annual Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival. Activities take place in Concrete, Rockport, and Marblemount, during Feb. 5 and 6. Any visit upriver should probably include a stop at the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport, open during weekends in January and February. Look for the center on Alfred Street, one block south of S.R. 20. Getting to Rockport is easy; just jump on S. R. 20, and follow it until you get to Rockport State Park. The town is just beyond, at the junction with S.R. 530. On a clear winter day, a side excursion down 530 to Darrington and back to I-5 will give drivers more to see. Besides more eagle viewing along the Sauk River, look for the snowy peaks near Darrington. The view of Whitehorse Mountain, rising sharply against the sky just south of Darrington, will alone be worth the looping trip.Looking for more information before making a commitment? Try the Internet at www.skagiteagle.org, or e-mail mfi@fidalgo.net. It is requested that the word eagle be included in the subject field.Those without Internet access can mail their questions to Eagle Festival, PO Box 671, Concrete, WA 98237, or crank up the phone and ask the operator to connect them with (360)853-7009. If you come, you might also see me there, binoculars in hand. But I won't be watching the eagles — I'll be trying to spot those fish thumbing their way up the highway."

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