July 3, 2008 · Updated 6:17 PM
"It's that time, again. On Feb. 3 and 4, the Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival will start, though they're not waiting for the official date of the event. They're up there already, as thick as flies; it's like this whenever the fish are running in the river. Drawn by instinct, or experience, they descend upon the Skagit River. Hundreds, maybe more, of stupid drivers!Yes, there will be eagles too, a whole bunch of them, though the peak was probably a couple of weeks ago. The eagle count between Rockport and Marblemount on Jan. 17 was 95, down from a high of 310 on Dec. 27. That is still a lot of eagles and the number seems to be increasing every year.But the crush of drivers hasn't peaked and there's nothing the Blue Ribbon Commission can do about it.Cruising up Highway 20 is no picnic. At this time of year the problems of frost, fog and frozen windshields present enough problems for travelers. Add to that list the hazards presented by eagle watchers stopping in the road without warning (rolling down a window to gaze into the sky with a pair of binoculars) and the fact that your collision deductible is probably twice the size of a mortgage payment and you might as well become familiar with legal terminology right now. At least some lawyer is going to get rich, while you fill out the paperwork for Chapter Seven.But you're determined to go anyway, I'm sure. My advice? Pretend you're driving in a construction zone. In other words, be prepared to stop! Drivers that aren't stomping on the brakes in an effort to avoid a rear-end collision are probably pre-occupied driving around other cars parked halfway out onto the roadway. Eagle watchers don't have to drive up the Skagit to spot eagles, of course. Eagles are easy to find on Whidbey Island, though the spectacle of watching an eagle snatch a fish out of the water is a rare occurrence, here. Nine pounds of bird stretched out five or six feet wide, dropping out of the sky. Maybe it is worth risking the accident...Eagles feed early in the day; bird watchers arriving in the afternoon will still get to see the birds riding the thermals, but will likely miss the fishing show. Park near milepost 99 (Washington Eddy) or milepost 100 (Sutter Park) and you'll likely also have the advantage of a Forest Service volunteer host giving interpretive talks. Other viewpoints include the Howard Miller Steelhead Park (turn onto Highway 530 at Rockport, and take a right, into the park, in a few hundred feet), the Marblemount Boat Launch, and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery. Host-interpreters may frequent these areas, too.The towns of Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount will be hosting a variety of festival events, from free refreshments to video viewings, volkswalks, bluegrasss concerts and bus tours. Yee-hah! Immerse yourself in the culture; you're not upriver everyday. For a scenic drive and a chance to see more eagles along the Sauk River, take Highway 530 south and east from Rockport to Arlington. On a clear day, a winter drive into the town of Darrington from this direction is not one you will soon forget. See Whitehorse close up. Plan a summer climb!That kind of thing is worth getting in an accident for. "