Marsh Wren (photo by Sana David)

[Note: All the bird photos in this blog were taken by two current Young Birders on our Skagit field experience.]

Seattle Audubon’s Young Birders, our community for youth interested in birding, brings teens aged 13 – 18 years old together for monthly meetings and field experiences. Each month, professionals in conservation, ornithology, and even past young birders, present their research and experiences to the group. The monthly field trip allows hands-on learning, birding experiences, and an opportunity for the young birders to connect and bird together. For more on the program, visit our webpage and keep reading for a glimpse of January’s incredible field experience.

Early Mornings

Field experiences often start early in order to see the birds that are active in the morning hours. This month, we started our field experience at 8:00 a.m. at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop, where the 11 Young Birders shared what we hoped to see up in Skagit County during the day. Snow Geese, Short-Eared Owls, and woodpeckers were mentioned, among others. With one parent and a NextGen volunteer as chaperones, we piled into three cars and drove up to our first stop, Skagit Wildlife Area – Wiley Slough, in hopes of checking some species off our list.


Skagit Wildlife Area (photo by Kate Lanier)

Geese & Eagles & Otters, Oh My!

At the Skagit Wildlife Area, we set up a scope to observe some far off geese before being captivated by two Bald Eagles calling and moving nearby in a tall tree. Cameras clicked as they swooped until a shout, “Otter!”, made everyone’s head turn. While not a bird, we got an amazing sight of three River Otters playing together. Group outings provide an ability to see more animals. As one participant noted, “I’ve seen a lot of new birds and when I’m with a group, you’re more likely to see more because everyone can contribute their sightings. So I really like the aspect of all coming together to be able to see more birds.” We all watched the River Otters for a couple minutes until more bird calls moved us along the path.

Bald Eagles (photo by Joey Kennedy)

River Otter (photo by Sana David)

A Marsh Wren hopped along the river bank darting and eating, not batting an eye when we hovered close. Three Pileated Woodpeckers allowed for close observation as they jumped around tree snags in an open part of the wildlife area. At the end of the first stop, one Young Birder remarked, “My favorite thing we have seen so far is the Marsh Wren — being out in the open and getting an actual photo of it this time!”


Downy Woodpecker (photo by Joey Kennedy)

Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Sana David)

Our next stop was just a few minutes up the road to see shorebirds at the Fir Islands Farm Reserve. We lasted only around 20 minutes until rumbling stomachs and cold hands pulled us back to the car for our lunch stop. Exploring nearby La Conner, we found Lulu’s Espresso and Ice Cream, a cozy coffee and ice cream shop that kindly accepted us taking over their space. With hot chocolates and full stomachs we set back out, pausing to admire the Old Fir Log, and then onward to our last stop up at Samish Unit East-90. With no Short-Eared Owls seen yet, we were driving there with a mission.

Young Birder using a scope (photo by Kate Lanier)

Young Birders in Skagit (photo by Kate Lanier)

The best stops are sometimes unplanned

You still can bird when you are in a car. Eyes are glued to our passing scenery as we move from one location to another. En route to the East-90, in Bow, we were given a delightful treat from a flock of Dunlin’s who showed off their synchronized aerial maneuvering. A short stop on the side off the road elicited “oohs” and “ahh’s” as they would feed, fly, and return to the ground. 

Dunlins (photos by Sana David)

“I see a Short-Eared Owl!”

These were the words everyone hoped to hear when minutes earlier we had pulled onto the gravel shoulder to survey the fields for hawks, owls, and eagles. Our binoculars followed the first Short-Eared Owl as it dipped and soared near the ground. Along with the owl, multiple Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles made appearances. While more time here would have been ideal, our return time back to the Seattle Audubon office was quickly approaching. We piled back into our cars one more time and headed home. Short debriefs occurred. “Seeing Bald Eagles was my favorite, there were so many and I barely ever see them,” said one participant. With many photos on cameras, a few good stories, and stomachs filled with Trader Joe’s snacks, we said goodbye at The Nature Shop and began looking forward to February.

Short-Eared Owl (photo by Joey Kennedy)

Young Photographers

Many Young Birders bring cameras and are talented photographers. While many more “special” birds are seen on outings like this to destination locations, one Young Birder remarked that she likes “to take photographs of birds you see every day to bring appreciation to birds people often brush off, like a Steller’s Jay or House Finch, they are still beautiful!” Some of the many photos the Young Birders took are highlighted in this blog. When asked why they take part in the program, multiple participants said it was to belong to a birding community their age. Skagit was a fantastic trip, and we can’t wait for the rest of the year.

Young Birders (photo by Kate Lanier)

Kate Lanier

Kate Lanier

Urban Conservation Educator

Originally from North Carolina, Kate moved to Seattle fall of 2022 after graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota. She has always loved the outdoors and is thrilled to have a job where work and nature come hand in hand. In her free time you can find Kate playing ultimate frisbee, exploring Seattle coffee shops, or sharing her newest bird fact.