Each February, snow geese cover the skies and fields near Stanwood before their annual migration north. Beginning in March, huge gray whales migrate along the west coast and through Puget Sound to Alaskan waters. Both offer extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities – during a season when few other wildlife provide such a spectacle.
Then check out this year’s Snow Goose & Birding Festival, taking place Feb. 22-23 in Stanwood, and whale-watching excursions, starting in early March. These are offered by two local companies, Puget Sound Express, cruising from Edmonds, and Island Adventures, operating from Everett.
the Snow Goose and Bird Watching Festival highlights the thousands of showy snow geese, feeding in the fields to fatten up before flying north. You’ll also see elegant trumpeter swans and flocks of wintering seabirds, shorebirds and raptors that call Stanwood and Camano Island home. This area is internationally recognized as critical habitat for countless sea, shore and land birds.
The two-day festival is headquartered at the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center in Stanwood. You can take bus tours to see snow geese and trumpeter swans feeding in nearby fields and attend seminars and presentations by birding experts. Bus tours are $5 per reserved seat; a donation of $5 is requested to support the presentations.
Other bus tours highlight the diverse habitats of Camano Island where you can see raptors, loons, ducks, great blue herons, and many types of shorebirds. Nature Conservancy Tours includes a seawall walk along Port Susan Bay, a saltwater nursery for hundreds of thousands of birds. The art of photographing birds is a particularly poplar tour, offered only on Sunday, February 23.
There are also maps and information for those wishing to take self-guided tours of birding areas such as The Big Ditch and English Boom on Camano Island.
The Snow Goose & Birding Festival takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 22 and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 23. Reserve the visit and the presentation space as soon as possible.
Then go whale watching from March. The gray whales – although not as showy as the black and white killer whales – are more spectacular: up to 40 feet long and weighing 40 tons! So when the gray whales surface, they put on an incredible sight. You may also see orcas, minke whales and humpback whales – but gray whales are almost guaranteed to be spotted during their spring migration season.
Puget Sound Express operates whale watching tours from Edmonds Marina March 6-April 30. The family-owned company also offers tours of Port Townsend and Langley, Whidbey Island, if you want to combine one of these tours with a multi-day excursion north of Puget Sound.
Tours depart from Edmonds aboard the relatively new Saratoga, a large catamaran with 130 interior seats, a large walk-in exterior deck, toilets and a kitchen where you can buy groceries. The catamaran sails to the protected waters of Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage where gray whales congregate to feed.
The 2.5 hour Edmonds tour departs daily at 10.30am. Cost is $85 for adults, children (ages 2-10): $65; babies are free. Puget Sound Express offers a whale guarantee: if you don’t see any whales on your trip, you receive a voucher for a future trip.
Island Adventures offers whale watching tours from Everett from March 7 to May 17, passing through Port Gardner Bay, the Strait of Possession and Saratoga Passage. It also offers seasonal tours of Anacortes and Port Townsend. Three-hour tours from Everett depart daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Running gray whale tours in the spring since 2006, Island Adventures currently offers its 85-foot-long Island Adventurer 4 ship out of Everett. The ship has an accessible lower deck, a huge upper observation deck and a large interior cabin with toilet and kitchen where breakfast or lunch can be purchased.
The cost is $69 for adults, $59 for adults (seniors, military, AAA students, AARP), and $49 for children (ages 3-17); younger just $1. Book 30 days or more in advance to receive a substantial discount on tickets.
Snow Goose and Bird Watching Festival
Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center
27130 102nd Avenue NW
Puget Sound Express
459 Admiral Road
1726 W. Marine View Dr.
Everett, Washington 98201
— By Julie Gangler
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Office of Tourism. She began her career as an editor at Sunset Magazine and later served as an Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.