Eagle watching season lures hikers to Skagit County – KING5.com


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ROCKPORT, Wash. — On a wintry weekend morning, the air thick with fog and anticipation, a couple dozen hardy souls begin a two mile hike along the Skagit River. They’re hoping to see bald eagles, and guides with the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center are going to make sure they’re not disappointed.
“There’s two bald eagles here across the river,” Joe Ordonez tells the hushed group. “I got them on my scope.”
Ordonez has been guiding bald eagle tours here and in Alaska since 1987.
“For me the eagle is a charismatic bird,” he said. “Everybody wants to see it! And then it can be the lead-in to the story of nature and how things sort of fit together.”
Over the years Ordonez has become eagle-eyed. He spends quite a bit of his time helping others spot the birds.
“We call them the golf ball in the tree,” he laughed. “Of course that only works with the adult bald eagles. Because the adults have the white head.”
The eagles have migrated here for the winter run of chum salmon, meaty fish that can weigh more than ten pounds. That’s a lot of calories and a lot of protein.
“And they are a really great food resource for these animals when most of their other prey options are not available,” said environmental educator Patrick Hutchins.
One such fish lay dead on the bank of the river.
“There’s more than a 100 different species that rely on salmon for food,” Hutchins told the group. “Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest. They are born in our rivers, they go out to the ocean, they grow, and then work their way back upstream carrying all of what they built their bodies out of in the ocean. When they do that, they are essentially acting like red blood cells in our veins moving throughout the body of the Pacific Northwest.”
On these walks, we often stop to spot the apex predator sitting high above us.
Laurie Hodge said the hike was a great learning experience.
“It’s just a fantastic area to visit and learn about the salmon, the eagles and the forest,” she said. “I’ve never really been able to see them up close “.
Jeffrey and Margaret Day have seen bald eagles much closer than they’d like.
“We’ve had them up close and personal in our chicken coop,” Jeffrey Day said. 
“Yes, three feet away with a broom in my hand,” added his wife. “Get away from my chickens!”
“But they are beautiful birds,” Day said.
Beautiful, but a bit static at this time of the year. We weren’t complaining but we did point out a lot of the bald eagles were just sort of lumps in a tree, not moving a whole lot.
“Yeah that’s fair,” Hutchins said. “They are doing a lot of saving energy right now, because it’s winter and there is less food. The more they move, the more their metabolism kind of burns out so they’re spending a lot of time just resting and then finding those fish that are most of the way to dead so they don’t have to do too much work.”
Along the walk we learned if we care about eagles we must care about the salmon and our rivers. We learned we’re all more closely connected than it might appear.
The Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center offers free tours Saturday and Sunday through mid February. Most people offer tips at the end of the tour  to help the center spread its messages of conservation and connectedness. 
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