You know autumn is here for good when the farm fields of the Skagit Valley turn white — with snow geese.
As I drove through the valley Friday morning, a flock of the large white birds with black-tipped wings could be seen from Interstate 5 at the Conway exit. Thousands more covered a field off Rawlins Road behind the Snow Goose Produce stand at 15170 Fir Island Road, between Conway and La Conner.
The birds annually migrate southward by the tens of thousands from nesting grounds in Siberia and Alaska. The Skagit Valley is one of their major wintering grounds, with more than 50,000 birds typically stopping over between November and early spring. Mid-October is on the early side for their arrival.
Skagit County’s Fir Island, reached by driving west on Fir Island Road out of Conway (Exit 221 from Interstate 5), is a good place to look. Stopping on the shoulder is prohibited here; a good viewpoint is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 225-acre Fir Island Farms/Hayton Snow Goose Reserve, 3.2 miles west of Conway. Watch for the sign on the south side of Fir Island Road (Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass required). The management of this site involves a lease agreement with a local farmer who plants a commercial agricultural crop that is harvested, and an over-wintered cover crop of winter wheat for snow-goose forage.
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With snow geese here, tundra and trumpeter swans — other worth-the-trip-to-see-them migratory waterfowl — can’t be far behind. October is also a good time to venture to the Skagit Valley to u-pick pumpkin patches, such as Gordon Skagit Farms, on the McLean Road.
Another sign that winter is on the way: Snow Goose Produce, home of the locally famous “Immodest Ice Cream Cone,” has closed for the season.