We in the Skagit Valley are privy to one of the best environments in North America to experience wild birds. Besides the year-round residents such as bald eagles, owls, herons, and seabirds, regular visitors appear every winter: snow geese and trumpeter swans.
It’s no secret that birdwatchers consider our area a mecca. So it’s no surprise that on the weekend of January 27 and 28th, the town of La Conner hosted an event for birding enthusiasts: The La Conner Birding Showcase, held at Maple Hall. Being a rather devoted wildlife photographer myself, I grabbed my camera and notebook and hot-footed it over!
From 11 AM until 3 PM, the exhibit hall was ringed with booths featuring a variety of organizations and vendors. Those represented included the Skagit County Audubon Society, Pamela Headridge Photography, Skagit County Historical Museum, the Quilts and Fiber Arts Museum, the Northwest Swan Conservation Association, Wild Birds Unlimited, and videographer Bob Hamblin.
What caught my eye first was the fluttering of wings – two exhibitors from Airstrike Bird Control, Inc. were holding raptors on their gloved hands. The first handler, Sue Hanneman, was holding a Harris’s hawk, a lovely reddish-brown bird native to the southwestern U.S. Airstrike offers “abatement services” – sort of a “rent-a-raptor” business. The hawks and humans team up to rid industrial areas of nuisance birds. The humans remove the nests, and the hawks provide a scary deterrent – problem solved!
Sue’s associate, Caitlyn O’Neill, also an amateur falconer, stood nearby with two birds: a red-tailed hawk and a gyrfalcon/peregrine hybrid. Needless to say, seeing these animals up close is impressive. Caitlyn explained the licensing necessary to acquire, breed, and use the animals in a business setting, and the process of training them while still retaining their wild behaviors.
She scratched her hawk on its belly feathers which the bird seemed to like. Caitlyn informed me that if a raptor doesn’t like what you’re doing to it, the bird will grasp your finger or arm in its talons and squeeze, similar to the death grip it applies to a small rodent.
Caitlyn explained that the raptor population is susceptible to poisoning sometimes from lead shot used by hunters, and described that education is necessary to help combat this threat.
Next, I got a swan identification tip or two from Megan Kirkpatrick of the Northwest Swan Conservation Association. Although most migratory swans in our area are trumpeter swans, with the familiar honking sound, we also get visited by the tundra swan in smaller numbers. The tundra swan has a yellow marking around the base of the bill, and its vocalization has been compared to laughing children.
The photos by Pamela Headridge were in theme with the rest of the exhibit: great shots of snow geese and trumpeter swans in our farmlands and wetlands. Pamela also contributed artwork as part of the 2015 La Conner Daffodil Festival. She won that year’s photo contest with a spectacular shot of snow geese in flight over a blooming field of daffodils.
By 3 PM, the hall was converted into a presentation space for a slide show by Paul Bannick, photographer and author. Paul discussed the diverse world of North American owls. Besides having many great images of owls to show, there was a soundtrack of their calls playing behind his talk. Paul clearly had the audience captivated as he discussed the intricate habitat needs of our native owl species. There was a large sold out crowd for Paul’s talk. His presentations seemed to have many repeat attendees.
All in all, this was a great way to break up a cold windy winter afternoon, both educational, fun, and inspirational.
January 29, 2018
In addition to writing for SAM, Joel can be found aiming a lens at unsuspecting birds and musicians on any given weekend. Unless the northern lights show up, he is generally well rested and not irritable from lack of sleep.