by Hal Opperman

revised by Hal Opperman

The Stillaguamish River discharges into two tidal channels south of Stanwood: West Pass, joining Skagit Bay, and South Pass, joining Port Susan. Like a miniature version of the Snohomish estuary, the sloughs and alluvial deposits at the mouth of the river have been diked to create dry land for crops and dairying. Taken as a whole, this is a major site for waterfowl and shorebirds from late fall to early spring, and supports a large population of wintering raptors. It is an area of hemispheric significance for Snow Geese and Dunlins. To the west lies Camano Island, reached by a high bridge over West Pass. The Camano shoreline offers several fine viewpoints for scoping Skagit Bay, Saratoga Passage, and Livingston Bay—highly productive waters for waterfowl, loons, grebes, and alcids, especially in the colder months.




For a tour of the Stillaguamish delta, go west from I-5 Exit 208 toward Silvana on Pioneer Highway. The road turns northwest, enters the town of Silvana, turns north, and crosses the Stillaguamish. Immediately after the bridge, turn left onto Norman Road (3.6 miles from I-5). When partially flooded in spring, open fields on the right can attract migrating shorebirds; look them over from Norman Road or from any of the connecting roads running north to Pioneer Highway. At the junction with Miller Road, stay left on Norman, which crosses the river once more, to a stop sign at Marine Drive (4.7 miles from the beginning of Norman Road). Go straight across onto Boe Road, with the Hatt Slough dike on your left. The main attraction along this road is waterfowl (sometimes thousands of Snow Geese) and shorebirds in the fields, especially on high tides. Look, too, for Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. In winter, Short-eared Owl may be seen here or elsewhere on the delta—primarily at daybreak or in late afternoon—and Snowy Owl at any time of day during an invasion year. Boe Road dead-ends in 1.4 miles at the levee along Port Susan. The Nature Conservancy owns 4,000 acres across the levee, including a formerly diked tract recently reconverted to tidal inundation. Visits to this Port Susan Bay Preserve are by advance permission only. (See details at the entrance sign, or visit

Go back to Marine Drive and turn left. In 0.9 mile turn left onto Thomle Road, which ends in 1.9 miles at a food-processing plant. The winter possibilities are similar to those along Boe Road, including American Pipit and Western Meadowlark in the fields and a good diversity of sparrows in brushy spots. Permission to enter the fields is sometimes granted at the plant office; otherwise, scan or scope from the roadway.

Return to Marine Drive. Turn left (north), cross the river again, then, just before the SR-532 underpass, turn left with Marine Drive onto what older maps call 267th Street NW, and continue to the traffic light (1.4 miles from the Thomle Road junction). Go left onto SR-532, and in another 0.2 mile turn left onto the stub end of 92nd Avenue NW and park. This is presently the only publicly accessible spot to scope any part of the Stanwood Waste Water Treatment Plant—one corner of one pond. Freshwater ducks (dabblers plus scaups and other Aythya species) are the most numerous inhabitants, but you may also find an interesting gull or shorebird (phalaropes in migration). Unusual passerines have been found along the weedy dikes and fencerows. Swallows can be abundant in migration.

Turn left onto SR-532 and head west out of Stanwood, up and over the high bridge. Part way down the embankment on the other side of the bridge (1.1 miles), note the turnoff to Eide Road on the left, but keep driving, because left turns are not permitted here. Turn around farther on at a less hazardous spot and approach this turnoff from the west. Eide Road follows the levee along the east side of Leque (pronounced LEK-wee) Island, formed between Camano Island and the mainland by sediment from the outwash of the Stillaguamish and now constituting the Leque Island Unit of the WDFW’s Skagit Wildlife Area (Discover Pass required). Park in the first parking lot (0.6 mile) or the second, larger one a bit farther in, and walk on ahead. Rubber boots will serve you well from fall through spring, even sometimes in summer.

Dikes protecting this former farmland from flooding have not been maintained for years and have a history of failing. A major breach in 2010, shored up provisionally with a makeshift patch, left behind several shallow ponds just past the parking lots. Replenished regularly by high-tide seepage, these ponds have proven hospitable to shorebirds. Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer (breeds), Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Western Sandpiper can be found nearly year round. Semipalmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper (uncommon, mostly August), Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel (mostly May), Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Wilson’s Snipe, and Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes are regular in decent numbers in migration, and Spotted Sandpiper in breeding season only. The list of rare, casual, and accidental visitors includes Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Willet, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Red Knot, Ruff, Sharp-tailed and Stilt Sandpipers, Red-necked Stint, and Sanderling. No one knows how much longer this shorebird bonanza will last. A long-term management plan for the wildlife area, which may or may not include preservation and enhancement of shorebird habitat, is under development.

In winter, Short-eared Owls can be numerous at dusk. Although much rarer, Long-eared Owls have roosted here regularly in recent winters. Snowy Owls are often in the area in a good flight year—look for them on low perches such as fenceposts, driftwood and other detritus along dikes, or on the ground. Barn Owls shelter in dense shrubbery but are rarely abroad in daylight. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks are present in winter—sometimes in high numbers—along with less common raptors such as Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Leque Island provides excellent habitat for sparrows and other wintering passerines. Small trees and brush sometimes have flocks of Yellow-rumped Warbler and Purple Finch, and many unusual species have been found here over the years, including Say’s Phoebe and Northern Mockingbird.

Walk on out along the dike where you can, but blackberry growth makes this difficult or impossible in most places. Three easily recognizable access points before and between the two parking lots allow views across the channel to the dike on the Thomle Road side (Snowy Owls some winters). Another way is to proceed south from the ponds along the east edge of the field to its end (look for wintering Western Meadowlarks), then clamber up onto the dike at a promontory overlooking Port Susan. This shallow bay is great for shorebirds an hour or two before and after high tide, when a relatively narrow zone is exposed between land and water’s edge. At low tides the birds disperse over vast areas of mudflats extending almost farther than the eye can see. At high tide, viewing can be good for shallows-loving waterbirds. A Snow Goose flock is often at Port Susan in winter, and if something puts them up, 20,000 geese create an impressive snowstorm to the south. From here, you can continue to walk the perimeter of the island clockwise on the dike, in the fields, or along Davis Slough, to another WDFW parking area on the south side of SR-532. Stay out of the fields when waterfowl and pheasant hunters are present (roughly, October–January; current regulations are usually posted in parking lots).

To continue west toward Camano Island on SR-532, you must first go right from Eide Road, then turn around in Stanwood and head back west across the high bridge. Pull off quickly on the right at the foot of the bridge (0.1 mile past Eide Road). A dike at this north end of Leque Island was left unrepaired after its collapse several years ago, and the land is now flooded or at least extremely wet most of the time. Wintering Black-bellied Plovers may roost or feed here; dowitchers and sometimes other shorebirds may appear in migration. Flocks of Snow Goose, Trumpeter Swan, and other species of waterfowl fly freely back and forth between Port Susan and Skagit Bay, especially on an incoming tide. Dunlins rise up in large balls when displaced by the tide or by the Merlins and Peregrine Falcons that pursue them. Up to 50,000 Dunlins winter on Port Susan/Skagit Bay, one of the largest concentrations in North America.

Another pullout on the right in 0.3 mile, on Camano Island just across the Davis Slough bridge, offers similar possibilities. Land west of the dike on both sides of SR-532 is private and posted. In winter, many raptors patrol the fields and the salt marsh or avail themselves of handy perches. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks are common. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are fairly common, and Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk and Gyrfalcon have occurred.



Seven miles across at its north end and tapering 15 miles to its south point, Camano Island was completely logged over between 1855 and 1920. Conforming to the typical pattern of Puget Lowlands land-use succession, the level ground was then cleared of stumps and used for agriculture for many decades. Today, the last farm fields and second-growth forest are disappearing beneath a wave of residential development. Most of the shoreline is private. However, a few publicly accessible points provide an opportunity to view the marine environment and its rich birdlife, while remnant woods and other upland habitats can be sampled along the quiet roadsides and in parks. Breeding has been documented for 80 species on the north part of the island, and over 130 species have been found there on the Skagit Bay Christmas Bird Count.

From the pullout at Davis Slough on SR-532, travel west 0.9 mile and turn right onto Good Road, which bends west and becomes Utsalady Road. In 1.8 miles, just past the airport, turn right (north) and follow Moore Road to its end in 0.6 mile, staying right to a parking area, picnic shelter, and interpretive signage near the beach. This is English Boom Preserve, a county park on the southwest edge of Skagit Bay. All that remains of the boom (log-sorting and rafting facility) of the English Logging Company is the forest of pilings offshore, now fitted out with Purple Martin nest boxes. The shoreline to the west is private. To the east a muddy beach stretches all the way to Davis Slough; a small salt marsh cut across by tidal channels lies between it and the bluffs. You may bird this area from a beachside boardwalk (flooded at winter high tides) or along the trail across logs and channels on private land closer to the bluff, generally passable at any season (1.0 mile round trip).

In winter, Green-winged Teal and other dabbling ducks use this habitat, as do shorebirds (mostly Dunlins). Among the resident songbirds, listen for three species of wren (Pacific, Marsh, Bewick’s). This part of the bay is shallow, and probably best birded on an outgoing tide. Depending on tides, wind direction, and where the hunters happen to be pushing them on a given day, thousands of ducks may be present. Diving birds feed along a deep channel offshore, among them Greater Scaup, scoters, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, loons, and grebes (mostly Horned and Red-necked). When the Snow Goose flock is resident on the Fir Island tidelands, you will see a white mass like a snowbank four or five miles across Skagit Bay to the northeast.


Go back out to Utsalady Road, turn right, and drive over to Utsalady. In the heyday of logging, Utsalady could boast of the busiest port and one of the largest mills on Puget Sound, but today it is a sleepy retirement community without so much as a convenience store. Three open lots on the right side of the road offer lookouts onto Utsalady Bay. The first one is in 1.8 miles, opposite the end of State Street. On the leeward side of the island from the prevailing southwest winds, the sheltered bay harbors scoters, Buffleheads, dozens of goldeneyes (including many Barrow’s), Red-throated and Common Loons, and sometimes one or two Eared Grebes or a Thayer’s Gull. In calm weather you may see birds of deeper waters farther out on Saratoga Passage. Utsalady Road continues another 0.3 mile, past the other two lots, and bends left to a stop sign at North Camano Drive. Turn right here. In 1.1 miles, turn right onto Utsalady Point Road, which doubles back and drops down to a public boat launch (0.3 mile) where you can scope the west side of Utsalady Bay.

Come back up and turn right onto North Camano Drive. In 0.2 mile take another right onto Maple Grove Road and drive down to the Maple Grove Boat Launch (0.4 mile; toilets). Saratoga Passage is at its narrowest here—three miles from Whidbey Island—and the deep channel is close to shore. Many birds feed here, and others fly up and down the channel. Practically any Washington gull species is possible. Specialties include Harlequin Duck; loons (especially Pacific— there are a few records of Yellow-billed); all three cormorants (Brandt’s is rare); and alcids (Common Murre irregular fall to spring, Pigeon Guillemot year round, Marbled Murrelet fairly common in winter, Rhinoceros Auklet in summer). In winter, Western Grebes can often be found far out in the channel. This is an excellent place to set up a scope and do a sea-watch when there is activity.

Continue right from the parking lot rather than going back uphill to the left the way you came. Maple Grove Road ends at Scenic Avenue in 0.4 mile. Park out of the way. The right stub of Scenic Avenue is a beach access. The sand-and-cobble beach may have Sanderlings—local on Camano Island due to limited habitat. Scan the waters; Marbled Murrelets are often here, especially to the left (northwest). Drive a couple of blocks up Scenic Avenue away from the beach to its end at Brokaw Road. Turn left and go to the stop sign at Huntington’s Grocery corner (0.3 mile), and left onto North Camano Drive. In 3.6 miles, stay right at the fork onto Sunrise Boulevard to a traffic light with East Camano Drive in 0.2 mile, and continue straight ahead on Sunrise. In 2.6 miles, turn left onto Iverson Beach Road, which meanders 0.4 mile to Iverson Road. A left turn brings you to the road-end parking lot in 0.5 mile.

Iverson Spit Preserve, a popular 120-acre county park (toilets), enjoys a splendid setting at the mouth of Livingston Bay. A well-marked 0.9-mile loop trail takes you through several different habitats—salt marsh, tidal channels, freshwater marsh, woods, brushy edges, cultivated field, beach, tide flats, open bay—with their typical birds. You may also walk northward along the beach and the salt marsh behind it. Over 150 species of birds are recorded at Iverson Spit, including a wide selection of dabbling and diving ducks, loons, grebes, and other waterbirds; Bald Eagle, Virginia Rail, Caspian Tern, Mourning Dove; and the expected flycatchers, swallows, and woodland, marsh, and grassland songbirds.

Go back to East Camano Drive and turn right onto SR-532. In 1.1 miles, turn right onto Fox Trot Way, which dead-ends in 0.2 mile. Livingston Bay, to the south, can hold thousands of ducks. This is a good vantage point, but the tide runs waaay out, so time your visit for a three- or four-hour bracket centered on peak high tide. On sunny days, try for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the glare. You may walk out to the shoreline here. However, beach and tidelands to the east and west are private. Drive east on SR-532 to reach Stanwood.



From SR-532 on the west side of Stanwood, turn north onto 102nd Avenue NW. (See map on page 170.) The name changes to Old Pacific Highway as you travel north out of town. In 2.4 miles, just as the road swings right and is about to cross the railroad track, turn left (west) onto a dirt road signed Big Ditch Access, which ends in 0.6 mile at a parking lot on the right (Discover Pass required). One of several developed access points to the Skagit Wildlife Area, the Big Ditch Unit is located about a mile south of the mouth of the South Fork Skagit River. Walk up onto the dike above the parking lot, across the big drainage ditch that ends at a tide gate on your left, and through a turnstile beside a steel-pipe gate. You are on a high levee with the ditch on the inside. A vast salt marsh covered with cattails and cut through with sloughs extends to the tidelands of Skagit Bay to the west. This is primarily a winter birding site. The levee for a mile northward provides a privileged post from which to scan for raptors, including Peregrine Falcon, which hunts over the marsh and mudflats. In a good flight year there is usually a Snowy Owl or two at Big Ditch. A wintering Snow Goose flock is sometimes out on the intertidal zone.

Drive back out and cross the railroad track to the stop sign at Pioneer Highway. To reach birding sites to the north, turn left and go 4.4 miles to the junction with Fir Island Road in Conway (page 108). If you turn south (right), it is 2.6 miles to SR-532 in Stanwood, and 4.8 miles east from there to I-5.