Located in three Washington State counties (Skagit, Snohomish, Island), the Skagit Bay IBA comprises Skagit Bay, the Skagit river delta and surrounding farm fields. This area provides habitat for thousands of wintering waterfowl, including Trumpeter and Tundra Swans and Lesser Snow Geese.The estuarine intertidal area consists of both deep and shallow water, with a shoreline characterized by tidally influenced mudflats and sloughs that provide habitat for migrating shorebirds, song birds, and raptors including nesting Ospreys, as well as resident raptors, such as Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Northern Harriers. The adjoining farm fields are flat and diked and are well known feeding areas for snow geese and swans. A forested hillside provides habitat for nesting Bald Eagles. Skagit Bay is a feeding area for two nearby nesting Great Blue Heron colonies and a breeding area for Purple Martins. Skagit Bay is also a priority site in the recovery efforts for Chinook salmon in the Skagit Watershed. The area that includes Skagit Bay was designated a WHSRN (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network) site in 2012, due to the large number of migrating shorebirds that use this area. Public areas include the Skagit Wildlife Area, managed by WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) and two county parks on Camano Island. Three sites at the Skagit Wildlife Area are on the Audubon Washington Great Washington State Birding Trail ?Cascade Loop? map: Headquarters, Fir Island Farm/Hayton Preserve and Big Ditch.
The Skagit Delta supports the largest concentrations of wintering Tundra and Trumpeter Swans in the state of Washington. Washington supports the largest number of wintering Trumpeter Swans in the contiguous United States and the number of wintering Tundra Swans that occur in the proposed Skagit IBA is increasing every year. Both are listed as ?Priority? under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Priority Species and Habitats Program (PHS) and the Trumpeter Swan is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under Washington?s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS).
The Northern Puget Sound wintering population of Lesser Snow Goose winters primarily in discrete estuary and agricultural habitats associated with Skagit Bay. This species is listed as ?Priority? under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Priority Species and Habitats Program (PHS) and as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under Washington?s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS). It is important recreationally both for bird watchers and hunters. This segment of the Lesser Snow Goose population breeds exclusively on Wrangel Island, Russia and represents the last major breeding population of snow geese nesting in Asia.
Skagit Bay supports large winter concentrations of Mallard, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal and therefore is mapped as Priority Habitat for them under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Priority Species and Habitats Program. All three species are important recreational species for both hunters and bird watchers. They are recognized as important in management action plans developed by the Pacific Coast Joint Venture, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
Northern Pintail is recognized as an important species under plans written by the Pacific Coast Joint Venture, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the North American Waterfowl Plan. It is a species of high recreational value to both hunters and bird watchers. It is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under Washington?s Comprehensive Conservation Strategy (CWCS). Skagit Bay is mapped under Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Priority Species and Habitats Program as a priority site for winter waterfowl concentrations for pintail.
Skagit Bay is part of the Greater Skagit/Stillaguamish Delta system, which is utilized by over 60,000 shorebirds annually. The area is a vital wintering ground for a minimum of 30,000 Dunlin annually, and is an important migration stop over site for thousands of migrating western sandpipers. Additional shorebird species that rely on Skagit Bay include Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson?s Snipe, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, and Dowitcher species. Over 300 Whimbrel occur regularly in spring migration. Skagit Bay was recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of Regional importance in the fall of 2012.
Purple Martins were formerly common and widespread in western Washington, with reports of thousands lining power lines near Seattle's Green Lake in late summer. They are still common in the eastern United States, but Washington's population has declined dramatically in the past 50-60 years. This decline has been attributed to the presence of European Starlings and House Sparrows, both introduced cavity-nesters that compete with Purple Martins for limited cavity nest sites. The Purple Martin is listed as a Candidate Species for listing by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, a Priority Species under the PHS Program, a Species of Greatest Conservation Need under the Washington CWCS, and is on the Washington Gap Analysis at-risk list. Through the dedication of volunteers who closely monitor the species, the small population of Purple Martins in western Washington is slowly growing (from Seattle Audubon?s Bird Web). Stan Kostka, a purple martin enthusiast and citizen scientist, has installed Purple Martin nesting boxes at English Boom Historical Park on Camano Island adjacent to Skagit Bay. Young fledged from English Boom have dispersed and bred throughout the Northern Puget Sound and British Columbia, and south into King County.
Comprehensive nesting surveys have not been conducted for Bald Eagles in Washington since 2005; however, new nesting territories are discovered every year. Therefore the current estimate of 28 active bald eagle territories in the proposed Skagit IBA may be an underestimate. Bald Eagles are protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and are considered a WDFW Priority Species and a Washington CWCS Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
A minimum of two Great blue heron nesting colonies occur within foraging distance of the proposed Skagit IBA. The Davis Slough colony supports 275 pairs and the March Point colony that has existed since at least 1997 and located on Fidalgo Island, north of Skagit Bay, supports 600-800 pairs and segments of their breeding population forage in the waters and nearshore areas of the Skagit IBA. Great Blue Herons are a WDFW Priority species under the PHS program, and are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need under Washington?s CWCS
The top five critical threats are bank hardening, levee maintenance, agricultural runoff, loss of vegetated buffer and increased upland development. Other threats could include storm water maintenance, increased flooding, increased storm events, invasive species, municipal discharge and septic failure.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife owns and manages about 900 hectares of upland, intertidal, and estuary habitat within the Skagit Bay IBA. Island County Parks owns and manages English Boom Historical Park and Utsalady Point Vista Park and Boat Launch, which border the Bay on Camano Island. Private homes on small lots are found bordering the bay on Camano Island; larger parcels of farmland with houses on some parcels are found throughout the IBA from Stanwood north into Skagit County. Washington State owns inland and coastal waters which account for 45% of the Skagit IBA area.
The proposed Skagit Bay IBA includes the Skagit River floodplain, the nearshore estuary, and the open waters of Skagit Bay. The saltwater area of the Bay proper is about 11,300 hectares; the total area of large river floodplain is approximately 14,293 hectares. This is the area where mainstem and off-channel habitats are formed and maintained by natural riverine processes. Within the river floodplain, about 1/3 of the area is now managed for agriculture, under a system of dikes and levees. For the non-tidal part of the delta, remnant patches of freshwater wetlands and riparian forest strips of willow and cottonwood dominated forest is also found, as well as about 2400 hectares of upland bluffs and beach on Whidbey and Camano Islands and mainland areas south of the Skagit River floodplain, as well as about 2400 hectares of upland bluffs and beach on Whidbey and Camano Islands and mainland area south of te Skagit River floodplain.
Farming and agricultural crops are important in this area. Primary crops vary by year and season, but include berries, grains, corn, potatoes and row crops. The area is known as a premier waterfowl hunting destination for dabbling ducks and geese as well as pheasants. A variety of entities conduct research in the area studying a variety of topics including snow goose and shorebird ecology, endangered fish limiting factors, plant responses to pest control measures, sediment movement, and many more. Skagit Bay is part of the City of Stanwood?s annual Snow Goose Festival, is a sought out destination for birders from all over the world; there are 3 locations on the Audubon Washington Great Washington State Birding Trail ?Cascades Loop? Map. In addition, thousands of cyclists enjoy the area year round, and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival occurs here every year.