“Year Zero” of “Birds of Winter: A Skagit Valley Experience” has officially fledged. Andrew Miller, from EDASC (Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County), is working with the county’s chambers of commerce and a wide variety of non-profits, institutions and citizens toward what he hopes will become an annual economic, educational, and environmental bonanza .
Miller led a meeting attended by some 30 of these representatives Dec. 11. He told the group “An exciting aspect of the ‘Birds of Winter’ is that it spans the entire county – from Marblemount to Deception Pass and Fir Island to Samish Bay we’ve just got this incredible diversity of birds for people to enjoy.” While Miller is overseeing the project, there are few resources, meaning funding. The governing philosophy is “let’s try things and see what will happen,” Miller told the group.
He has been researching bird festivals and the characteristics and demographics of bird watchers. He explained “People find meaning in looking for birds. Part of that meaning is birding in the Skagit Valley. Winter bird migrations make the Skagit Valley special. The diversity of locations makes the Skagit region special.” Miller said the “kicker is that there are 362 species” that overwinter here.
He stressed the richness of the Valley’s birding environment, noting that over 50,000 Snow geese arrive from Alaska and Russia, 7,000 Trumpeter and 3,000 Tundra swans winter here, as do more than 35 species of ducks and grebes and 10 bird of prey species.
Miller zeroed in on the economic potential: $15 billion annually is spent on food and lodging by U.S. birders. He referenced a 2011 study that found $463 million was spent per year in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley by birders, supporting over 6,600 jobs
Once in the Skagit, Miller’s hope is “that when people come and visit us for the birds they stay for the bread or the beer. If they come for the birds we hope they come back for the bulbs and the berries.”
While emphasizing the ex-ceptional economic and civic pride opportunities, he placed equal weight on the issues of ethics and “what could possibly go wrong,” referencing a “three-month long tulip festival traffic jam” and angry property owners. The Birds of Winter mission is “to foster a safe and meaningful birding experience that is: mindful of the wellbeing of wildlife, respectful of property rights and inclusive of local organizations and businesses.”
Among the variety of organized activities are the Skagit Eagle Festival taking place in Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount every weekend in January. In La Conner, a January 27-28 Birding Showcase at Maple Hall is being planned by the Chamber’s Heather Carter. Activities will also take place in and around Mount Vernon and Burlington, at least.
Reach Miller at 360-336-6114 and andrew@skagit.org.