The start of the new year is a great time to hunt for waterfowl, cast for fish in winter lakes, and enjoy the annual spectacle of bald eagles, snow geese, elk and other wintering wildlife.

In order to be prepared, it's essential to check weather, river and road conditions, and most importantly make sure to inform people where you’re going.

Winter weather usually equates to solid hunting opportunities for waterfowl in Skagit County. General hunting seasons for ducks, geese, coots and snipe continue through Jan. 31 with some short breaks in select Goose Management Areas.

A new area in which to look for waterfowl is Smith Island, a 320-acre property owned by Snohomish County within the Snohomish River estuary near Everett. It is open to the public Oct. 1 to Feb. 28.

In 2018, Smith Island underwent habitat restoration to re-establish historic tidal marshlands to provide critical habitat for threatened chinook salmon. In addition to improved salmon habitat, several wildlife species benefit from restored estuary, including waterfowl and shorebirds.

About 80,000 snow geese winter in Western Washington each year, most congregating in the Skagit Valley. A great place to view the birds is at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit of the state Department of Fish & Wildlife's Skagit Wildlife Area.

Trumpeter swans migrating to Washington come from forested regions of Alaska and Canada’s western Yukon and northern British Columbia. They are the heaviest living bird in North America, with wingspans that can exceed 10 feet. 

Tundra swans migrate to Washington from windswept tundra habitats of the Alaska Peninsula. These swans are smaller than trumpeters, with wingspans up to six feet, and have a noticeable yellow spot at the base of their eyes.

— Reporter Vince Richardson: 360-416-2181, vrichardson@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter:@goskagit, Facebook.com/VinceReports/

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