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Happy Holidays from the Left Coast!

Trumpeter Swans, Winter on the Samish River. Washington State.

Winter holidays bring a time for thanks, introspection, and a focus on family and friends. Winter highlights this season is a very special way. The absolute stillness of snow in the woods, crystalline hoar frost coating leaves and trees, patterns on ice and frozen water, watching your breath in the morning air!

I want to share these experiences, through images and words, with each of you during this special season.

Frozen! Snowberries along the Nooksack River. Washington State.

Winter is special to many species, and brings significant change in locale, appearance, and actions. Bears enter a light state of sleep called torpor (not true hibernation), spending time preparing for new families and a long winter's nap. Winter Chinook time their return for spawning over the holidays, with bald eagles leaving the coast for riparian areas and seafood dinners. Salmon can make up from seventy to ninety percent of an eagle’s diet. Locally, the holidays also introduce the return of both trumpeter and tundra swans, and an amazing gathering of more than 50,000 snow geese as they prepare to return to Russia’s Wrangel Island in early spring.

Marsh Light Flight! Snow Geese on Skagit Bay. Washington State.

The term Left Coast has both a geographical and a political meaning. Obviously, from California to Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska (the motivation for my photography). But also, generally left leaning in both attitude and political outlook. If you are following my work, I will just own that in my own words, writing, and thinking.

Wilson's Snipe, Skagit River. Washington State.

But today left coast has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the Skagit, Samish and Lummi coastal areas near Bellingham and bordering along the Salish Sea.

Plovers on Parade! Skagit River, Washington State.

I definitely have favorite areas for photography, including British Columbia, Alaska, and Yellowstone. But much closer, and equally magnificent, are the coastal areas and watersheds of the Nooksack, Skagit, and Stillaguamish Rivers. All three drain from the Cascade Range, and all are salmon streams.

Sandpiper Review! Skagit River, Washington State.

Regardless of weather or timing, a trip to any of these tidelands, mudflats, intertidal marsh areas, and agricultural dikes is almost guaranteed to provide wonderful opportunities to photograph birdlife, wildlife, stunning sunrises and sunsets, or that ethereal northwest combination of trees, fog and mountains. You need to be prepared. It is cold on the flats at sun up, especially before the sunlight comes over the mountains. You are standing still and exhibiting patience (a must for any birdlife photos) so keeping warm is hard. After a few hours, it is a welcome relief to hike back to your car, heated seats, and my new favorite, a heated steering wheel. Last year, after morning at high elevation in Bryce and Yosemite, I found a pair of battery-heated gloves. Without my consent, my fingers ordered these up. When they came (summer), I put them where I wouldn’t lose them. Where is that now that I need them – no clue! Somewhere safe, keeping company with my old passport which I have never found.

First Light! Skagit River, Washington State.

The “Stilly” (Stillaguamish) starts at over 8,000 feet on the flanks of Finey, Del Campo and Morning Star Peaks. The Nooksack begins in the Hanging, Crystal, and Upper Curtis glaciers on Mount Shuksan. The Skagit has a longer path, with its headwaters on Allison Pass near Manning Provincial Park across the northern border in British Columbia. All terminate on the flatlands and drain into the Salish Sea. Allison Pass divides the Skagit and Similkameen Rivers. The Skagit flows some one hundred and fifty miles, and once on the flatlands, it splits into two forks and forms Fir Island – just an outstanding place to view eagles, herons, swans, geese and just about everything with wings.

Incoming Tide! Skagit River, Washington State.

My images today were all shot in two trips across all three watersheds. Mostly coastal photos, but a few upstream along the Nooksack and Samish Rivers. Almost all of the bird images, snipe, sandpipers, herons, plover, and snow geese were taken in one morning. It just seemed that all the birds were enjoying getting out before sunup, watching the sun creep over the Cascades, the western clouds and Olympic Mountains tinged in pink, breathing cold, clean air, and witnessing the angled winter light that appears low in the sky and showers the land with a nuanced indirect light.

Fir Creek Eagle! South Lake Whatcom, Washington State.

Being outdoors -- what a great way to spend the holidays and the winter months – whiling away the time until a new year begins, and spring brings new life, new light, and a totally different but equally wonderful perspective on our world and all the species that inhabit it.

Nooksack Ice! Nooksack River, Washington State.

I wish each of you the specialness of winter and this holiday season, the peace and tranquility of flowing water, and the love of being outdoors. I look forward to continuing to document, illuminate, and share nature, travel, beautiful images, and life here on the left coast.

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