Seeing an American Bald Eagle is on the “bucket list” of many visitors to the San Juan Islands. Since there is the largest nesting population of Bald Eagles in the Puget Sound, Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands than anywhere else in the United States, there is a good chance to see them…. so pack your binoculars and cameras and have them ready!
On your way to Orcas Island, the first chance to spot a Bald Eagle could be at the Anacortes Ferry Landing while waiting for your trip to the “emerald islands” to begin. There is great eagle habitat at the marina with huge trees near the water that eagles like to nest and perch in and lots of ducks and fish in or on the water. Since Bald Eagles are quite large, with dark brown to black feathers on their body and a distinctive white “bald” head, neck and tail feathers, they stand out and are unmistakable. Immature eagles have dark heads, beaks and eyes for the first year, than gradually become mottled with a mix of white feathers and over the five years to maturity eventually develop the yellow beak and light yellow eyes and white feathers. Look for them soaring over the water or even over the parking lot.
When on the ferry trip look at the top sections of large trees boarding the Salish Sea. It takes concentration to spot a Bald Eagle or eagle’s nest in the trees so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t spot one. On many occasions I have seen Bald Eagles soaring near the Lopez Island Ferry Landing above the beautiful rust-barked Madrona trees.
Guests frequently ask “where can I see a Bald Eagle?” Since sightings are by chance, the answer is “anywhere”, but most often when you are near the water. Moran State Park has two beautiful lakes, some large ponds, and “one of the ten best marine views in the world.” You could see an eagle while hiking or sightseeing in the park. Listen for the high pitched squeaky call of the eagles, watch for them soaring when enjoying the amazing views, or one could fly by while you are driving and enjoying the other beautiful island sights.
Whale/wildlife watching cruises greatly increase the possibility of seeing Bald Eagles. The naturalists on board point out all of the wildlife they can spot and they know where the Bald Eagle nests are along the way. There are pelagic birds too, be sure to let the naturalists know that you have an interest in seeing them too.
Wildlife sightings are exciting and Orcas Island offers opportunities to see many interesting birds; Great Blue Herons are frequently seen at Otters Pond and Crescent Beach near Eastsound, Oyster Catchers, Osprey, Rufus and Anna and Rufus Hummingbirds, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and many more can be seen while you are seeking Bald Eagles.