A ‘Field Trip’ to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Farms

Every spring, the Skagit Valley, just south of where I live, is bursting with color as the commercial tulip fields there bloom. Thousands of people from the region make the trip just to spend an hour or two admiring the rows of bright flowers growing in the fields. I hadn’t visited the fields for a couple of years so thought I’d wander down on what was the last weekend of this year’s tulip festival.

Getting in close, you can see the beauty of this red tulip.
Getting in close, you can see the beauty of this red tulip.

 

A garden worker makes certain the exhibition beds look their best before the day's crowds arrive. I shot through the garden's gate to capture this gardener cleaning the beds.
A garden worker makes certain the exhibition beds look their best before the day’s crowds arrive.

The fields had bloomed early this year. The farmers had already begun topping the stems in preparation to harvest the bulbs. Upon arriving at the tulip fields, I checked in at the office of the Washington Bulb Company and asked about the conditions of the fields. The only field still in flower was behind the bulb company’s exhibition gardens. Access to it, through the gardens, wasn’t possible until 9 a.m.

A thin layer of fog covered the field as morning began in the Skagit Valley.
A thin layer of fog covered the field as morning began in the Skagit Valley.

By that time the light would be too bright for my photographs. A nice layer of low fog lying over the field could have made for some dramatic photos but since I couldn’t get into it until 9, it could disappear by then.

My choices were either to leave and go home without taking a single image or stay and see what I could do despite the limited access. I decided to stay and see what photographs I could make before the gates opened and the crowds began to arrive. It would be a good challenge.

Three purple tulips peak above the brilliant red tulips in the bed outside the gardent's gates.
Three purple tulips peak above the brilliant red tulips in the bed outside the gardent’s gates.
The morning dew on the petals of this tulip gives the flower a velvety look.

My friend and I walked down the road to the unopened gardens. Plenty of tulips were growing in the beds outside the main gate and fence. I pulled out my camera and began photographing.  Thirty minutes later, I had finished. I gathered up my gear and we headed back, stopping along the way for a couple more photos before pulling into a little cafe for breakfast.  We were back in Bellingham by 10 a.m., our ‘field trip’ was over and the rest of the weekend still lay ahead.  The images from that morning were not what I had expected and yet I found many that I liked. I hope you do too.

The snow-covered peak of Mount Baker rises in the distance from the Skagit Valley. This was the last photograph I made the morning of my 'field trip.'
The snow-covered peak of Mount Baker rises in the distance from the Skagit Valley.

 

 

Swans’ Song in Skagit Valley

Winter in Northwest Washington is home to large variety of birds.  In fact, birdwatching is at its best here during the winter months when these feathered friends frequent our waterways and fields.  One of the many species that come here to winter is the largest waterfowl of them all, the trumpeter swans.  They arrive by the thousands to take over the farm rich fields of the Skagit Valley where they feast and rest until time to return to Alaska for the summer.

The farm fields of Northwest Washington's Skagit Valley provide a winter home for rumpeter swans.
The farm fields of Northwest Washington’s Skagit Valley provide a winter home for thousands of trumpeter swans.

Last winter, nearly 12,000 of these majestic birds landed in Skagit Valley.  Their population, once threatened nearly out of existence, have rebounded, according to the Skagit Audubon Society. In fact, the trumpeter swans who spend their winter in this area make up the largest winter population in the country.  I decided the other day to take the a drive down the winding Chuckanut Drive that hugs the coast south to the beautiful open flat expanse of Skagit Valley, about 19 miles.

A couple of trumpeters wade together through the mucky mud.
A couple of trumpeters wade together through the mucky mud.

Once you hit the flat land, heading into the little junction of Bow, Washington, you begin to see spots of white dotting the barren, brown fields.  On this particular day, I continued straight out from Bow following Chuckanut Drive or Highway 11.  I hadn’t gone far when I came across a fields full of the swans.  Turning off Chuckanut, I found I could closer to the birds in one of the fields on Thomas Road.  The birds are protected from harassment so the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ask birdwatchers to stay in their cars when visiting or photographing if possible.  My husband pulled the car off to the side of the road, I rolled down the and pulled out camera.

The beauty of the swan's wings can be seen as this swan stretches its feathers.
The beauty of the swan’s wings can be seen as this swan stretches its feathers.

The birds stopped splashing in the muddy water standing in the field to check us out but after a few minutes decided we were no threat and resumed their chorus of honking.  The swans seemed not to mind as I started to photograph. The birds honked.   My camera’s shutter clicked open and closed as I patiently tried to maneuver from my seat in the car to capture a few images of the big birds.  Mallard ducks mixed in freely with the swans, as they waddled around the fallow fields. But it’s the swans that attract everyone’s eye.

The swans in flight are a incredible sight wtih wings that can span eight feet.
The swans in flight are a incredible sight wtih wings that can span eight feet.

In flight, against the day’s gray-white sky the birds outstretched wings looked immense and .  In fact, these wingspan of the swans is enormous and can be up to eight feet wide, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife sources.  They can weigh as much as 32 pounds and when standing erect will reach four feet tall.  Big birds.

The agricultural fields of Skagit Valley make a pcituresque setting for swans and mallards alike.
The agricultural fields of Skagit Valley make a pcituresque setting for swans and mallards alike.

After a while, satisfied that I might have a few images I would later like, we moved on. The swans were content to remain in the field, honking to their hearts’ desire as the light cold wind that had picked up ruffled their big snowy white wings. There’s still time to view the swans if you find yourself in the area.  Eventually, these magnificent birds will take off for the spring and summer, not to return again until next November.

Pat in the Fields

My friend, Pat, has accompanied me on my photo expeditions to the tulip fields in Skagit Valley for the past several years. I captured this moment of her in the fields during our last foray there.

Scarlet Snips

The remains of the day’s cuttings lie in the tulips fields of Skagit Valley. Beautiful but at the same time, a bit sad.