Snow geese on the wing | Public domain (CC 1.0)

While I was gathering seeds last week—a favorite activity this time of year—an unusual yet familiar raspy murmuring became faintly audible high above. Quickly shifting my focus to scan the expanse of faded blue sky, squinting beyond where eagles, ravens and hawks commonly soar, the fluid tendrils of ivory wings came into view. Snow geese!

Known as harbingers of changing seasons, the snow geese that pass over the San Juans this time of year are following narrow flight paths from their breeding grounds in the high arctic to wintering sites as far south as the Baja Peninsula. Along their migration routes, large flocks stop to feed in marshes, grasslands, tidelands and agricultural areas. The extensive farm fields in the Skagit Valley are an important feeding ground for snow geese, who are often seen overwintering with trumpeter swans, with Mount Baker’s snowy slopes visible in the distance.

Some other voices to listen for at this time of year include the resonant chimes of the Varied Thrush, plaintive whistles of Gold-Crowned Sparrows, and emphatic chatter of Heermann’s gulls. Whether passing through or returning to reside for the winter, migrant birds add their unique color and music to autumn’s many delights. Providing natural areas in the San Juan Islands where they can find refuge along their life journeys is a deeply gratifying part of the work we do. –Ruthie Dougherty