Looking for good bird watching with pie or a glass of wine awaiting you when you finish? Try Greenbank Farm, my second recommendation for birding on South Whidbey.
Greenbank Farm is 151 acres of publicly owned open fields, marsh, cultivated gardens, large red barns and solar collectors located just north of Greenbank on Wonn Road. Historically it grew loganberries for wine. Now it houses a community-funded nonprofit organization, a residential farm school, galleries, shops and a restaurant.
The reason I’m including this area in my exploration of birding hotspots on Whidbey is the varied habitat, especially the open grasslands. It’s a bit out of our South Whidbey range, but definitely worth a birding trip.
On Sept. 6, I joined seven other Audubon birdwatchers to walk the trails and finish our yearlong monthly bird survey of the area.
A cloudless, cobalt blue sky and the smell of dry grass greeted us on a warm fall day. During our two-hour walk we heard or saw 31 species, not bad for early September, often called the doldrums of the birding year.
We began at the small pond opposite the first red barn where we watched a few motley, mallard-mix ducks. No noisy Canada geese begged for handouts, as on previous visits.
From there we walked east toward the Audubon birding platform for a view out over the marsh. Interpretive signage with colorful bird photos by Craig Johnson brightens that spot even on the dullest of days. Swallows darted overhead and a song sparrow called from the thickets. One member of our group heard a Virginia Rail. In breeding season, this area is alive with wrens, warblers, flycatchers and other passerines.
We left the marsh and meandered north on a mowed trail behind the barns. On one visit we saw European starlings nesting inside an old barrel right next to the barn.
As we passed vegetable gardens, avoided electric fences and carefully closed any gates we passed through, a different set of grass and field-loving birds awaited us.
We struggled to identify juvenile sparrows in their less dramatic fall plumage and ticked off white-crowned, savannah and song sparrows. Dull-looking American goldfinches and house finches perched atop deer fencing surrounding the pea patches.
We strode beyond the gardens up a gradual slope toward the evergreen and alder forest. Two Western Meadowlarks shot past.
When we reached the forest edge, we turned west to stroll along my favorite section of this bird walk. We were alerted to the loud tapping of a pileated woodpecker on a dead snag.
We listened to a very vocal Bewick’s wren and caught a quick look at the bright redish-purple iridescence of an Anna’s hummingbird.
Then we spotted a brilliant yellow and black Townsend’s warbler on the path, not 10 feet in front of us. On past walks I’ve heard purple finches and seen a great-horned owl in this area.
At the crest of the hill, we turned south and followed the spine of the hill out onto the open grassland. From this vantage point one can see both Saratoga Passage to the east and Puget Sound to the west. It’s also a great spot to look for raptors. Bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and Northern harriers are easily seen in season and American Kestrels have been observed in the past.
In spring and summer, great blue herons tend nests in their colony just across Highway 525. On one bird survey we watched a flock of about two dozen herons fly over our heads between the colony and the beach to the east.
From this viewpoint you can choose your path back to the parking lot, either taking a direct trail back to the barns or continuing through the fields and circling further south before returning.
As we reached the parking lot, we noticed three Hooded Mergansers had arrived on the pond.
After our survey, I met with Judy Feldman, executive director of the Greenbank Farm, and we lingered at a picnic table near the pond.
She mentioned there will be special birding activities for both the young and young at heart as part of the Whidbey Island Farm Tour on Sept. 15-16.
There is a lot going on at Greenbank Farm. Check the farm’s website greenbankfarm.biz for a listing of events, classes and gallery openings. I’m delighted that the human activity and programs haven’t overwhelmed the wildlife.
As the weather cools this fall, take a bird walk through the fields. At the end you’ll have to decide: coffee and pie or a glass of wine?