Road Trip Adventures: Birds of the Peninsula

Birds of the Peninsula
February 5, 2016
Here’s another installment in our occasional series on bird watching at Washington state parks. While many may think this is not the season for birdwatching, birders both budding and bona fide know better!

Winter is wonderful watching weather!

Winter is a spectacular time to break out the binoculars and check out the bird action at state parks in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Many of your state parks serve as a regular haven for migratory and year-round bird populations. Cold, clear days on the Olympic Peninsula draw all manner of fowl to fish, float and flit by the water. The dramatic dichotomy of forests butting against rocky shores creates a unique sanctuary for shorebirds and tree dwellers alike. So gather your camera, coat and hat, round up those binoculars and let’s shake a tailfeather! BONUS: February 12-15 you can put your birder skills to practical use during the Great Backyard Bird Count! Visit the GBBC website to learn more about this global event!

The total mileage of this journey is just shy of 150 miles and a 3.5-hour drive time. Get an early start and hit some or all of the stops in just one day, or make a weekend of it! Either way, a road trip is a relaxing way to vacation. And some sharp shots of beautiful birds would look great on the wall (or make great gifts)!
The Adventure...

Stop one: Sequim Bay State Park

Start your day at Sequim Bay, and you may even end up staying for a while! On the quiet waters just inside the Olympic rain shadow, this park also is surrounded by many great birdwatching areas. Pick up some literature on bird watching and regional highlights, and see some great exhibits at the nearby Dungeness River Audubon Center. Then head over to the park where you just might catch some Arctic terns fighting and fishing as they stop to feed on their 40,000-mile annual migration route. And make way for ducks! This is home to a wide variety of waddlers such as northern shovelers and wigeons. Spot golden plovers foraging in the grass. Turn your binoculars—and your ears—inland, and you might catch the red-breasted sap sucker tapping away in search of insects. Then head on down the inside of the Peninsula along Highway 101 until you swing north at Discovery Bay onto State Route20 toward…
The American wigeon is just one of the fancy floaters you’ll see around Sequim Bay.

Stop two: Fort Worden Historical State Park

Brants take center stage at Fort Worden! Spot these small geese dabbling for their dinners all along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet’s rocky shores. Keep an eye out for funny, long-billed whimbrels and fluffy sanderlings strutting and foraging for bugs and crabs among the rocks as they dash back and forth to the rhythm of the tides. Stop in at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center where you’ll learn even more about all the wonderful wildlife inhabiting the region, including really cool—and kid-friendly—exhibits featuring inhabitants of our Northwest waters. Then head up to the fort above and into the trees where you might catch a glimpse and an earful of little yellow pine siskins twittering as they fight for seeds. Then it’s back onto Highway 20 southbound, a left turn onto Highway 19 (aka Rhody Drive), and follow the signs to Marrowstone Island (State Route 116) where you’ll land at…
Brants are ground-nesting goose relatives that are fun to watch dipping and dabbling at Fort Worden.

Stop three: Fort Flagler Historical State Park

Stocky and darkly colored, the black turnstone doesn’t pack the flash of other shorebirds. But it’s a blast to watch them search for eats on the rocky shores at Fort Flagler. Dashing here and there they flip over pebbles (which gives them their name) to find insects and crabs. Watch them compete for turf along the surf with the dramatically plumed blackbellied plover! Then set your sights on the horizon to spot cormorants and grebes diving for fish. Getting hungry? It’s just about lunchtime, so let’s backtrack to Highway 101 southbound and head down Hood Canal to …

Watching cormorants fish in the waters off Fort Flagler is one of life's pleasures.

Stop four: Dosewallips State Park

Ducks lead the shorebird population at Dosewallips and are a delight to watch as you enjoy a picnic lunch. Pack your own, or stop in nearby Brinnon and bring it in to relax at one of the park’s sheltered tables. You might catch Eurasian and the more rare American wigeons dabbling in the salt marsh slough grasses. See if you can spot lesser scaups diving for shellfish. Their gizzards are so powerful they can eat them shell and all! Take your binoculars to the alder-lined, .2-mile North Tidal Trail to the observation deck, and you may catch some majestic bald eagles fishing in the icy waters. Wildlife bonus: harbor seals are often sighted here, and Roosevelt elk make the park a regular part of their herd migration. Feeling refreshed? Camera getting full of great photos? Save room, because now we are headed south on 101 again to…
Lesser scaups have some of the most formidable gizzards of any bird on the planet.

Stop five: Potlatch State Park

It’s all about the hair, man! Red-breasted mergansers are some funky-looking ducks, to be sure, but pretty and fun to watch as they bob on the Hood Canal waters. Keep your ears peeledthat eerie call you hear might just be a common loon. These water birds only come ashore to breed. If you could see them under water, you might be amazed at the speed and dexterity of their submarine maneuvers as they pursue fish! Search the foliage for red crossbills with their unique beaks and cute little fox sparrows kicking up sprays of leaves in search of bugs on the forest floor. Noisy, bossy and bright Steller’s jays are common sights in Potlatch’s tree-lined north end. Now let’s swing back onto 101 and then a turn to the east on State Route 106 toward…
mergansers prefer fishing in the salt water and diving in the marshes off Potlatch State Park.

Stop six: Twanoh State Park

The warm Hood Canal waters and conifer forests at Twanoh State Park attract an avian extravaganza! Ruddy ducks dig bobbing about in the marshy areas near the gravel- and oyster shell-covered shore. Noisy, boisterous red-necked grebes love the gentle waters here and compete fiercely for territory with the goldeneyes and iridescently plumed buffleheads. Take a break in one of the rustic (and really cool) shelters built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and listen for tiny brown creepers chirping in the trees. Just one last stop to go! Continue east on SR 106 until it hooks up with Hwy 3 in Belfair. Head south on SR 3 to Pickering Road, then take the Harstine Island Bridge and…

Stop seven: Jarrell Cove State Park

End your day the island way! Surf scoters frequent the park and are a pleasure to watch dive in the shallows. If you’re lucky, you might spot the occasional red-throated loon during high tide. At low tide, you’re sure to spot Bonaparte’s mew and other gull types lounging on the mudflats before retiring to nest in the trees. You can also access the park from the water! Jarrell Cove is on the Cascadia Marine Trail!
Tiny brown creepers are a bit tough to spot, but you can listen for them as they chirp loudly.
This is just a small sample of the great bird-watching opportunities at your Washington State Parks!
Wanting more? Check out this road trip blog on birds of the Cascades!

Do you like birding? Where do you go?
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The red-throated loon is just one of the exquisite shorebirds you might spot on Harstine Island.