Washington State Winter Birding Tour
Nature and Birding Tours with Naturalist Journeys
Feb. 15-21, 2014
“Woody is truly a jewel beyond price!!!” - Emily Vokes
Few realize that a birding spectacle occurs each winter in Washington State. Scores of wintering waterfowl, seabirds, raptors, owls, geese, and swans congregate here to escape harsh winter environs to the north and east. On this tour, which occurs over the extended Presidents Day week, we plan explore the scenic Puget Sound country, including Olympic Peninsula, Whidbey Island, Skagit and Fraser River valleys where majestic seabirds, swans and waterfowl abound. We explore by foot, ferry and van. You can count on this being a real vacation, as we stay three-nights each, in charming inns in two artsy, historically-preserved towns of Washington: Port Townsend and LaConner. The region is known for innovative cuisine, and being close to fresh seafood is a delight for many. Our final day, you can work on your “Canada list” as we cross into some spectacular wetland areas of neighboring British Columbia.
Our trip starts and ends in Seattle, a culturally-rich, scenic city with good winter birding of its own. Our guide is local expert Woody Wheeler, who leads this new and exciting winter journey through the rich mosaic of Puget Sound landscapes, populated by hundreds of thousands of birds. Your travel benefits wildlife, a portion of the tour proceeds support The Trumpeter Swan Society www.trumpeterswansociety.org.
Sat., Feb. 15 Arrival/Scenic Drive and Ferry to Port Townsend
Today you arrive in Seattle by 2:00 pm. We meet you at the airport and then drive north to the quaint waterfront town of Edmonds where we board a Washington State ferry for a scenic ride across Puget Sound. Enroute we will get an early start on birding as we search for several species of cormorants, loons, grebes, gulls and alcids. Once on the Kitsap Peninsula, we pass through the historic town of Port Gamble, stopping briefly at a park along Hood Canal to look for the Threatened Marbled Murrelet.
From here we cross one of the state’s longest floating bridges across Hood Canal to the Olympic Peninsula where it is a short but beautiful drive to Port Townsend. We stay the next few nights in the charming, historically-preserved town of Port Townsend. Inaddition to its ornate Victorian style architecture and abundance of book stores, gift shops and good restaurants, Port Townsend has outstanding waterfront birding at this time of year along the Straits of Juan de Fuca. This deep, cold body of water that links Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean could also be referred to as “Alcid Alley” for the abundance of alcids that can be found here, including Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled and Ancient Murrelets.
Accommodations at Port Townsend (D)
Sun., Feb. 16 Marrowstone Island and Port Townsend area
Our first morning on the Olympic Peninsula features a short drive to Marrowstone Island where outstanding salt and freshwater birding can be found. We start at Oak Bay County Park, a long sand and rock spit that juts into the fast flowing tidal exchanges of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On one side of the spit is a sheltered lagoon where waterfowl, shorebirds and waders abound. On the other side are open waters frequented by diving ducks, Brant, Bald Eagles, cormorants, loons and grebes. Wintering gulls of many species line the spit itself, affording close-up views. Merlins, Kestrels and Kingfishers perch on the tall conifers above the waterline hunting for the abundant passerines, shorebirds and fish in the area.
Next we cross a bridge onto Marrowstone Island and head to Fort Flagler State Park. This is one of a number of former naval forts that once patrolled the waters of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Now these forts, located atop bluffs overlooking the straits, have been converted to state parks. Several, including this one are terrific places to observe sea ducks, shorebirds, raptors and gulls. We will also drop into the lush coniferous forest here to seek birds such as Steller’s Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pileated Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pacific Wren.
Our last birding stop of the day is at Kah-Tai Wetlands, on the eastern edge of Port Townsend. This series of fresh water ponds and marshlands is located less than a mile from the salt water Straits of Juan de Fuca, and provides a calm harbor for a wide variety of waterfowl. Here we are likely to find Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck and Hooded Merganser.
Following a full day of birding and walking, enjoy one of Port Townsend’s outstanding restaurants and a cozy night in our historic hotel.
Accommodations in Port Townsend (B,L)
Mon., Feb. 17 Birding in Port Townsend, Sequim / Dungeness
Today we head west to explore coastal and river environments between Port Townsend and Sequim. This part of the Olympic Peninsula lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, so weather is generally drier and sunnier than in other parts of western Washington. Annual rainfall is 50% less in Sequim than it is in Seattle.
Our first stop is at Fort Worden State Park on the west side of Port Townsend. This stunning park, along with Port Townsend, was the setting for the film An Officer and a Gentleman. Here we will walk a sandy beach below 100 foot high bluffs and in front of the light house at Point Wilson where strong tidal currents merge attracting a wide array of diving ducks, loons, grebes and alcids. Birds we hope to find here include: Common and Pacific Loon, Rhinoceros Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, Red-breasted Merganser and Harlequin Duck.
Next we head to a combination marina and park that juts into the Straits of Juan de Fuca affording excellent looks at diving ducks, grebes and shorebirds. Among the possibilities here are the elegant Long-tailed Duck, Black Oystercatcher, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye and three types of Merganser.
We pause for lunch in the rapidly-growing retirement village of Sequim, before heading to the Dungeness River Audubon Center. A trail and bridge here on a former railroad track crosses over the Dungeness River and passes through the canopy of a lush riparian forest with enormous Big-leaf Maple and Cottonwood trees. Here we will search for American Dipper as well as Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker and both species of kinglets. The Center itself features outstanding taxidermy displays representing most of the waterfowl species we have seen so far.
From here, we return in time for you to stroll through Port Townsend and peruse its impressive, eclectic array of shops and galleries prior to having dinner at your leisure in another of its fine restaurants.
Accommodations in Port Townsend (B,L)
Tues., Feb. 18 Whidbey Island to LaConner/Bird from Ferry
This morning we board another ferry to cross the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Whidbey Island. This ride provides wonderful looks at alcids, including Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Marbled and Ancient Murrelet.
Once ashore on Whidbey Island, we find ourselves in an Audubon designated Important Bird Area, Crockett Lake. Here we will stop in several places to observe the raptors, shorebirds and seabirds that frequent this area. Black-bellied Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-eared Owl, Peregrine Falcon, and all three species of Washington cormorants are among the possibilities here.
We then stop for lunch in another historically-preserved town with great food – Coupeville, before continuing to Deception Pass, a deep passage between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands with tidal exchanges. This is a fine place to look for raptors, including Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Merlin.
Continuing north, we drive around March Point along Padilla Bay, where dense wintering populations of shorebirds, falcons and other raptors exist. Then we cross eastward to the mainland and the lovely Skagit River Valley where we spend the night in LaConner, an artsy, historic fishing town.
Accommodations at the Wild Iris, LaConner (B,L)
Wed., Feb. 19 Birding in the Skagit
We set out this morning to explore the Skagit Flats and Samish Island, which are located just outside of the town of LaConner. Several National Wildlife Refuges Padilla Bay provide wintering areas for thousands of Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans. In addition, the Skagit has an exceptionally dense winter population of raptors, including Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Harlan’s, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons, Gyrfalcon, Kestrel and Merlins.
We will stop for lunch in the picturesque, restored farm town of Edison, where the population of wintering Bald Eagles rivals the number of human residents, and loop back through the refuges and farmlands of the Skagit to LaConner. There should be ample time in the afternoon to walk through LaConner and enjoy its impressive assortment of shops and galleries. Dinner is at your leisure.
Accommodations the Wild Iris, LaConner (B,L)
Thurs., Feb. 20 Birding in British Columbia/Boundary Bay
Today we head north to British Columbia to visit two spectacular refuges along the Fraser River delta. Our first stop is Boundary Bay, a well-known wintering location for Snowy and Short-eared Owls. Then we drive westward to Reiffel Refuge near Ladner, and hike a series of trails that through ponds, wetlands, and marshes along the Fraser River delta and Howe Inlet. This refuge is so densely-populated with wintering birds that it resembles a bird airport. Possibilities here include: Sandhill Crane, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great-horned, Saw-whet and Barred Owl, Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Wood Duck, Pileated Woodpecker, and Trumpeter Swan. Our Bald Eagle count will once again be high.
We stop on the way back in Bellingham at a Brew Pub with very good food for our final dinner, and then return to LaConner for the night.
Accommodations at the Wild Iris, LaConner (B,L,D)
Fri., Feb. 21 Return to Seattle / Departures
We return to Seattle today, stopping at two wildlife refuges on the way, and likely encountering many Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans. Once in Seattle, which is 1.5 hours south, we drop off those who are flying out from the airport as well as those who choose to stay and experience this culturally rich city. (B)
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OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of this journey is $1995.00, double occupancy from Seattle, WA;
single supplement is $435.00. These costs are based on double occupancy and include: transportation during the journey, all accommodations, and most meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Costs does not include: round-trip airfare to and from Seattle, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, or drinks from the bar; or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services. With fewer than 7 participants, a small-group surcharge (typically $100-300 per participant) may apply. Single supplement is subject to availability and is an additional cost of $435.00.
Please arrive by February 15, at Seattle International Airport by 2PM. We will give you directions of where to meet your guide upon arrival. Departures should be Feb. 21, after NOON, due to our drive time to the airport.
Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.
Sunset Swan, Gerald Plowman - five-percent of your tour fee will benefit work of The Trumpeter Swan Society, a non-profit organization working to reduce the serious problem of lead in North American wetlands www.trumpeterswansociety.org
Owls, Woodpecker, Egret, Northern Shrike, Dungeness NWR and spit, Bald Eagle congregation, Short-eared Owl, Snowy Owl, Wood Duck, Harlequin ducks, and Snow Geese, Woody Wheeler; Sooty Grouse, Carol Simon; all
other photos by Peg Abbott.
Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.