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Northwest Washington supports an amazing variety of birds, especially in winter. The region’s maritime influence brings moderate conditions, and birds from the arctic find it quite acceptable to winter in weather comparable to that of their summer breeding grounds. In addition, the lushness of the onshore habitats and the richness of the open waters offer bountiful winter feeding. From the Skagit Valley and Puget Sound to coastal areas near Port Townsend, excellent birding awaits. While there, pamper yourself with some of North America’s finest wines and seafood … you will remember this week-long adventure for years to come.

This year, due to the pandemic, our COVID-careful group will be limited to six persons and a guide. This is a car-caravan outing priced at a reduced rate for those comfortable driving their own, or a rental car. We may have to forego some of the normal social fun of a tour. We can enjoy full field days together, a socially-distanced bird list and meals to take back to your room if you prefer, as outdoor dining is not possible in Washington at this season.

What will you see? Countless Bald Eagle and abundant raptors with Snowy Owl and Gyrfalcon reported annually in the region. Large flocks of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans join up to 20,000 Snow Geese in the area’s productive agricultural lands. Open waters host still more waterfowl, including thousands of “Gray-bellied” Brant, hundreds of Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks, and all three scoter species. Up to five different loons and three cormorant species can be observed, as well as up to six different alcids. Shorelines display abundant Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls, with Herring, Iceland (the form formally known as “Thayer’s Gull”), and Glaucous Gulls scattered about. And though raptors and waterbirds appear dominant, they are not alone. Winter songbirds in the Pacific Northwest include an abundance of Pacific Wren and “Sooty” Fox Sparrow, with Varied Thrush possible throughout the region. Golden-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, Steller’s Jay, and both Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees can be quite common, and we usually run across Northern Shrike and Hutton’s Vireo. The region also hosts its share of winter rarities.

Your guide, Steve Shunk knows the region well. Join him for this well-planned winter adventure! Meet up: Our first night hotel is at LaConner, an hour-and-a-half drive north of SeaTac Airport.

Tour Highlights

  • Enjoy three nights in the Skagit River Valley, at the quaint port-town of La Conner, then three in picturesque Port Townsend
  • Explore the Skagit and Samish flats; Samish, Padilla, and Skagit Bays; Fidalgo Island; and the Stillaguamish River delta, near Stanwood.
  • Scan ocean waters across Puget Sound, Admiralty Inlet, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca
  • Cross via Deception Pass onto Whidbey Island, birding island highlights before catching the Keystone ferry, bound for scenic Port Townsend.
  • Get excellent looks at Marbled Murrelet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and Rhinoceros Auklet, with good chances for Ancient Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet, Iceland Gull, and possible Black-legged Kittiwake – all on the ferry ride on which good weather days bring a stunning view of the Olympic Mountains.
  • On the Sequim Peninsula, scan the Dungeness River delta and Dungeness Bay for Yellow-billed Loons among wintering waterfowl.
  • Bird the narrow Quimper Peninsula, Fort Worden, Oak Bay and Marrowstone Island in search of still more loons, alcids and rafts of sea ducks.
  • Gain skills, have fun and explore winter Washington with an expert!

Trip Itinerary

Tues., Feb. 16 — Thurs., Feb. 18: Skagit Valley Winter Birding


Welcome to Washington! Discover some of the best winter birding imaginable during our three days of exploring the Skagit River Valley. Pamper yourself with lovely lodgings on the local waterfront in the quaint port-town of La Conner. From here, we will explore the Skagit and Samish flats; Samish, Padilla, and Skagit Bays; Fidalgo Island; and the Stillaguamish River delta, near Stanwood. During a Snowy Owl flight year, we may find Snowies right along the shoreline. Glaucous Gull often feeds among the flocks of Glaucous-winged and Mew gulls, and songbirds may include Northern Shrike, Hutton’s Vireo, and Varied Thrush. Open waters off Fidalgo Island may provide us with excellent looks at Rhinoceros Auklet and Pacific Loon (sometimes feeding alongside pods of harbor porpoise!), while flocks of “Sitka” Red Crossbills and the chatty little Pacific Wren call from the coastal forests.
Accommodations all three days at La Conner Channel Lodge (B,L,D)

Fri., Feb. 19: Deception Pass | Whidbey Island | Port Townsend


Today after breakfast we leave the Skagit Valley, and skirt the southern edge of Fidalgo Island, crossing Deception Pass onto Whidbey Island. A few miles south, we board the Keystone ferry, bound for scenic Port Townsend. The ferry ride offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountains (weather permitting!) along with many alcids and other waterbirds riding the tides back and forth in the rich waters of Admiralty Inlet. We should get excellent looks at Marbled Murrelet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and Rhinoceros Auklet, with good chances for Ancient Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet, Iceland Gull, and possible Black-legged Kittiwake.

From our base for the next three nights, again on the picturesque waterfront lodge in Port Townsend, we bird hotspots of the Olympic Peninsula beginning with a scenic drive to Port Angeles, where we scour the waters off Ediz Hook for seabirds, with excellent looks at loons and Marbled Murrelet, and nearly annual Thick-billed Murre.
Accommodations at the Tides Inn and Suites, Port Townsend (B,L,D)

Sat., Feb. 20: Sequim Peninsula | Dungeness


After a hearty breakfast we explore the Sequim Peninsula, including the Dungeness River delta and Dungeness Bay. Here, Yellow-billed Loons are often counted in high numbers on the local Christmas Bird Count, and the fringes of the peninsula can attract rare songbirds—in the past these have included out of range Tropical Kingbird and Harris’s Sparrow.

Following a lunch break, we then add to our sightings as we make various stops along Sequim Bay before heading back to our lodgings in historic Port Townsend.
Accommodations at the Tides Inn and Suites, Port Townsend (B,L,D)

Sun., Feb. 21: Port Townsend Birding Hotspots


During our second full day from Port Townsend, we explore any parts west that we were not able to visit the day before, as well as the narrow Quimper Peninsula and Fort Worden nearby. In the afternoon we visit Oak Bay and Marrowstone Island in search of still more loons and alcids and rafts of sea ducks, with impressive concentrations of Long-tailed Duck near the mouth of Port Townsend Bay. Goose flocks could easily include a rare wintering Emperor Goose.
Accommodations at the Tides Inn and Suites, Port Townsend (B,L,D)

Mon., Feb. 22: Hood Canal | Kitsap Peninsula | Afternoon Departures


On our final morning, we enjoy a light early breakfast in Port Townsend before heading south and east across the Hood Canal on the world’s longest saltwater floating bridge. A turn to the north takes us to the northern limits of the Kitsap Peninsula, with birding stops at Foulweather Bluff and Point No Point. This will be our final chance to see wintering seabirds, such as alcids, loons, Red-necked Grebe, and Red-breasted Merganser. After a classic northwestern brunch in scenic Port Gamble, we hop the Kingston ferry to Edmonds, followed by the quick drive south to the Sea-Tac airport, where our flock disperses after a great week of birding. (B)

  • Bald Eagles, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Black-legged Kittiwakes, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • La Conner Lodge, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Hood Canal, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • La Conner Lodge, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Marbled Murrelet, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Puget Sound, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Skagit Valley, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Steller's Jay, Washington Winter Birding Tour, Skagit Valley Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the Journey is 2990 DBL / 3590 SGL
Special discount price car-caravan $2590 DBL / $3190 SGL, per person.

The tour price includes 6 nights’ accommodations, all meals from dinner day 1 through breakfast Day 7, professional guide services, park entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost of the journey does not include airfare from your home to SEATAC, Washington or items of a personal nature, such as drinks from the bar, telephone, and local guide gratuities.

Travel Details

In this special car-caravan departure on which participants drive their own car (or a rental car), plan to meet up at the first night hotel in La Conner on February 16. This is a about an hour and a half north of the SEATAC airport. You may depart in the afternoon of Feb. 22, we should arrive back at the SEATAC airport between 1 and 2 PM, having had brunch and using the Edmunds Ferry. For those flying, it’s best to plan for flights out after 3PM, or we can drop you at a convenient airport hotel for early flights out the next day. For those driving can leave without going into the airport as they choose.

Map for Washington Winter Birding

Photo credits: Bald Eagles, courtesy UnSplash; Skagit Valley, courtesy UnSplash; Tundra Swans, public domaine; Snow Geese, courtesy UnSplash; Puget Sound, courtesy UnSplash; Snowy Owl, courtesy UnSplash; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, NJ Stock; Steller's Jay, Peg Abbott; Spotted Towhee, Barry Ramdass; Black-legged Kittiwakes, Peg Abbott; Long-tailed Duck, Greg Smith; Bald Eagles, courtesy of Richard Lee on Unsplash; Skagit Valley by Madi Taskett on Unsplash; Trumpeter Swan w cygnet, Greg Smith; Thick-billed Murre, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Tide Suites Queen Room, courtesy of Tides Inn; Marbled Murrelet Peg Abbott; Puget Sound by Sergei Akulich on Unsplash; Hood Canal, courtesy of Robert Bottman on Unsplash; Northern Harrier, Greg Smith; Bald Eagles, courtesy of Richard Lee on Unsplash; Black-legged Kittiwake, Peg Abbott; Gate House Room, courtesy of La Conner Lodge; Hood Canal, courtesy of Robert Bottman on Unsplash; King Parlor Suite, courtesy of La Conner Lodge; Marbled Murrelet, Peg Abbott; Puget Sound by Sergei Akulich on Unsplash; Skagit Valley by Madi Taskett on Unsplash; Steller's Jay, courtesy of Bryan Hanson on Unsplash.

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