Current Hood Canal Bridge Status

MIGRATORY WATERFOWL WATCHERS TRAIL

This North Eastern Jefferson County is best enjoyed annually from October through April.

Orientation – These birding sites are listed as you might arrive in Jefferson County by entering the County via Hood Canal Bridge on Highway 104 or Highway 101 North to Highway 104 East.  At all of these spots, birds can usually be sighted from your car, park with care, and enjoy these passing flights. If the salt water is to be found on your route birds tend to congregate in the small bays and creek mouths.  During the middle to low periods of the tide, change is usually best viewed.  This tour is oriented towards migratory waterfowl, including the largest population of Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Olympic Peninsula. Viewing is best from October thru April. This guide takes about two and a half hours if you just drive spot to spot north of highway 104. Round trip mileage is about 53 miles back to start point on Highway 19 and turn-off on Highway 104.  

Watchers View #1 Go to Highway 19 from 104, after turning on 104 head north towards Port Townsend.  In about 2 miles to sign that says Port Ludlow, turn right, this puts you on Oak Bay Road.  Stay on Oak Bay Road, through a stop sign in Port Ludlow, north, towards Port Hadlock for 7.9 miles.  Watch to right for Jefferson County Park sign, (small, brown with white lettering), street name Portage Way, immediate right downhill to the campground on the beach. This tidal slough to left and tidal flats to right attracts more and more migrating birds as winter storms push birds south and as spring returns birds moving north again congregate here.  Throughout the winter months, this area holds many varied ducks, geese, and shorebirds that can be viewed easily just feet from your car.  Blue Heron, Osprey, and Kingfishers are visitors at times as well. 

Watchers View #2 From View #1 return to Oak Bay Road, turn right and continue north .5 miles to Indian Island sign, turn right on Highway 116, go across the Ship Canal Bridge and continue 1.4 miles to Jefferson County Park sign, (Lagoon Bay, on right, turn in and go downhill to park.  This road is high-quality gravel, but steep (careful on a tight turn to left, leave the out-goers room, no campers, big rigs).  From directly in front of the parking area large a tidal, bowl-shaped, flat collects many saltwater varieties of ducks and Brant Geese.  I often sight Harlequin ducks here. If you turn your attention to the left you will see tidal and seepage streams entering the tidal flats, there is some viewing in this area from your car.  However, this is a braided environment and many birds are hidden from immediate view. Sometimes, weather permitting, this is a good area to get out and stretch your legs, a short walk to the left can often lead to hidden rewards in your binoculars.  If afoot be alert to footing, salt marsh environments have many hidden pitfalls.  A careful stalk here can lead to many small, enchanting views of waterfowl, Kingfisher, Blue Heron, and occasional Bald Eagle passing by.

Watchers View #3From View #2 return to the highway and turn right towards Marrowstone Island and head east.  This next 1.1 miles has a couple of turnoffs right next to the road that within 50 feet one can be on the cobbled beach, usually alone, with some chance of sighting birds and certainly opportunity to enjoy seclusion and view. Beachcombing here is a pleasant option on the right day with a Sothern exposure.  The last turnoff to right about 1.1 miles down in total is, again, a good spot to pull off and view to the east.  This tidal stream that separates Indian Island from Marrowstone Island often holds birds, American Widgeon, Green-winged Teal, Pintails, Buffleheads, Barrows and Common Goldeneye are often about, and Brant Geese dabble here.

Watchers View #4 From View #3 turn right again, cross rivulet to Marrowstone Island, and head north to Fort Flagler, Washington State Park.  About 2.5 miles along the way coming into the small, side of the road, Nordland town on right, this last finger of Mystery Bay on left often holds some birds, you can park near store there and get a look.  From here continue on to Fort Flagler, enter the park, watch for deer, and at the stop sign turn left towards the campground, go past the ranger station and camping registration.  Continue on to parking near beaches.  There is a boat launch straight ahead and to left; parking out of way and viewing to both west and to the inlet of Mystery Bay to south many of the more saltwater-oriented species are often seen.  I have seen Long Tailed duck, Loon, Goldeneye, Surf Scoters, and many other denizens of the sea and salt in this spot.  Taking time to view some of the 1900 era gun placements and period Coast Artillery buildings or 1880’s era lighthouse at the point on beach opposite campground is a bonus at this beautiful Washington State Park.

Urban Watchers View #5, 6, & 7 Port Townsend:  Leave Fort Flagler back south on highway 116, return to Oak Bay Road go right.  On to Port Hadlock, at the stop sign across from QFC supermarket in Hadlock turn right onto Irondale Road back to highway 19, right again, north to Port Townsend.  This is bird watching in an urban setting with other interesting opportunities along the way.  You enter Port Townsend on Highway 20.  At the second stoplight next to Safeway turn right, you will come to the stop sign; go thru and slightly to right.  You are now in the Port of Port Townsend’s working boatyard, one of the few sites on the West Coast that works on wooden boats, many historic hulls can be seen here in dry-dock in winter.  Birds are straight ahead towards water near public restrooms and Larry Scott Memorial Trail entrance.  These broad tidal flats often hold some birds if a strong southeast wind is not disrupting the bay. 

For View #6 pull out and go left along the waterfront (keep an eye out for workers and lifts), continue through the boatyard past Boat Haven Marina towards downtown P. T.  At the next stoplight, just after Port Townsend Visitor Center on right, turn right and, then first left, and then next right.  This puts you on a little loop street by the water again, you will see a small gravel parking lot on right, pull in.  Although this setting is incongruous, these, protected by the town of Port Townsend, tidal flats, and eelgrass beds attract birds. I have frequently seen Harlequin duck here just off the bank in mid-winter.  Look to the sky here towards the bluff and often our town’s resident Bald Eagles can be seen riding the air currents hunting for the unwary.

Last, is a trip to Fort Worden in Port Townsend.  Go on through the town’s historic downtown district to Monroe Street, turn left, go to the stop sign, right on Roosevelt, then a quick left onto Jackson St. to Fort Worden.  This 1900’s era Coast Artillery Fort, now Washington State Park has four museums, 1900’s era buildings, and one of the most scenic lighthouses on the Puget Sound. If you go down to the beach towards the lighthouse you will see a small one-way off to left just before the lighthouse.  This takes you to a small parking lot facing northwest.  This is the premier spot to see a spectacular sunset and our birds winging their way to the west at day’s end.  This spot is the least birdie of them all, because of tidal flows.  If time is an issue and you are the purest bird watcher this is a site that could be missed. Even with this, I have seen Shearwaters, marbled Murrelets, and infrequently, Puffins at times.

Enjoy!

Photos and East Jefferson County Waterfowl Watchers Trail content thanks to Bill Roney, Chair of Jefferson County Tourism Council and manager of the Olympic Peninsula Gateway Visitors Center.