map Port Townsend and vicinity

by Bob Norton

revised by Bob Boekelheide

Port Townsend lies at the mouth of Admiralty Inlet, where the relatively turbulent waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca meet the protected waters of Puget Sound. Tidal fronts, or “tide rips,” are most extreme where large tidal currents move through these entrances, concentrating fish and invertebrates for feeding flocks of birds and mammals. These feeding frenzies may occur throughout the year, attended by mergansers, loons, cormorants, alcids, gulls, and all other fish-eating birds in the area, including Marbled Murrelets all year, Ancient Murrelets in late fall and winter, and thousands of Rhinoceros Auklets during their nesting season. Tide rips flow relatively close to shore at Point Wilson and Marrowstone Point, making these locations especially attractive to birds and birders. Any saltwater rarity farther south in Puget Sound almost surely passed by here entering Puget Sound.



From the east end of the Hood Canal Bridge (page 178), follow SR-104 westward for 6.6 miles, then turn north toward Chimacum on SR-19. Continue 9.1 miles to a stop sign at Chimacum Road. Turn right here and travel 1.5 miles to the intersection with Oak Bay Road (SR-116). Turn right again. In 0.8 mile, where SR-116 turns left, continue straight ahead on Oak Bay Road, and in another 0.6 mile turn left onto Portage Way (do not make the sharper left turn onto Cleveland Street), which leads 0.2 mile to the lower part of Oak Bay County Park. The tidal lagoon and exposed mudflats are attractive for waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls. Rocky shorebirds may be found on the jetty. The beach and offshore waters have good numbers of Brant, other waterfowl, loons, and grebes in winter months. Look for Red-throated and Yellow-billed among the Common Loons in Oak Bay.

Return to the intersection with SR-116 (Flagler Road) and go right toward Indian and Marrowstone Islands. In 0.6 mile a bridge crosses the channel to Indian Island. The island is U.S. Navy property and off-limits except for SR-116 and the shoreline of Oak Bay. Cross the bridge to a small public park immediately on the right; its few old apple trees and hedgerows of brambles can be productive for passerines. A good view of Oak Bay is available from Indian Island County Park, 0.8 mile beyond the bridge via a side road to the right. The park looks toward the jetty from a different angle, giving you another chance to pick up rocky shorebirds. Harlequin Ducks can be found here as well as the usual diving ducks, loons, grebes, and alcids. Check the beach, estuary, and marsh. A further 1.2 miles east on SR-116 brings you to the Indian Island-Marrowstone Island isthmus, with adequate parking on the right side of the highway. This low-lying land bridge often has dabbling ducks and shorebirds when the tide is too high for them elsewhere.

Continue on SR-116 for 1.3 miles onto Marrowstone Island and curve to the left at the fork to stay on SR-116. Go 2.5 miles to the Nordland Store and search adjacent shorelines of Mystery Bay for shorebirds and passerines. The upper end of Mystery Bay concentrates a surprising number of birds, particularly Greater Yellowlegs in winter. Mystery Bay State Park, 0.8 mile beyond the Nordland Store, offers a good viewpoint to scope the main portion of Kilisut Harbor, which often has impressive flocks of waterbirds in fall and winter.

Fort Flagler State Park is reached at the end of SR-116 in 1.9 miles. Enter the park and, at the intersection, turn left (west) and go 1.3 miles to the park’s campground, where there’s an excellent view of Port Townsend Bay and the entrance of Kilisut Harbor. A 600-yard spit extends west toward Rat Island, an island sandbar at the mouth of Kilisut Harbor. Here Brant, Harlequin Ducks, and other waterfowl congregate close to shore, three species of cormorants can be compared, and large flocks of shorebirds roost and forage on the beach and grass. Black Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones often feed here when the tide is low enough to expose the rocks at the tip of the spit.

Return to the main park intersection and turn left (north) 0.1 mile, then right (east) 0.6 mile to reach the old lighthouse at Marrowstone Point, just inside Admiralty Inlet. The road passes former barracks and leads downhill to the beach and lighthouse. Marrowstone Point is one of the best places to view feeding seabirds close to shore, including Marbled and Ancient Murrelets in November and December. A good tidal rip will usually have a wealth of feeding birds and is worth a thorough scan. In summer Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets as well as gulls and terns fish here, and in winter ducks, loons, grebes, alcids, and gulls can be abundant. Search adjacent beaches and seasonal wetlands for shorebirds and passerines. Look offshore as well for Killer Whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions.


Retrace the route to the mainland, turning right on SR-116 at the stop sign at Oak Bay Road. Follow SR-116 for 2.0 miles from here to the junction with SR-19 (Rhody Drive), turn right (north), and continue on SR-19 as it flows into SR-20 in 3.4 miles. Another 4.3 miles north and east along SR-20 brings you to a traffic light at Kearney Street in Port Townsend. Turn left here and follow the signs to Fort Worden. The entrance is at the end of Cherry Street, in 1.8 miles.

Fort Worden State Park is a large park with many trails, open year round. The park’s extensive forests contain typical Western Washington nesting and migrant species, although brushy areas on the park’s east and west sides may produce interesting migrants. Follow the signs to the beach campground on the park’s northeast side (0.8 mile). Walk the margins of the campground, looking for birds in brush at the base of the bluff. Check out the grass, dunes, and patches of windblown trees on Point Wilson, north of the campground. This sandy point of land has a concentrating effect on migrating landbirds. Also check the dunes and beaches for Horned Lark, American Pipit, and Snow Bunting.

From the parking lot at Point Wilson (0.3 mile), walk a short distance around the lighthouse to scan Admiralty Inlet. Feeding flocks containing sea ducks, cormorants, alcids, and gulls occur right off the point in nearby tide rips. Look for Ancient Murrelets in late fall and early winter, working the tide rips offshore. Ancients fly low in small groups of up to 20 birds, then dive into the water suddenly and simultaneously. Heermann’s Gulls are common in summer and early fall, and migrating flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls in spring and fall may contain Parasitic Jaegers. Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks are regular visitors, and Brandt’s Cormorants can be seen year round. Look for the occasional Yellow-billed Loon. One of the spectacular bird shows in the state can be viewed at Point Wilson on summer evenings as Rhinoceros Auklets fly from Puget Sound to Protection Island, each carrying fish to feed to the chick in their burrow. Steller and California Sea Lions, Gray and Killer Whales, and Harbor Porpoises occur on occasion. Nearby, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center has an informative facility with touch-tanks and displays.

Follow signs to return to SR-20. At the traffic light at SR-20 (East Sims Way) and Kearney Street, turn left (northeast) onto East Sims Way. East Sims Way soon becomes Water Street, and in 0.5 mile the Washington State Ferry dock is on the right. The trip to Whidbey Island on the Port Townsend- Coupeville Ferry crosses Admiralty Inlet. When strong tidal currents are running, you may enjoy close-up views of feeding alcids and other waterbirds. The crossing takes about 30 minutes; you can return on the same boat or disembark to bird Fort Casey and Crockett Lake, both of which are within walking distance (page 81).

From the Port Townsend ferry dock, go northeast along Water Street— the center of the tourist district—to the Point Hudson marina at the northeast end (0.4 mile). Jog left for 0.1 mile on Monroe Street, right 0.1 mile on Jefferson Street, and right onto Hudson Street to parking areas near the Point Hudson RV park. At low tide, the gravelly spit here attracts Brant, shorebirds, and gulls, particularly Heermann’s in summer. Search the breakwater pilings at the marina entrance for turnstones, Surfbirds, and occasional Rock Sandpipers, and offshore waters for loons, grebes, and alcids, particularly Marbled Murrelets.

On your way out of town on SR-20, visit Kah Tai Lagoon, the best place on the north Olympic Peninsula for Ruddy Ducks. From the traffic light at Kearney Street, proceed 0.5 mile on SR-20 and make a right turn onto Haines Place at the traffic light by the Safeway, followed by another right at the stop sign onto 12th Street, and finally a left turn onto the first gravel road into a small parking lot. The main lagoon is excellent for diving ducks, not only Ruddies, but also Lesser Scaup. Cattail marshes around the lagoon have rails and Marsh Wrens, and interesting shorebirds such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper have shown up at adjacent ponds.

From the Haines Place traffic light, continue west and south on SR-20 for 11.6 miles to the base of Discovery Bay at the junction with US-101. Turn right toward Sequim. (A left turn here will take you south along the west side of Hood Canal, page 214, or to SR-104 and east across the Hood Canal Bridge.)