Puget Sound is that portion of the Salish Sea stretching east from the Strait of Juan De Fuca through Admiralty Inlet and south from Rosario Strait and Deception Pass. Puget Sound is a region of strong contrasts surrounding the inland marine water body of the same name. More than 50 percent of the state’s population lives along the east shore of the Sound from Everett to Tacoma, in a narrow, crowded, 70-mile strip undergoing the trials of rapid growth. At the other extreme lie some 1,400 square miles of roadless, uninhabited wilderness, including all or parts of 11 designated Wilderness Areas and two National Parks. In little more than an hour one can move from monumental urban traffic snarls to “difficult hiking over steep forested slopes and along exposed ridges through tangles of huckleberry and thimbleberry …a wilderness experience seldom surpassed in primitive solitude and exertion.”* Truly there is something here for every birding taste!

The region’s greatest glory is the Sound itself, plied by Washington’s famous ferries. The open waters and shorelines of the deep Main Basin from Point No Point past Seattle and Tacoma to The Narrows, and of the South Sound, Hood Canal, and the many lesser bays, inlets, and passages, harbor some of the largest populations of marine birds in the U.S. Five major rivers drain into the Sound from the West Central Cascades. The estuaries of the Duwamish (Seattle) and the Puyallup (Tacoma) have been converted to pure industrial landscapes, but the Snohomish estuary at Everett, although much reduced, still has some fine bird habitat. The Stillaguamish and the Nisqually— the smallest of the five estuaries and the least disturbed—are among the state’s best birding sites. While both have been partially drained and diked for agriculture, the Nisqually has undergone estuary restoration reconnecting tidelands and floodplain to the Sound and lower river.

The low-elevation Puget Sound Douglas-fir zone surrounds the Sound, ringed successively by the Western Hemlock, Silver Fir, Mountain Hemlock, and Alpine/Parkland zones as one moves up the slopes to the permanent ice and snow of Mount Rainier—at 14,410 feet, the highest peak in Washington. Set into the lowland Douglas-fir south of the Sound is the unique Woodland/Prairie Mosaic zone, a landscape of dry grasslands and Garry Oaks. Significant parts of the higher-elevation zones are in protected status, but those at lower elevations are greatly altered. The Puget Sound Douglas-fir forest is mostly gone, and the oak prairies are sadly reduced. The Western Hemlock zone now consists largely of managed forests. And yet, thanks to a good system of urban, suburban, and rural parks and natural areas, each of these zones still retains its characteristic birdlife.

The Sound enjoys a favorable climate for birds and for those who wish to find them. At the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the average annual precipitation is 38 inches (the same as Indianapolis, Tulsa, and Washington, DC); 158 days have some precipitation (like Pittsburgh and Cleveland); winters are mild (January average temperature 39 degrees, the same as Raleigh and Little Rock) and summers cool (July average temperature 65 degrees, as at Duluth and Caribou, Maine). Annual precipitation increases as one moves eastward up the Cascade slopes (105 inches at Snoqualmie Pass) or southwestward around the Olympics toward the coast (52 inches in Olympia). Most of the winter precipitation in the mountains falls in the form of snow. Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 is open most of the time, but ice and snow are a common hazard and traction devices may be required. Stevens Pass on US-2 is frequently closed for snow clearance, and Chinook Pass on SR-410 is closed for the entire winter season. Snow is infrequent in the lowlands, but a couple of inches that stick can cause a real mess. Traffic is always a mess in the urban agglomeration, even in nice weather. Monster tie-ups on I-5, I-90, and other major thoroughfares are becoming routine. Drive smart. Try not to be a returning weekender on Sundays or holidays. You’ll do fine if you avoid morning and evening rush hours and check traffic reports.

* Wonder Mountain Wilderness Area web site: