map whidbey

by Kraig Kemper

revised by Steve Pink

Whidbey Island offers fine Western Washington birding in a magnificent setting at the top of Puget Sound, about 25 miles north of Seattle and 50 miles south

of the U.S.-Canada border. With its many twists and kinks, the island has 148 miles of shoreline and stretches 50 road miles from end to end, but averages a mere three miles in width. From some vantage points it is possible to see at one time both bodies of water that flank it. The terrain is low and rolling, with the highest elevations reaching not much more than 550 feet above sea level.

The moderating effects of surrounding water and sheltering mountains provide a mild, temperate climate. Influenced by the Olympic Mountains’ rainshadow, average annual rainfall varies from 18 inches at the central part of the island to 26 and 30 inches at the north and south ends—half to three-quarters the rainfall of Seattle or Everett.

Whidbey Island’s rich saltwater habitats include open water bringing swells from the Pacific; sheltered passages and bays; rocky and sandy shoreline; and tidal mudflats and salt marsh. Early on, the island was commercially logged, then cleared for farming by settlers. Although little remains of the old-growth Douglas-fir forests that once cloaked the uplands, significant stands of mature second-growth coniferous and mixed forest can be found in some places. Other upland habitats include freshwater lakes, ponds, and wetlands; remnant prairies; pastures and croplands; parks and gardens; and shrubby thickets. This wide variety of habitats supports nearly 250 resident and migrant bird species.

The most productive times to bird are winter (November through mid-March) and during spring (late April through May) and fall (late July through September) migrations. Good shorebirds can be found in season. It would take more than a day to adequately bird all the locations in this section, so plan your route selectively. For shorebirds, focus on Deer Lagoon, Crockett Lake, and Swantown. For a winter trip, then look possibly to Penn Cove, Keystone Landing, Fort Casey State Park, and Dugualla Bay.

There are three means of automobile access: by ferry from Mukilteo (just south of Everett) to Clinton, by ferry from Port Townsend to the Coupeville Terminal (previously called Keystone Terminal; reservations strongly recommended during busy periods), or by highway over the Deception Pass bridge. The itinerary described here begins at the ferry terminal in Clinton, on the southeast side of the island. To get there from I-5, take Exit 189 and proceed west on SR-526 past the Boeing assembly plant, then right (north) on SR-525 to Mukilteo and the ferry landing; the route is well signed. The crossing of Possession Sound to Clinton takes 20 minutes and is usually not very birdy. The main highway from Clinton to the bridge at Deception Pass, going approximately north, starts as SR-525 and in 22 miles becomes SR-20.



Deer Lagoon is one of the better shorebird destinations on Whidbey along with Crockett Lake and Swantown. From the Clinton Ferry, drive northwest 7.5 miles, then turn left on South Useless Bay Avenue, which, as the road curves to the right, becomes Millman Road. After 0.8 mile turn left into Deer Lagoon Road. Parking is limited. There is a locked gate at the end of the road, with a short access path to the left of the gate getting you onto the trail. Although signed Private, it does allow access. From here, walk south a short distance until you reach the dike. The area to the east is tidal, and if you catch the tide right, it can be spectacular for shorebirds. Previous rarities include both Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, and also Stilt Sandpiper. Semipalmated Plovers, both yellowlegs, and Whimbrel are regular in season. On the west side of the dike is a large non-tidal lagoon that is good for ducks. There are several small islands that also attract shorebirds, particularly in fall.



To return to SR-525, take Deer Lagoon Road to Millman Road, turn left, go 0.6 mile to Double Bluff Road, turn right, and proceed 0.6 mile to the highway. Turn left onto SR-525 and drive northwestward for just under two miles. Turn left (west) onto Bush Point Road (which becomes Smugglers Cove Road). Continue 4.9 miles to the South Whidbey State Park entrance on the left (Discover Pass required). This 348-acre park has heavily wooded uplands and an open, wave-washed beach with spectacular views across Admiralty Inlet to the Olympic Mountains. Trails through old Douglas-firs and Western Redcedars are edged by ferns, Red Elderberry, Salmonberry, and Stinging Nettle. Year-round residents include Hutton’s Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and other Puget Lowlands forest species.

The Beach Trail from the former campground and parking area to the beach is steep. Look for sea ducks, loons, cormorants, and alcids on the open water, and check the beach for Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Sanderling, and other shorebirds.

The mile-long Forest Discovery Trail, at the south end of the park, traces a pair of loops along the top of the bluff through Red Alder and conifers; bridges cross creeks and wet areas, bright with Skunk Cabbage in spring.

The Wilbert Trail, which begins on the east side of the highway opposite the park entrance, is a 1.5-mile loop through a 255-acre forest of old-growth Western Redcedar and Douglas-fir, with many snags where Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Pileated Woodpecker nest. If going north, continue on Smugglers Cove for 4.4 miles until you reach SR-525.


Crockett Lake—a brackish 250-acre marsh and shallow lake formed by the long gravel bar of Keystone Spit—is located three miles south of Coupeville, adjacent to the Coupeville Ferry Terminal. The lake is noted for migrant shorebirds, gulls and terns, a good variety of ducks (many of which winter), raptors, and passerines around the marsh-edge habitat. Continue northwest (left) on SR-525 for 4.7 miles and then follow signs to the Port Townsend Ferry Landing. Turn left (west) onto SR-20 (West Wanamaker Road). Stay on SR-20 as it curves left then right toward the ferry landing.

SR-20 runs along Keystone Spit, paralleling the shores of Crockett Lake on the right (north) and Admiralty Bay on the left. For the next mile and a half you may park anywhere along the wide shoulder and walk out to bird the marsh and lake. Shorebirding is best when water levels are relatively low, exposing extensive mudflats. However, birds can then be a long way out, across wet grass and soft mud. You will need a spotting scope and rubber boots to bird effectively. Proceed with caution: the mud is deep and hazardous in places. Heat haze is often a problem in summer, so best be early.

Crockett Lake is outstanding for shorebirds in fall (mid-July through September). Common species include Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, both yellowlegs, Dunlin, Baird’s (August), Least, Pectoral (September), Semipalmated (July–earlyAugust), and Western Sand- pipers, both dowitchers, Wilson’s Snipe, and Red-necked Phalarope. Whimbrel and Sanderling are fairly common. American Avocet (has nested), American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Solitary Sandpiper, Black Turnstone, Red Knot, Ruff, Sharp-tailed and Stilt Sandpipers (August–September), Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Wilson’s Phalarope are uncommon to rare. Black-necked Stilt, Snowy Plover, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, and Red-necked Stint have each been recorded once. Grass and water edges may have American Pipit, Lapland Longspur, and Savannah Sparrow seasonally, or mega-rarities such as Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Least Tern, or White Wagtail. Raptors frequent the whole area. A major portion of the spit, with freshwater ponds and a saltwater shoreline on Admiralty Bay, is open to the public (several parking lots at intervals on your left). Scope the ponds for ducks and shorebirds.

Just before the ferry terminal, turn left into a parking lot on the east shore of Keystone Harbor (1.6 miles). The state park boat launch (Discover Pass required) is one of the best on the island, with a good drop-off and excellent protection by breakwater and rock jetty. The jetty and pilings of the old Army quartermaster dock immediately to the east are now an underwater state park. Black Oystercatcher is sometimes seen on the rock jetty. Pigeon Guillemots nest and all three species of cormorants rest on the old platform and pilings. Heermann’s Gulls may be here from July to September. Scan Admiralty Bay for Harlequin Duck, Red-throated and Common Loons, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Pigeon Guillemot, and Rhinoceros Auklet.

The 30-minute ferry ride to Port Townsend (page 30) can be excellent for waterbirds. Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and other species are sometimes present in Keystone Harbor near the ferry slip.



From the ferry terminal and SR-20, continue northwest on Engle Road 0.4 mile to the Fort Casey State Park entrance on the left (Discover Pass required). Along with Fort Flagler and Fort Worden across Admiralty Inlet, Fort Casey was part of a century-old coastal defense system that guarded the en- trance to Puget Sound. These fixed-gun fortresses became obsolete after World War I, and the fort is now a 137-acre historic state park. Bird the wooded areas of the park (especially the picnic area) for species of the Puget Sound Douglas-fir zone, including summer visitors such as Pacific-slope Fly- catcher and House Wren (local in Western Washington). Spring migrants may include Western Wood-Pewee and Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s Warblers. Great Horned Owls are regular here. The campground (open year round) is another good vantage point for Keystone Harbor and the ferry dock. Walk out to the lighthouse on the bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet. Nutrient-rich upwelling draws large numbers of Rhinoceros Auklets and gulls to feed offshore in summer and fall. Common Murres are often common from fall through spring.

From Fort Casey turn left onto South Engle Road, which eventually becomes Main Street, and continue 3.6 miles to the junction of US-20. At the junction either continue straight ahead for Coupeville and Penn Cove or if heading north, turn left onto SR-20.


map central whidbey


Follow Main Street into Coupeville. This is a popular tourist destination and in summer can be very busy. The Coupeville Wharf, located at the west end of Front Street, is worth a visit to take in the view of Penn Cove, a large bay that almost cuts across Whidbey Island from the east. Many loons, grebes, and other waterbirds winter on Penn Cove, including all three species of scoters (thousands of Surf and White-winged, just a few Black); some are present through summer. This is also an excellent location to observe both Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes.

From Front Street, go south a block to Coveland Street and turn right, then angle left onto Madrona Way. Follow Madrona Way westward along the edge of the high bluff. Places to park along this road are very limited; try to find a spot where you can safely scope the bay, particularly the floating mussel plat- forms (currently at 0.3 and 0.5 mile). Check the waters of the cove for scoters and other diving birds, including Harlequin Ducks. Black Turnstones, Dunlins, and other shorebirds often roost on the mussel platforms. The road swings north around the end of the cove. Kennedy’s Lagoon, on the left side of Madrona Way 1.5 miles from the last pullout, may host ducks and a few shorebirds. Park at any of several pullouts on either side of the road for the next half-mile, north to the intersection with SR-20.

The west end of Penn Cove has a rocky and sandy shore that is one of the most accessible examples of this habitat type left within the inland marine waters of Washington. Rock-foraging shorebirds are present much of the year: Black Turnstone (most numerous) and Surfbird are common, Ruddy Turnstone is fairly common in migration, and Rock Sandpiper occurs most winters. Scoters and other waterbirds are often fairly close to shore. Small flocks of Eared Grebes, very local in Western Washington, are seen here throughout the winter.

Look for Greater Yellowlegs at Grasser’s Lagoon at the northwest corner of Penn Cove. Migrating shorebirds sometimes shelter amidst the low vegetation on the pebbly spit that separates the lagoon from the bay. Turn right onto SR-20 from Madrona Way, then right again at a gravel pullout at the east end of the lagoon (0.2 mile) (also known as Zylstra Road), for another vantage point. Grasser’s Hill, north of the highway, is popular with raptors, including Rough-legged Hawk (winter) and American Kestrel. Continue right 0.4 mile on SR-20 and turn right into a gravel lot beside the Penn Cove Pottery store. Walk across Penn Cove Road to the base of the pier (posted; stay off). The shoreline in both directions often hosts rocky shorebirds.



Go back west on SR-20, which bends left at a junction 0.1 mile past the Madrona Way intersection. Turn right here onto Libbey Road. Fort Ebey State Park (Discover Pass required) is reached by turning south (left) onto Hill Valley Drive in 0.9 mile and following signs 0.7 mile to the entrance. Day-use facilities are open year round; the campground is closed November–February. The park offers excellent birding on 644 acres of coniferous and mixed woods, driftwood beach, grassy bluffs, and fresh- and saltwater habitats. Park near the restrooms and walk west 100 yards to the Point Partridge overlook. A panoramic view extends southeastward down Admiralty Inlet; south and southwest to Point Wilson, Port Townsend, and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains; west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca; northwest to Victoria and the southeast coast of Vancouver Island; and north to Vancouver and the San Juan Islands. A trail leads down from the bluff to a 1.5-mile sandy beach with shore- and marine birds. Black Oystercatchers forage on rocky outcroppings where the point meets the sea. This is also one of the island’s best locations for Harlequin Duck.

From the other side of the restrooms, a short trail leads to Pondilla Lake, a depression left from the last ice age filled with fresh water. Dabbling ducks can be found here, and Bald Eagles often roost in nearby snags. Many resident and migrant forest birds are evident along the park’s three miles of hiking trails. Five species of woodpeckers, and typical Westside songbirds such as Hutton’s Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, and Spotted Towhee, are here all year. Migrants and summer visitors include Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and several warblers (Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Wilson’s). This is the most reliable location for Red Crossbill on Whidbey Island, and good numbers of Varied Thrushes and Sooty Fox Sparrows can be found in winter.

The other side of Point Partridge is reached from Libbey Beach County Park. Return to Libbey Road, turn left, and go 0.3 mile to the road’s end.

Many seabirds associated with the kelp-forest habitat of the open shoreline can be seen here—Harlequin Duck, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Pelagic Cormorant, and Pigeon Guillemot. Surf and White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, loons (Red-throated, Pacific, and Common), Black Oystercatcher, Common Murre, and Heermann’s Gull also frequent these waters or the shoreline at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A beach walk south around Point Partridge leads to connecting trails from Fort Ebey State Park, a half-mile away. To the north are six miles of public tidelands beneath 200-foot sandy bluffs. Don’t get trapped by incoming tides.


West Beach and Swantown attract marine ducks, shorebirds, and alcids. Return east 0.6 mile on Libbey Road, turn left onto West Beach Road, and proceed north 2.3 miles to the intersection with Hastie Lake Road. A parking area and boat launch on the left is another excellent point from which to view the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and the many seabirds associated with the Bull Kelp groves that thrive just beyond the low-tide line. Rarities such as Yellow-billed Loon and King Eider have been seen here. Black Oystercatchers and Harlequin Ducks are also regular here.

West Beach Road continues north and descends a hill to beach level at a spot called Swantown, with a small lake and salt marsh on the right. Park on the wide gravel shoulder on the left (beach) side of the road (2.5 miles) and look out over the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There is a high probability of seeing seabirds year round—especially large numbers of ducks (including Harlequin and Long-tailed), loons, and grebes. Gulls and alcids frequent the channel and feed near shore during the winter. Look for Sanderlings on the beach and Caspian Terns offshore.

Navigational lights on Smith and Minor Islands four miles to the west are important landmarks for boats traveling between Puget Sound and the San Juans. The two islands are part of a national wildlife refuge established in 1914 to protect Brant wintering on the neighboring eelgrass beds from slaughter by market hunters. Minor Island has a large breeding colony of Harbor Seals; Smith Island is an important nesting site for Pelagic Cormorant, Black Oystercatcher, Pigeon Guillemot, and Tufted Puffin. (Puffins are rarely seen from Whidbey Island.)

Bos Lake and the surrounding salt marsh (aka Swantown Lagoon), east of the road, are notable for migrating shorebirds, gulls, and terns, and for wintering waterfowl, waders, and raptors. In fall migration (mid-July through September) Bos Lake is an important shorebird stopover, second on the island only to Crockett Lake for numbers and species diversity. However, water levels vary throughout the year, and in fall the mudflats can be extensive and birds a long way out. You can scope from the edge of the road or, for closer views, pull on rubber boots and walk toward the exposed flats. Look for a log crossing over the slough, and beware of deep, sticky mud.

Continue on West Beach Road, turning right to the intersection of West Beach, Crosby, and Swantown Roads (1.0 mile). The entrance to 112-acre Joseph Whidbey State Park (Discover Pass required) is just ahead on the left (day use only; closed October–March). Paths lead from the picnic area to the broad sand and gravel beach. Expect the same waterbirds as at Point Partridge and the other Juan de Fuca overlooks.

Another access can be found next to the first residence on the south side of the park (on the left in 0.7 mile when coming from Bos Lake). Here is a graveled parking lot for a few cars and a trail that leads directly to the beach. Trails through the beach grass just above the driftwood line follow the beach north out of the park property. Just before leaving the park, a half-mile trail through a freshwater wetland offers good views of migrating and nesting waterfowl and marshbirds.



Birding possibilities at Oak Harbor are similar to those at Penn Cove, including rocky shorebirds on the beach and the Oak Harbor City Marina. This is a good place to see gulls unusual elsewhere on the island (Thayer’s, Glaucous). From Joseph Whidbey State Park, follow Swantown Road south and east 2.9 miles to an intersection with SR-20. Turn left onto SR-20 and continue east into the city of Oak Harbor. In 0.5 mile, where SR-20 turns north at a traffic light, stay straight ahead on SE Pioneer Way. Take the next right on SE City Beach Street (0.3 mile) and then turn left onto SE Bayshore Drive. Park anywhere along here to check the beaches for ducks, rocky shorebirds, and gulls.

If you still need to find rocky shorebirds, then the Oak Harbor City Marina is worth checking. Continue east along Bayshore Drive, turning right onto SE Pioneer Way, and continue a short distance before turning right onto SE Catalina Drive just before the entrance to the Naval Base. Look at the south end of the marina for the boat ramp; the shorebirds may be seen on marina docks and the logbooms.

Return to the light at SR-20. Drive north (right) on SR-20 to the intersection with Frostad Road (5.0 miles); turn right, continue 0.9 mile, and turn left onto Dike Road. (See inset map on page 81.) A gravel pullout on the right (0.3 mile) provides a view of Dugualla Bay, an indentation on the west side of Skagit Bay. Look for scaups, grebes, and cormorants on the bay, and herons, yellowlegs, dowitchers, and other shorebirds on the beach. The head of Dugualla Bay drains to a quarter-mile-long mudflat at low tide. Optimal viewing is on an incoming or receding tide.

Continue about 450 yards farther along the dike to another gravel pullout and viewpoint for bay and beach, on the right. Look also for waterfowl on the impounded lake and surrounding agricultural fields on the left (west) side of the road. This is the most reliable location for swans on Whidbey Island, and large numbers of Canvasbacks may be present in late winter. Watch for raptors, including Rough-legged Hawk and Peregrine Falcon, and for a variety of passerines in the hedgerows and brush along the dike. Continue 0.2 mile to Jones Road. Turn left to reach SR-20 in 1.0 mile.

map deception pass


From Jones Road, continue north 3.4 miles on SR-20 and turn into the main entrance of picturesque Deception Pass State Park, on the left. Straddling the narrow, rocky channel separating Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, the park offers 3,000 acres of old-growth Douglas-fir forest, saltwater beaches, tidepools, and freshwater lakes and marshes. A variety of overnight, day-use, recreational, and educational facilities are available at Cranberry Lake and West Beach, North Beach, Cornet Bay, and Rosario Beach. Most facilities are open year round, but some are closed in winter. Deception Pass State Park is the most heavily used state park in Washington. Because of high summer visitation, birding is best in early morning or evening or in the off-season.

Turn left at a fork in 0.4 mile, near the park office, following signs to the West Beach parking lot (0.8 mile). The largest of the park’s freshwater lakes, Cranberry Lake, is on the left along the way. Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, and other waterbirds are sometimes present.

Also watch for the resident River Otters. Sand dunes separate the lake from West Beach, which has both rocky and sandy shoreline. Sea ducks, loons (especially Red-throated and Pacific), Horned and Red-necked Grebes, cormorants (all three species), and gulls may be seen offshore. Pigeon Guillemots and Marbled Murrelets are regular all year, and Rhinoceros Auklets are frequent in summer. Look for Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, and Sanderling on the beach. The rest of the park is dominated by coniferous forest, and the large trees and edge habitat will yield a list of typical lowland species, including Varied Thrush in winter. The other branch at the fork near the park office leads to North Beach and excellent water-level views of the mouth of Deception Pass, where Red-throated Loons can be numerous in winter on the right tide.

Rosario Beach, another portion of the park, lies across Canoe Pass near the southern tip of Fidalgo Island. Take SR-20 north over the bridge. Turn left onto Rosario Road (1.0 mile from the south end of the bridge). Angle left onto Cougar Gap Road in 0.8 mile; at the bottom of the hill turn left onto the park entrance road (Discover Pass required). This can be a very busy place on summer weekends. Walk out to Rosario Head (a five-minute walk) for views of Bowman Bay—a fine place for alcids (Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, and Rhinoceros Auklet) at all seasons, although late fall through winter is the best time. Ancient Murrelets are often present from November through January.

In winter, huge numbers of Red-throated Loons may congregate here. Offshore rocks may have Harlequin Ducks as well as Brandt’s Cormorants alongside Double-crested and Pelagic. Search the rocks to the north of the head for Black Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones, and keep an eye out for Wandering Tattlers (rare).

Return to SR-20 and drive north 5.1 miles to a major junction where SR-20 continues right (east) toward Burlington (I-5 Exit 230) and SR-20 Spur goes left to Anacortes and the San Juan Islands ferry terminal.

map more whidbey