Three Good Bets for Winter Birding

Black Oystercatchers

There are no certainties in birding, but there are places where it is possible to come close.  In the very heart of the Salish Sea, Deception Pass State Park offers great spots for viewing three special birds.

Black Oystercatchers

Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani)

During the fall and winter, look for them at West Beach resting on the large rock just offshore from the parking lot.  Mid to late morning seems to be the best time.  This is one of the few spots where they can be viewed inland from the Pacific coast.  The numbers that congregate here are also unusual.  Laid back, peaceable and a bit quirky, I consider them the most charming of all shorebirds.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Also at West Beach, there is a resident pair of Bald Eagles that can often be seen perching at the edge of the Dune Forest.  Like most predators, eagles spend a lot of time resting.  They can usually be seen in the tallest trees at the north end.  Look carefully, because they tend to blend right into the trees.  If they're not there, look along the western edge of the forest or even in the tallest trees at the shoreline.  Again, morning seems to be the best time.  Spotting these regal birds is always a pleasure.

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

In the breeding season, they head for the mountains.  During fall and winter, one of the best places to see them is at Rosario Beach in the north section of the park.  Take the western-most trail up to Rosario Head where you can look down onto Urchin Rocks and the tide pools.  I have seen as many as a dozen congregated there.  Sometimes they just perch and rest on the rocks.  They might be splashing and playing in the water near the rocks.  Other times they can be seen swimming and diving in the bay.  Incidentally, while you are at West Beach, a few might also be seen perching with the Black Oystercatchers.

Deception Pass State Park

West Beach is accessed from the main park entrance on Whidbey Island.  Veer left at the Y and continue past the lake to the parking lot.

In the winter, Rosario Beach is accessed from Bowman Bay.  From Highway 20, turn onto Rosario Road, then immediately left on Bowman Bay Road.  Hike the 0.5 mile/0.8 km Bowman-Rosario Trail to Rosario Beach.