Just outside of Port Townsend is an amazing National Wildlife Refuge — Protection Island.
Nearly 70 percent of the nesting seabird population of Puget Sound and the Straits nest on the island, which includes one of the largest nesting colonies of rhinoceros auklets in the world and the largest nesting colony of glaucous-winged gulls in Washington. The island contains one of the last 2 nesting colonies of tufted puffins in the Puget Sound area. About 1,000 harbor seals depend upon the island for a pupping and rest area.
This 364-acre island is covered by grass and low brush, with a small timbered area, high sandy bluffs for seabird nesting, and low sand spits on two ends of the island.
The Port Townsend Marine Science Center – in collaboration with Puget Sound Express – hosts special expeditions to Protection Island. Cruises are scheduled on Saturdays in spring, timed to coincide with annual migrations.
For 2023 Puffin tours we are changing our destination from exclusively Protection Island, to potentially Protection Island or Smith Island. In recent years more puffins have been returning to Smith Island so depending on the greater population the captain will ultimately determine which is best to visit for this tour. We will only have time to go to one or the other, not both while out on this tour. Luckily the puffin population in recent years has increased so your chances are good to view them during the summer and at either island
Photo by David Gluckman
A special treat each summer is a chance to view tufted puffins.
As every birder knows, no guarantee can be made that they will be sighted on every outing, but chances are very good that they will be spotted especially on the south side of the island in the summer months. Like rhinoceros auklets, for which Protection Island is the major nesting site, the puffins use burrows in the cliffs and uplands to raise one or sometimes two chicks.
The chance to see them carrying many small fish at one time in their bills, or even swimming, flying, or diving, is exciting.