Whether you are a “lister” or an explorer, the Salish Sea provides tremendous birdwatching opportunities. Puget Sound Express offers the Pacific Northwest’s only birdwatching tours dedicated to getting you out to see marine birds.
A special treat each summer is a chance to view tufted puffins. Just outside of Port Townsend are two iconic National Wildlife Refuges — Protection Island and Smith Island. Protection Island contains one of the last 2 nesting colonies of tufted puffins in the Puget Sound area. In recent years, more puffins have been returning to nearby Smith Island Refuge, so depending on the greater population the captain will ultimately determine which Refuge is best to visit for any particular tour.
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. 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.
Photo by David Gluckman
Beyond puffins, Smith and Protection Islands are beacons to a wide array of sea and shorebirds.
Depending on the time of year, some of the more common species we see include California Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Heermann’s Gull, Rhinoceros Auklet, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Murre, Red-necked Grebe, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Sanderling, Black Turnstone, Surf Scooter, Ring-billed Gull, Tufted Puffin, Caspian Tern, White-winged Scoter, Harlequin Duck, Black Oystercatcher, Brant, and Red-necked Phalarope.
However, we see many other types of species as well.