BIRD WATCH: Look to the skies along Hood Canal for great birding

Because this body of water is popular with migrating birds, it is also one of those spots where the unexpected can be expected.

THE VIEW FROM my kitchen window reaches to the Olympic Mountains.

There is water at the foot of the mountains that I don’t see, but I know it is there.

Hood Canal’s telltale fog can obscure the mountains and cloak the canal on bright, sunny mornings.

The sun is shining everywhere. The sky is blue and the canal sits hidden beneath its own fog bank.

This can slow down migrating birds.

When visibility is low, they often wait for the clouds to lift.

The canal is a well-worn migration path. Thousands of birds travel along the eastern slope of the Olympics in the spring and fall.

Small songbirds may continue their low elevation traveling through the treetops and brush lining the shore, but higher-flying birds may have to sit out the low ceiling.

The canal is a major migration route for turkey vultures, some of which also pass over and through the Olympics.

They choose their route of travel based on prevailing winds.

Vultures catch the rising thermals and can soar to great heights and then in spinning “kettles” drift southward.

Because this body of water is popular with migrating birds, it is also one of those spots where the unexpected can be expected.

One fall, it was three or four white pelicans perched on a piece of driftwood as it floated southward.

Weather and winds probably pushed them way off course and the sight was something hard to believe.

A drive along the canal is best for birding when traveling on the western shore on Highway 101.

This takes you through Quilcene and past the road to the top of Mount Walker.

This is an excellent viewpoint for migrating birds.

After Mount Walker, continue heading south to where the Dosewallips River enters the canal.

Dosewallips State Park is one of the most popular birding areas on the canal.

An elevated viewing platform allows you to survey the large estuary created where the river enters the salt water.

Well-kept trails lead through the wetlands and to the canal’s shore. You can also bird along portions of the river.

In addition to the turkey vultures that are seen in this area, bald eagles also follow the canal as their migration route.

Many of these will be young birds hoping to catch any salmon feeding in the area.

They often have competition from California sea lions that can’t resist the seafood.

The estuary’s open marshlands attract both great blue herons and hunting hawks.

Both are looking for the small rodents found in the marsh.

Osprey that nested in the Northwest this summer have started moving southward, and their fish diet directs them to bodies of water like the canal.

They are another species seen in the vicinity of the Dosewallips and other viewing places along the water.

We can expect a wide variety of waterbirds on canal waters, and not all are migrants.

They’ve reached the end of their fall migration and will be settling in to spend the winter in these protected waters.

Large numbers of grebes, loons, ducks and sometimes swans feed and rest on Hood Canal.

They often feed some distance from the shore, especially on low tides, so binoculars are important and a scope makes a lot of difference.

Where there are stretches of exposed, sandy tidal flats, watch for shorebirds.

Western sandpipers, yellowlegs, turnstones and plovers are to be watched for.

Hood Canal and especially Dosewallips State Park provide a mix of habitats that create great bird-watching.

The next few weeks while the weather stays mild and the days are fairly long should be perfect for outdoor activities — like bird-watching.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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