TBT | Whidbey Island January 2015

A few days ago we took a family drive to Deception Pass State Park, and I mentioned that we had visited last January as well. I thought I would share the details of that trip!

Hubs’ birthday is in January, and we have a history of taking very cold road trips to celebrate. Last year we were offered a stay in a cabin in Langley, and made the most of our weekend on the island by spending every second of every day outdoors. It was chilly and foggy for most of our trip, but we didn’t mind.

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Overcast days are our favorite days to be outside. No sunburns and no glare on our camera.

Our first stop on the island was Fort Casey. The old military buildings still remain, in disrepair, and are open for the public to explore. They were cool and creepy, and slightly dangerous – lots of slippery high places with no railings. The bluffs above the beach offered great views of passing ships.

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A short trail down the hills leads to a ferry dock to Port Townsend. Next to the dock is a small cove, which had plenty of diving ducks for us to cross off our list.

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Continuing on past the dock, we found Crockett Lake on our left. There is some fascinating history surrounding the lake, but all that visibly remains are the pilings left behind from an old bridge.

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The lake is a remarkable animal habitat. Freshwater on one side and fed through a narrow inlet at high tide on the other, the water is mainly brackish and attracts a huge number of wintering birds which might not typically be found in the same environments. We walked the length of the lake, carefully stepping through the sedge and mudflats to get as close as possible to the mucky water for the best view of the birds. As beginning birders we struggled to keep track of the sheer number of species we were spotting, and likely missed quite a few, though we did add 22 new species to our log that day.

Blue herons were numerous, we saw all types of merganser, and were enthralled with the large raft of Northern pintail swimming out in the middle. We were momentarily stumped by this beautiful accipiter until we realized it was the male counterpart to our familiar female Northern Harrier from our own wetland at home (once he flew off, the while band on his tail gave him away). We shortly saw a female hunting near him, and witnessed them hovering over the marsh together, perching every now and then, for a few hours.

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After we had reached the end of the lake we crossed the highway and walked back along the rocky seashore. On this side we found more diving seaducks, a particularly noisy eagle, and a few of these gorgeous Lion’s Mane Jellyfish washed up on shore:

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Tired, chilly, and fulfilled, we drove back to our cabin, but stopped first at the Village Pizzeria in Langley, which has been a must every time we’ve ever come to the island.

The next day I awoke at dawn, which came slowly in the dense fog. Our cabin looked out on Langley’s small marina, and all along the pilings were Great Blue Herons in silhouette, preening and waiting for the light with which to fish. As the sky brightened I saw cormorants beginning to stretch their wings, and then loons, grebes, and diving ducks getting their fishing in before the boat traffic really began.

We got going early too. We headed to Coupeville first, for breakfast, and then drove north to Deception Pass. We started at West Beach and walked the interpretive trail loop through the dunes.

We spied Black Oystercatchers (aka carrot noses):

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A pair of Bald Eagles who were feeling very chatty:

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And all of the beauty of a slightly spooky beachside forest in winter:

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This short trip was really one of our favorites that we have taken together. Beachgoing seems like such a summer pastime, but visiting spots like these in the winter offers a different experience that we tend to prefer. No crowds, plenty of wildlife, lots of natural beauty. Actually, I really enjoy seeing all environments in various seasons to fully be able to appreciate them. Whidbey Island is worth the trip any time of year.

Places visited: Whidbey Island – Langley, Fort Casey + Crockett Lake, Coupeville + Penn Cove, Deception Pass State Park (West Beach + Cranberry Lake).

Species Observed: Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk (Rufous morph), Killdeer, Black Oystercatcher, Glaucous-winged Gull, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Belted Kingfisher, Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet,  Varied Thrush, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Brewer’s Blackbird, White-tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbit, Harbor Seal, Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.

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