Washington State Murrelets

Very very unlikely, actually impossible that you will see a Marbled Murrelet like this one, but this downy chick was just too cute not to share.

After my talk at Nisqually NWR last night, several people asked me where they can see Marbled Murrelets in Washington State. Many seemed ready to head out into the old-growth forest to pitch a tent or lawn chair for a Dawn Stakeout.

So, here is some guidance to where the birds are. Make sure you visit the "About the Bird" page of my website where you can hear the murrelet's distinctive "keer" call. This is important as it will help you spot them as they fly overhead at high speeds, looking not unlike a dark meteor.

Right now (mid-August) the birds are nearing the end of the chick-rearing stage in the forests; many chicks have already fledged or will be doing so until late September. Until the chicks fledge, the adults will be making regular daily flights in from the sea carrying small fish to feed their chicks. The adults make most these feeding visits--from 1 to 8 visits a day--early in the morning, usually before sunrise. Other visits are made around dusk. These are low-light times and afford the murrelets protection from diurnal predators such as hawks and falcons.

Marbled Murrelets are widely distributed in coastal areas of Washington and are closely associated with old-growth coastal forests. Luckily, we still have these forests within Olympic National Forest, Olympic National Park, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF, Gifford Pinchot NF, North Cascades NP, Mt. Rainier NP, the Makah, Lummi, and Quinault Reservations, and Department of Natural Resources lands.

They inhabit the calm, shallow coastal waters and bays and are concentrated in the southern and eastern end of the Stariti fo Juan de Fuca, Sequim, Disovery and Chuckanut Bays, the San Juan Islands, and Puget Sound. The Skokomish Delta along Hood Canal is a good spot; guided birding tours are offered by Skokomish Dept. of Natural Resources on the second Saturday of every month (http://www.skokomish.org/). Twanoh State Park, also along Hood Canal, is a 182-acre state park with coniferous forests.

During the breeding season (late April through September) your best bets are on the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. Tongue Point (at Salt Creek Recreation Area on Hwy 101) and Discovery Creek Recreation Area (between Sequim and Port Angeles off Hwy 101). Areas of high concentration include the south shore of Lopez Island, the southwest shore of Lummi Island, and Obstruction and Peavine Passes between Orcas and Blakely Island in the San Juan Islands. Try Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. My adventure on the radio-tagging boats began at Ediz Hook in Port Angeles; birds will be flying off the water there and heading into the Olympic NF and NP forests.

Birders in Olympia tell me they have seen Marbled Murrelets as close in as Boston Harbor (on the water). Our common local alcid in South Puget Sound is a relative of the Marbled Murrelet, the Pigeon Guillemot; they are out on the water now with their young.

If you're in the forest looking for Murrelets, it's best to pitch your tent or folding chair where you can see a large patch of sky through the trees. Make sure you're alert, focused, mindful, and very quiet 45 minutes before sunrise. Tip your head back and scan the sky for small, high-speed silhouettes. If you're like me (oh no!) you'll hear the murrelets calling well before you will be able to spot them. It takes some practice to hear the call and turn your head toward quickly enough to see it before it vanishes into the forest. For the next two hours (until 75 minutes after sunrise) keep gazing at the sky, turning your body around, making little crop circles with your feet. If you are lucky, you'll hear and see the birds. If you don't see or hear any, you are still lucky. You've spent a morning in Murrelet Country.

Please contact me through my website if you've been successful or have new places to add to this list.