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6 Birding Hot Spots in Whatcom County

Did you know that Whatcom County, in the northwest corner of Washington State, is home to six key locations on the Cascade Loop portion of the Audubon Society’s Great Washington State Birding Trail? Patient bird-watchers looking to fill in their checklists can find a rich variety of viewing sites to spot hundreds of species, especially waterfowl and birds of prey. From Trumpeter Swans to Bald Eagles to White-throated Swifts to the Lazuli Buntings... there are so many birds to explore in Bellingham and surrounding Whatcom County – all within an easy, 30-mile span. 

This area is officially recognized as the most northerly “Important Bird Area of Washington.” This pristine, shallow marine habitat with extensive intertidal mudflats is adjacent to the U.S.-Canadian border in Blaine, WA. Loons, Brant, Dunlin, Great Blue Herons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead, mallards, ducks, grebes and many other migrating aquatic birds are common here in great numbers, carefully eluding Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons who nest high in the surrounding evergreens. 

Semiahmoo Bay is noted by Audubon Washington for supporting “large flocks of all three scoter species; Greater Scaup, four grebe species, many duck species, including Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks; and small numbers of alcids. Up to 650 loons have been counted here in a single day. Five surveys conducted throughout one winter in Drayton Harbor showed a total of more than 15,000 loons. The highest recorded counts of Red-necked Grebes and Horned Grebes on the Washington Coast occurred in this census.”  

2. Birch Bay State Park

This state park features walking trails on 1.5 miles of saltwater shoreline and 3 miles of freshwater shoreline on Terrell Creek. Acrobatic Dunlin flocks can number in the thousands each winter, alongside Black-bellied Plovers. Brant migrating from Mexico to their arctic breeding grounds also stop here to refuel on the plentiful herring that spawn in the shallow seawater. 

Birch Bay was named for its black birch trees by Archibald Menzies, a member of the 1792 Vancouver expedition. The park’s sweeping views look north to the Canadian Gulf Islands.  

3. Tennant Lake

This wildlife area in Ferndale, WA offers visitors their own “birds-eye view” from a 50-foot tower over looking a shallow lake surrounded by extensive wetlands, open fields, forest and riparian zone. The 150 species frequently observed here include honking Canada Geese, stately Great Blue Herons and majestic Bald Eagles, as well as multiple species of owls, hawks and woodpeckers.  

Trails at Tennant Lake include a one-mile long, wood-plank boardwalk loop over the water, meandering under a canopy of Alder and five species of water-loving Willow trees. Listen carefully for Chickadees, Red-winged Blackbirds and Virginia Rail. In the tall water grasses, Marsh Wren use cattail fluff to build their nests. Washington’s state bird, the American Goldfinch, is a common visitor in summer months. In the winter months, snowy-white Trumpeter Swans are also common at Tennant Lake.  

4. Whatcom Falls Park & Scudder's Pond

This enchanting city park in Bellingham, WA features five miles of wide trails through 209 acres of conifer forest and freshwater wetlands, including Scudder Pond -- an urban wildlife preserve owned by the North Cascades Audubon Society and located inside the park. The pond is surrounded by tall grasses and cattails, sheltering Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Green and Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Virginia Rails, and Soras. Look carefully for ducklings, which are a common spring delight.  

5. Larrabee State Park

Rounding out Whatcom County’s best birding locations is Larrabee State Park, spanning 2,683 acres, including 8,100 feet of saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay, tidelands, coves and two freshwater lakes. Established in 1915 as Washington’s first state park, Larrabee occupies most of the west side of Chuckanut Mountain and is connected to Bellingham city limits via the well-maintained Interurban Trail. 

The park’s topographic diversity from sea level to 1,940 feet elevation supports a variety of bird habitat. Great Horned, Western Screech, Northern Pygmy and Barred Owls are year-round residents. This is common territory for Pileated Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsuckers, as well as wintering Bald Eagles. Marine birds include Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Great Blue Herons and colorful Harlequin Ducks.

6. Deming Homestead Eagle Park

Whatcom County joins the Skagit Valley as home to the largest concentration of wintering Trumpeter Swans in the lower 48 states, taking advantage of the open, agricultural landscape. 

Located along the Nooksack River on the Mt. Baker Highway, Deming Homestead Eagle Park is a 100-acre preserve owned by the Whatcom Land Trust and known locally for its spectacular access to wintering Bald Eagles, as five species of salmon use the river for spawning. The cedar-lined river banks are also home to Evening Grosbeaks, Steller’s Jays, American Dippers, Harlequin Ducks and Yellow-rumped Warblers.