Luhr Beach

Text by Patrick Sullivan — Photos by Jane Hadley

Luhr Beach is located along the southern border of the Nisqually Reach, just west of the Nisqually Delta in northern Thurston County. The exact location is at Nisqually Head. This site offers access to fishermen and hunters, in season, and great potential for birding, particularly many species of waterbirds. A spotting scope is highly recommended for the open water viewing.

There are several vantage points to scope from within the area around the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, including the public boat launch area and the large covered pier (pictured at right and below) that offers great cover when it’s raining. {NOTE: As of August 2010, US Fish & Wildlife has found the pier to be unsafe and has roped it off. Read their findings here.}

In past years, this location has produced some very noteworthy species, specifically during the fall of 2004 with increased coverage by several local and visiting birders. Luhr Beach appears to be highly productive throughout the year and you never know what may show up, especially during migration. An active oyster farm lies immediately northwest of Luhr Beach and seems to attract good numbers of Surf and White-winged scoters, with Black Scoters occasionally noted, plus Common Goldeneyes and other shellfish-eating species.

Since the area lies within a short distance of the Nisqually Delta, many species can be seen from the vast, exposed mudflats when tide conditions are most favorable. During the winter season, however, conditions can be quite slow due to hunting on the nearby Nisqually NWR. When weather is good, a thorough scan of Nisqually Reach can be made, probably best from the covered dock since it sticks out farthest from shore at the mouth of McAllister Creek and overlooking the Nisqually Delta.

The numerous noteworthy records past and present from Luhr Beach follow below, primarily of waterbird and shorebird species:

Northern Fulmar
Brown Pelican
Harlequin Duck
Pacific Golden Plover
Wandering Tattler
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Red Knot
Sanderling
Baird’s Sandpiper
Parasitic Jaeger
Franklin’s Gull
Arctic Tern
Ancient Murrelet
Leach’s Storm Petrel
Long-tailed Duck
Prairie Falcon
Willet
Whimbrel
Ruddy Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Long-tailed Jaeger
Heermann’s Gull
Forster’s Tern
Cassin’s Auklet

Most, if not all, of these listed species were encountered by thorough coverage made by several Thurston County birders, but the area has evident potential. Significant records at this location were tallied during late August 2004, beginning with a fly-by adult Long-tailed Jaeger observed at very close range from below by Patrick and Ruth Sullivan.

The next great species to follow the Long-tailed Jaeger was a very probable Long-billed Murrelet observed by Keith Brady, Jason Paulios, and Steve Nord on the 27th of August. Neither of these species could be relocated despite extensive searching, but it proves that anything is possible here. The main enjoyment from Luhr Beach is the easy access and the proximity to other good birding areas, including the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Main attractions are waterbird species, such as localized wintering Eared Grebes within the Nisqually Reach and a small nesting colony of Purple Martins that use established nestboxes situated on the covered wooden dock and several nearby pilings. All are closely monitored.

Link to Luhr Beach Website

Directions to Luhr Beach are as follows:

Traveling northbound on I-5, take the Nisqually Exit (Exit 114), turn right at the end of the off-ramp and go a short distance to the intersection with Martin Way East. Turn right onto Martin Way and continue southwest and uphill to the first stoplight, which is at Meridian Road. Turn right onto Meridian and proceed north on Meridian Road passing over I-5. At the first roundabout, proceed to the right continuing on Meridian Road NE. Continue on Meridian Road for a few more miles to 46th Avenue, then turn right at that intersection. Travel a short distance on 46th Avenue to the first road on your left, which is Milluhr Dr NE. Signs for public fishing and the nature center will help guide you. Continue on this road to Luhr Beach and the public fishing area and nature center parking lot along with a single public restroom that is accessible at the upper parking area. There are several viewing areas with vantage points from which you can scope the open water of the Nisqually Reach north to Anderson Island and beyond.

Traveling southbound on I-5, take the Nisqually Exit (Exit 114) and follow the exit to the left under I-5 a short distance to the intersection of Martin Way East and the Nisqually Cut-Off Road Southeast. Continue straight ahead and then uphill on Martin Way East to the first stoplight, which is at Meridian Road. Turn right onto Meridian and proceed north on Meridian Road passing over I-5. At the first roundabout, proceed to the right continuing on Meridian Road NE. Continue on Meridian Road for a few more miles to 46th Avenue, then turn right at that intersection. Travel a short distance on 46th Avenue to the first road on your left, which is Milluhr Dr NE. Signs for public fishing and the nature center will help guide you. Continue on this road to Luhr Beach and the public fishing area and nature center parking lot along with a single public restroom that is accessible at the upper parking area. There are several viewing areas with vantage points from which you can scope the open water of the Nisqually Reach north to Anderson Island and beyond.

Another area to visit near Luhr Beach is along the Nisqually Cut Off Road, which lies just southeast and across I-5 from the Nisqually NWR. Nisqually Cut Off Road intersects with Martin Way E. near I-5’s Exit 114. This area offers substantial potential for open area species such as limited numbers of waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, and gulls, plus other species from the vast, open delta.