Toungue Point Recreation Area

by Diann MacRae
Tongue Point on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula and the surrounding localities of Freshwater Bay, Striped Peak, Salt Water Estuary, and Crescent Bay are interesting and varied areas in which to bird. Turkey Vultures congregate here in large numbers in the fall, many having just made the over-water journey from Vancouver Island. Alcids and sea ducks are also found along the rocky shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and marsh and land birds abound in the estuaries and forested areas.

Salt Creek (Clallam) County Park and Recreational Area covers much of Tongue Point. The extensive kelp beds make this area one of the top skindiving spots in Washington. Otters and seals can be seen around the undulating mats of seaweed and driftwood, and gray whales have been seen farther offshore.

At low tides, you can walk out on the rocks of Tongue Point, view the tide pools, and see the birds in a better perspective. Ruddy Turnstones and RockSandpipers are occasionally seen on these rocks. Black Oystercatchers nest there. Harlequin Ducks, Surf Scotem, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Murres, Tufted Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets, and other alcids can regularly be seen in the water offshore.

There are 90 campsites at Salt Creek Park, hosting the usual chorus of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Redbreasted Nuthatches, Winter Wrens, and Chestnut-backed and Blackcapped Chickadees. Blue Grouse, Band-tailed Pigeons, Belted Kingfishers, the daggetti race of the Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Flickers, Swainson’s Thrushes, Solitary Vireos, and several warblers have also been seen.

The Salt Creek estuary is a good spot to see Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys. There is a small parking lot belonging to the park just before Crescent Beach. Half of Salt Creek, which empties into Crescent Bay, is owned by the county, while the other half is privately owned and not open to the public except for a fee.

The county road goesjust behind the Crescent Bay beach from the roadside or from your car. I was told by a park ranger that there is a $3 charge to walk the beach, but I saw no one to collect such a fee. Striped Peak, just east ofSalt Creek Park, has turned out to be a fine hawkwatching site. With a grant to research the Turkey Vulture migration off Vancouver Island, and with advice from Fred Sharpe and Port Angeles-area birders, I chose this as a likely observation point. It is almost directly across from the Rocky Point military base on Vancouver Island, where most of the hundreds of B.C. vultures are counted by Victoria birders.

Striped Peak sits between Freshwater Bay and Tongue Point, and at its highest point is 1,166feet above sea level. The hawkwatch is a couple of hundred feet lower at the end of the access road. The area is beautiful, with some old growth forest below andthe straits spread out in front. Unfortunately, walking a few hundred feet to the rear (south) provides an extensive view of thousands of acres of clearcut – but we come for the fall migration and only look north!

The rough total for Turkey Vultures from this site in the fall of 1992 was 1,158.Alsoseen were 176redtails, one Northern Goshawk, five Cooper’s Hawks, 78 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 26 Bald Eagles, one Osprey, one peregrine and two Merlins. Turkey Vultures were seen in fairly large numbers every day from September 27th (when we counted 656) to October 4th (when 133 were recorded).

We will be there again this fall (the last week of September is best) and would welcome anyone who would like to help with the vulture watch. To reach the hawkwatch site on Striped Peak, followUS 101west from Port Angeles; turn right on State Route 112 – about 11 miles altogether then right again on Freshwater Bay Road. Follow the road for 2.1 miles, then take the left-hand, uphill road (just before the boat landing at a small pond on the left) for 2.1 miles. Pull through the parking area to the northfacing slope.

Salt Creek Park and Tongue Point are 2.7 miles farther west of SR 112. Turn right at Camp Hayden Road and follow the road 4.2 miles to the campground. To reach Crescent Bay and Salt Creek estuary, continue on the Camp Hayden Road past the campground for about 0.3 miles. 22622 53rd Avenue SE