Watching Seabirds from Land
in the Pacific Northwest

Site Guide
Tips & Techniques
Recommended References
It's coming on winter and the Pacific cyclones are marching in, one after another. When the barometer's dropped and there's a 7 on the Beaufort Scale my mind wanders to deep water pelagic species blown in with the rain.

 With a lot of help from my friends, I have put together the favorite land based seawatch sites along the Pacific Coast. I have tried to discuss not only the most productive site, but also sites with good access for watching from a vehicle or good cover. As often as not, some of the best weather for finding the best seabirds are on the days when walking to a lookout is least inviting.

1. Brown Point Jetty near Ocean Shores, Grays Harbor Co., WA
Washington DeLorme pg 58:A2

 There is a place near the base of the jetty where one may park and look out over Grays Harbor. The Jetty is about a 100m walk, 500m to the end of the jetty.

 Best Birds: 2 Thick-billed Murres on a Christmas Count

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Orca, Harbor Porpoise, Pinnepeds and a Sea Otter!

 Comments:"...zillions of loons, cormorants, waterfowl, gulls, shorebirds and other alcids that make it a mind-boggling experience if conditions are right! The rarities provide the oh-so-skimpy occasional dab of icing on the rich, many layered chocolate cake of the overall experience." -Dennis Paulsen

 2. North Head Lighthouse near Ilwaco, Pacific Co., WA
Washington DeLorme pg 58:B1 (Oregon DeLorme pg 70:B1)

 There is no good place to view from a car. One must walk about 400m to the light house for best viewing.

 Best Birds: Pomarine Jaeger

 Mammals: Gray Whales

 3. Cape Disappointment and the North Jetty of the Columbia River near Ilwaco, Pacific Co. WA
Washington DeLorme pg58:B1 (Oregon DeLorme pg 70:B1 )

 Handicapped parking is available within 20m of the information center/museum at Cape Disappointment, parking for able-bodied folk is at the base of the small hill below the center (counting switchbacks, about 100m). In the info center is a large window that looks out over the North Jetty making this one of the most pleasant places around for watching the ocean.

 By driving through Fort Canby, one can park within about 150m of the North Jetty. A walk to the end is about 1km and not recommended during extreme high tides or bad weather though the walk is shorter and generally easier then walking out the South Jetty on the Oregon side of the Columbia.

 Best Birds: Pink-footed Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Elegant Tern

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Orca, Harbor Porpoise, Pinnepeds

 Comments: "Probably one of the more underrated seabird watching spots on the coast and most certainly the best place to build up two state lists simultaneously." -Mike Patterson

 4. South Jetty of the Columbia River near Hammond, Clatsop Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 70:C1 (Washington DeLorme pg 58:C1)

 A viewing platform is next to the jetty within 20m of the parking lot. The jetty is about 4km long and a trip out to the end involves considerable rock hopping. Most people who try this trek give up at the 1st bend (about 1.5km).

 A dune level parking lot a the wreck of the Peter Iredale about 6km south of the South Jetty gives reasonably good viewing of the ocean from a car.

 Best Birds: Black-vented Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-petrel, Least Tern, American Redstart, Bristle-thighed Curlew

Mammals: Gray Whale, Orca, Harbor Porpoise, Pinnepeds

 5. Seaside Cove (Ocean Vista Dr.), Seaside, Clatsop Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 64:A1

 Best Birds: Yellow-billed Loon, King Eider, Northern Fulmar, Short-tailed Shearwate, Horned Puffin

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Humpbacked Whale, Harbor Porpoise, Elephant Seal, other Pinnepeds

 The best spot for scoping this area has been turned over to condominiums, but the parking lot north of the Lanai Motel allows pretty good ocean viewing from a car.

 Comments: If you own a surf board, try paddling out among the 10 000 scoters that congregate in the lee of Tillamook Head.

6. Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Clatsop Co., OR
Oregon DeLorm e pg 64:A1

 Ecola State Park has a day use fee of $3.00.  The Oregon State Parks day use annual pass is also good here.  There are 2 good areas in the park

Best Birds: Northern Fulmar, Short-tailed Shearwater, Oldsquaw

Mammals: Gray Whale, Sperm Whale, Pinnepeds

Comments: About 5km south in Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock a principle nesting site for Tufted Puffin (about 150 pair) and a reliable year-round spot for Harlequin Ducks.

7. Silver Point View Point on Hwy 101 just south of Cannon Beach
Oregon DeLorme pg64:B1

This is the best spot in Clatsop County for watching birds from the car, though you'll see more if you set up your scope right at the wall.

Best Birds: Northern Fulmar, shearwaters, Leach's Storm-petrel, Sabine's Gull

Mammals: Gray Whale, Steller's Sealion

8. Cape Meares State Park near Cape Meares, Tillamook Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 58:A1

 There are no spots to view from a car. There are several viewpoints from 50-500m from the parking lot. Obviously, the best of these is furthest from the car.

 Best Birds : Sabine's Gull

 Mammals: Gray Whale

 9.Cape Lookout State Park near Sandlake, Tillamook Co.,OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 58:B1

 It's a long walk out to the end (about 2.5m) through a beautiful forest, probably not what most of us would want to do on a stormy day in November, but some very intriguing things have been seen from here.

 Best birds: Horned Puffin (5 of 8 records listed in Rare Birds of Oregon, Schmidt, 1989)

 10. Boiler Bay near Depoe Bay, Lincoln Co., OR Oregon DeLorme pg 32:B1

 The most often mentioned seabird spotting site on the Oregon Coast and for good reason. It is possible to do some spotting from the car, the best plan is to take the short walk across the lawn to the fence.

 Best Birds: Mottled Petrel, Black-vented and Manx Shearwaters, Laysan Albatross, Horned Puffin, Xantus' Murrelet(and the list keeps growing at a rate too hard to keep up with)

 Mammals: Gray Whale

 Comments: This is a very good spot for finding alcids. It's also not a bad spot for Rock Sandpiper.

 11. Cape Foulweather near Otter Rock, Lincoln Co., OR
Oregon Delorme pg 32:B1

 The parking lot is placed in such a way that car viewing is obstructed, but the walk to adequate viewing is very short.

 Best birds: Tufted Puffin

 Mammals: Gray Whale

 12. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area near Newport, Lincoln Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 32:C1

Yaquina Head is a operated by the BLM and there is a per vehicle charge of $5.00 (annual passes are also available). There are several spots where viewing from the car is possible, though one may have to contend with traffic. It is best to park at the parking lot and take the short walk to the fence.

 Best birds: Blue-footed Booby, Buller's Shearwater, Northern Fulmar

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Pinnepeds

 Comments: 6km south is Yaquina Bay. The easiest access is on the south jetty side. This is one of the more consistent spots for finding Oldsquaw.

 13. Heceta Head and Devil's Elbow near Florence, Lane Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 32:C2

 There are several good pullouts along hwy 101 where watching by car is possible.

 Best birds: Another fairly large Tufted Puffin nesting site

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Northern Sealion

 Comments: The privately operated Sealion Caves is 2km south. This is one of the largest breeding sites for Northern Sealions. Rhinoceros Auklets also nest here.

 14. Cape Arago near Coos Bay, Coos Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 33:B5

 One can scope from a car, but only from a distance. The one exception being a pullout north of the Cape. It is an easy stroll to the edge.

 Best birds:Black-footed Albatross , Short-tailed Shearwater, King Eider

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Pinnepeds

 Comments:"I once imagined I saw a Sea Otter from here" -Mike Patterson

 15. Bandon Jetty and Coquille Pt., Bandon, Coos Co., OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 33:D5

One can get a pretty fairly look at the ocean from the jetty or from one pullouts between there and Coquille Pt.

 Best birds: 1000 Ancient Murrelets

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Pinnepeds

 16. Cape Blanco near Port Orford, Curry Co.,OR
Oregon DeLorme pg 24 B4

 The US Coast Guard still uses Cape Blanco making a watch from the point difficult unless one joins the Coast Guard and manages to get stationed there. The State Park provides fair viewing to the south.

 17. Pigeon Point near Pescadero, San Mateo Co., CA

 Best birds: Ashy Storm-petrel, Black-vented Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Humpbacked Whale

 It is possible to scope from the car, but better views are possible with a short (10m) walk.

18. Pacific Grove, Monterey Co., CA

 You can watch the ocean easily from your car.

 Mammals: Gray Whale, Blue Whale

Tips & Techniques

 1. Your primary goal should be to keep your optics dry. This is part of the reason for the emphasis on birding from the car. Carry a cotton handkercheif for drying lenses. If your scope is a non-sealed type, be careful to avoid leakage through connections. Don't be afraid to use plastic bags and duct tape to seal joints. If the inside of your scope fogs up, you're done for the day. Figure 1 shows the Contreras Rain Shield (patent pending), a devise which has proven reasonably efficient at protecting the objective lens from rain. The Big Umbrella Clamp (figure 2) is still undergoing field trials, but the inventor has high hopes for the devise on calm to moderately inclement days.

 2. So, let's talk about scopes. The serious seawatcher will find ordinary field binoculars frustrating. A spotting scope is very necessary. If you have the money, buy a sealed scope filled with inert gas ($700+). A good, sturdy spotting scope (unsealed) can be purchased for about $250.00 and will serve well. Generally speaking, if the scope looks small and delicate, it won't last. A good review of spotting scopes can be found at the rec.birds Monthly Optics for Birding FAQ. I recommend a single power 20x or 25x eye piece lens. Telephoto lens typically have poorer resolution and more moving parts to screw up.

 3. And tripods? You get what you pay for. The heavier the tripod, the better the performance in the wind. Avoid cheap video camera tripods.

 4. It is unlikely that you will have the opportunity to get descent photos of the birds you see (though sometimes you might get lucky). Be prepared to take notes. There are some nice waterproof notebooks on the market these days. Carry one with you.


 Evanich, Joseph. 1990. The Birder's Guide to Oregon. Portland Audubon Society, Portland

 Grant, P.J. 1986. Gulls: a guide to identification (2nd ed.). Buteo Books, Vermillion ND

 Harrison, Peter. 1983. Seabirds: an identification guide. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston

 Harrison, Peter. 1987. A Field Guide to Seabirds of the World. Stephen Greene Press, Lexington MA

 Wahl, Terence & Dennis Paulson. 1991. A Guide to Bird Finding in Washington. Wahl Publishing, Bellingham WA


 I was helped by the following people who were kind enough to respond to my survey on favorite spots:

Dave Bailey
Alan Contreras
MerryLynn Denny
Greg Gillson
Charity L Hagen
Alvaro Jaramillo
Dennis Paulson
Peggi Rodgers

This page was revised October 12, 2002
Send comments to Mike Patterson