The area includes the marine waters in Deception Pass State Park Deception Pass Bridge west past West Point to Deception Island and past Lighthouse Point to Northwest Island. The bridge crosses the narrowest point of Deception Pass, a rocky notch that separates Whidbey Island (Island County) and Fidalgo Island (Skagit County). Much of Puget Sound is a deep fjord, but Deception Pass is narrow and shallow. Huge volumes of tidewater funnel through at speeds up to 8 knots. Water speeds decrease rapidly within 0.5 mile of the pass. The waters of Deception Pass are bounded by rocky shores and cliffs with a few beaches.
Deception Pass State Park resides in both Island and Skagit Counties and encompasses the proposed Marine Foraging Area. ?Washington?s most popular state park, comprising 4,162 acres in Island and Skagit counties, Deception Pass State Park offers a breath-taking bridge, old growth forest, over 300 campsites, 10 kitchen shelters, two fresh water lakes, 10 boat ramps, 14 miles of shoreline, 40 miles of trails and kayaking, bird watching, clamming, crabbing, fresh and salt water swimming, scuba diving, fishing, sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and stunning views. In addition to the Whidbey Island sites described here, the park includes water access north of Deception Pass Bridge at Pass Lake, Bowman Bay and Rosario Head. Saltwater moorage is available at Cornet Bay and Bowman Bay. Deception Pass State Park is the most-visited state park in Washington.? (Washington State University (WSU) Extension ? Island County, Island County Marine Resources Committee, and WSU Beach Watchers.
2006. Getting to the Water's Edge on Whidbey & Camano islands. 176 pages.)

Ornithological Summary

During winter months, large numbers of diving birds fly in to feed, particularly loons, cormorants, grebes, mergansers and alcids. Common and Pacific loons regularly forage here, but it?s the Red-throated Loons that converge in overwhelming numbers. Although there has not been a systematic study of this seasonal phenomenon, according to Bob Kuntz, lead Wildlife Biologist at North Cascades National Park and compiler of the Padilla Bay Christmas Bird Count, the loons are present in some concentrations from mid-November to early April, with the largest numbers during December, January and February.
In winter, rock outcrops are frequented by Black Oystercatchers. In summer, oystercatchers nest on at least one of the small islands. More than 300 Pigeon Guillemots gather in the area each spring for pair-bonding, and they nest on the cliffs.

Terence Wahl, Birds of Washington: Status and Distribution, on Red-throated Loon (p. 74):
? ?Most often seen singly or in small groups but hundreds may aggregate at prime feeding locations. High counts in the N. inland marine waters were in shallow estuaries, in nearshore waters during herring spawn events. Several hundred may be observed feeding locally in tidal currents (e.g. 2000 birds at Deception Pass on 26 Feb 2000).?

Bob Merrick (International Shorebird Survey,) in e-mails to me in 2006:
? ?The loons start to show up in numbers during December and the most reliable time for them to gather seems to be about an hour to 45 min before high tide at Port Townsend. The bulk of the loons are RTLO but there are numbers of Pacific and Common Loons also, as well as Cormorants, Mergansers, [pigeon guillemots] and gulls. The whole phenomenon lasts about an hour as the loons gather in long lines offshore, then fly in to feed, drifting out and returning, until, sated, they once again gather in long lines offshore before dispersing. At the maximum outflow there must be lots of aquatic life stirred up near the surface for the loons to feed on.? ? ?It is obvious that loons gather from all over north and west Puget Sound to feed at the maximum outflow.?

Andy Stepniewski (Yakima). Report on Tweeters on 2/22/08 about a President?s Day Weekend field trip to Puget Sound. Of their visit to Deception Pass State Park on February 17, 2008:
? ?Though thronging with holiday seekers we timed our visit here with ebb tide through Deception Pass. Vast volumes of water squeeze through the pass (over a geologic structure under the pass known as a sill) creating a current upwards of 18 knots. This outpouring creates an impressive tidal rip twice daily. We witnessed hundreds of Red-throated Loons working this tidal rip, flying upstream, then plopping in the water, then disappearing underwater to catch fish stirred by the roiling current, then surfacing "downstream." Reaching slack water offshore, the birds repeated their flight upstream. Brandt's Cormorants, Red-breasted Mergansers, Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled Murrelets, and Common Murres were also taking advantage of easy fishing here. A Black Oystercatcher on the shore here was new on our trip list.?

Sarah Schmidt, field notes, January 21, 2008, from atop West Point:
? Crystal clear, cold, windless and sunny. We arrived an hour before Port Townsend high tide. There were a few dozen Red-throated Loons, some flocks of Western Grebes and a number of Pigeon Guillemots in the waters of Deception Pass. To the west, offshore in Rosario Strait, the spotting scope revealed huge flocks of Red-throated Loons resting, many with heads tucked; I estimated over 1,000. [Some could have been Pacific Loons, they were too distant for certain ID.] At 1:30 pm, as the outflow increased pace, they began flying in and landing in Deception Pass. You could look offshore and see scattered flashes of white as dozens, then hundreds lifted into flight. They settled in loose flocks in the outer part of Deception Pass, between our vantage point and Lighthouse Point to the northeast, Rosario Head to the northwest, and Deception Island to the west. With my scope, I counted individually, scanning right to left across the floating flocks, up to 680. I know that some had flown further to the east out of view and others were too far north to count, so that is a low number. And hundreds still remained in the water offshore of West Beach.

Conservation Issues

Deception Pass is an important passage for recreational boaters from Seattle and other nearby urban centers. Some traffic still occurs on mild winter days, sometimes disturbing birds, although they seem to quickly return to the site and resume feeding. Oil spills are a potential threat as the site is proximate to commercial shipping operations. Because of the enormous volume of water that pours through the pass with tide changes, interest has been expressed in siting hydroturbines here for power generation, with poorly understood consequences for prey species and birds.


Deception Pass State Park encompasses surrounding land, rocky shore/bluff nesting sites, and the underwater tidelands in about 95% of the area. A small part of the southwest section is DNR tidelands.


Site is primarily open waters associated with Deception Pass, but also includes rocky shoreline to the high tide mark.

Land Use

Mission of the state parks system is to support recreational tourism. Open waters used by recreational boaters and jet skiers, although significant activity is during summer months, not (in winter) when waterfowl and seabirds congregate in significant numbers.

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