When people ask me if I’m a “birder” I usually reply, “No, though I really like to photograph birds.” Occasionally I say “Yes, but not a serious one.” I don’t maintain a lifetime list, though I generally know (and, yes, even get excited!) when I see a bird I’ve never seen before. I don’t chase birds, though. Even though I follow a local birders’ list, I’ve never gone anywhere just to see a particular bird. I am, however, likely to go back to visit a spot I like if there has been an unusual bird sighted there.

It seems strange to say I go to Ft. Flagler to see the Harlequin ducks. But I do go to see the Harlequin Ducks, and I go to some lengths to find them. I’m even downright unhappy if I don’t find them. I’m happier if I can get some good photos of them, but I’m satisfied if I see them even though the shots don’t turn out.

It’s a real bonus when I get to see shorebirds there. But the truth is I go to Ft. Flagler to see Ft. Flagler, and I’d probably go there regularly even if there were no Harlequins there. I know several places considerably closer where I can see Harlequin Ducks regularly, and I never go there. The birds we see are definitely part of why I go there, but I’d probably love walking on that beach if I had never taken up “birding.” There’s something calming about walking by the Sound, and It’s particularly beautiful looking across Puget Sound at the Cascades. The Old Growth Forest, despite the gun emplacements, gives a sense of what it must have been like here when the first settlers came. In recent years, though, I’ve begun to see the area for the rich habitat it provides for wintering birds, something I would never have been aware of before I started birding.

As it is, I start watching for birds long before I get to Ft. Flagler, making it a point to stop at several places on the way. Last Saturday the first shot I took was of a small flock of Northern Pintails right beside the road about five miles before the park.

male Northern Pintail

This shot seems far better than the one I got at Theler a few days before because I was so much closer.

The Harlequin Ducks were not to be found in their usual places when I got to Ft. Flagler. In fact, I had to walk all the way out to the point to find them at all, and because of the high tide they were a long way off shore, too far to get any good shots.


We decided to go to the other end of the park to see what was there and ended up visiting the post museum. We were there long enough that the tide had receded and I decided to go back to see if the Harlequins had moved. Sure enough, they were a lot closer:

male Harlequin Duck

Although I have gotten several good shots of Red-Breasted Mergansers near Ft. Flagler, I took these shots at Ft. Worden after we spent time shopping Port Townsend. There was a small flock of male Mergansers fishing along the shore.

two  Red-Breasted Mergansers

At first I thought it was a male and female merganser, but a closer look revealed the second bird is a male that hasn’t completed the transition to full breeding colors.

I wish I could have caught a shot of one actually coming up with a fish, but no such luck. Still, it’s hard to complain about getting this close with this good of light.

male Red-Breasted Merganser

To me the beauty of these birds reflects the beauty of these places, preserved in two large state parks because they had, until recently, been owned by the Army and the Federal government. Hard to miss the irony of that. Imagine what a beautiful place the world could be if all military installations were shut down and converted to parks.