The preeminent feature of Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is Dungeness Spit, a narrow, driftwood-strewn spit of land that arcs 5 1/2 miles out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and is likely the longest natural sandspit in the United States. Dungeness Spit frames and protects Dungeness Bay to the south, while its unprotected northern shore takes the brunt of the strait’s weather and waves, evidenced by its mixture of sand and gravel beaches. The spit’s flora is exceptional, still rich in American Dunegrass, while European Beachgrass has taken over many similar Pacific coast habitats. A hike from the spit’s base to the lighthouse near the tip is a full-day commitment, but a variety of wildlife can be seen by walking even a short distance. Red Foxes den in the massive driftwood piles, and Harbor Seals patrol the waters along the strait side of the spit (areas beyond the lighthouse are closed to hikers during pupping season).
Dungeness Bay has extensive tidal flats and Eelgrass beds that draw waterfowl and shorebirds. Spring and fall migrations bring the greatest diversity of shorebirds, including Whimbrels, dowitchers, turnstones, plovers, and smaller “peeps.” Winter bird concentrations are truly impressive: thousands of Dunlins and Brant are attracted by the Eelgrass beds, and diving birds including scoters, goldeneyes, Harlequin Ducks, loons, grebes, and cormorants are numerous. Rhinoceros Auklets are abundant in summer, and Marbled Murrelets and Pigeon Guillemots forage near the spit year-round. Bald Eagles often perch on pilings, and Merlins and Peregrine Falcons prey on the wealth of wintering birds.
The trail from the parking lot to the base of the spit passes through a second-growth forest, which hosts Townsend’s Chipmunks and chattering Douglas’ Squirrels. Watch on the trail for yellow Banana Slugs and overhead for Hutton’s Vireos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and Red Crossbills. Additional trails, including horse trails, weave through wooded and brushy habitats of the contiguous Dungeness Recreation Area, and clear days offer epic views from cliffsides on the strait.
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