Start of the Dungeness Spit

January 05, 2009


Photographer: Rebecca Roush
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

This photo of Dungeness Spit on the northern coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula shows the flatness of the spit as it extends into the Juan de Fuca Strait, almost to the horizon, and then curves right to disappear behind the evergreen in the mid-ground at right. Mount Baker, one of Washington's 5 active volcanoes, looms in the distance. People can be seen walking on the beach giving scale to the spit. A spit is a long, narrow piece of land connected at one end to the coast. Some spits, like Dungeness, extend far out into the water and sometimes hook at the ends. Dungeness Spit, fueled by sediment from the Dungeness River and by eroding bluffs as well as by strong winds and tides, is currently over 5 mi (8 km) long and is growing about 15 ft (4.5 m) a year. The spit, at one time known as Shipwreck Spit, is so low that it is still a hazard to shipping, even with a lighthouse. The spit was named "New Dungeness" by George Vancouver who explored here in 1792. He felt it was reminiscent of a landform of the same name in England.

The area around Dungeness Spit was created a National Wildlife Refuge in 1915 and is considered an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. It’s a stopover for thousands of migratory birds, twice a year, and has several permanent habitats including tide flats, estuaries, eelgrass beds, and a salt marsh. A wall of driftwood helps protect the inner habitats. Resident wildlife includes over 250 species of birds such as Black Brant, Merganser, Cooper’s Hawk, and Northern Pygmy-Owl. Other resident wildlife includes seals, clams, Dungeness crabs, oysters, salmon, steelhead, and harbor seals. Orca and elephant seals are occasional visitors. Plants include Douglas fir, blackberry, alfalfa, Lodgepole pine, and licorice fern. Dungeness Spit is a popular day-trip destination and sunny weekends bring many visitors. Photo taken on June 28, 2008.

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