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Originally published Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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Birders' Top Spots

Theler Wetlands: a birding wonderland on Hood Canal

A birding hot spot featured on the Great Washington State Birding Trail: Theler Wetlands.

Theler Wetlands, Site 54 from "Olympic Loop" of Audubon Washington's Great Washington State Birding Trail

Location: Belfair, Mason County

Habitat: School district/Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 135-acre preserve on Hood Canal, with salt- and freshwater marshes, forested wetlands, Union River estuary.

Best seasons for birding: Autumn through spring.

Birds commonly seen: Autumn and spring, listen for golden-crowned kinglets; Bewick's, marsh and winter wrens. Birds of prey "prowl" the air: bald eagles, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, short-eared owls. Winter brings northern shrikes to meadows. Features include dabblers: northern pintails, American wigeons, green-winged teals; and divers: ruddy ducks, horned grebes, common mergansers, common goldeneyes.

Viewing tips: Two miles of accessible, ADA-approved interpretive trails begin at iron-art gate. In 0.1 mile are exhibit/classroom buildings, wildlife art, native plant garden, interpretive kiosks. Alder-Cedar Swamp Trail includes Dike Road, where South Tidal Marsh and River Estuary trails begin. South Tidal's boardwalk stretches 0.3 mile to Hood Canal. River Estuary Trail leads to freshwater marsh, along saltwater wetlands to mouth of Union River, upstream to picnic area where trail forks; right path best viewing. Non-ADA Sweetwater Creek Salmon Trail is 0.1-mile loop from exhibit-classroom buildings. Bonus: Skokomish archaeological site at end of river estuary trail; river otters in freshwater marsh.

Getting there: From Highway 3 at Milepost 25.5 near south end of town of Belfair, turn into parking lot at Mary E. Theler Community Center (22871 Hwy. 3, on west side of road.) Park at south end of paved lot by trailhead.

Source: Audubon Washington, Great Washington State Birding Trail maps. See maps online (or order hard copies, $4.95 apiece), at wa.audubon.org.

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