BIRD WATCH: Head to Grays Harbor for shorebird festival

LAST MONTH, WHEN noting the number of bird festivals that take place during the year, the shorebird celebration on Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, was included. The end of April brings to mind this annual event.

The shorebird migration peaks near the end of this month and the celebration will take place Friday through Sunday, April 29. When making plans to attend the festival or visit the coast to see the birds, the tides are always consulted.

It’s a rare event when the highest high tides take place during the good viewing times, i.e. during the day! A rare 10-foot tide when there is daylight delivers the most exciting viewing.

Hundreds of thousands of shorebirds try to elude the encroaching water and continue feeding. The result is very concentrated numbers. This can mean large flocks of shorebirds overhead or crowding onto any available bit of land not covered by the incoming tide.

The flocks put on an aerial performance once seen, never forgotten. They can whirl through the air as one body, turning from dark to light in moments as they flash backsides and then undersides. They rival New York’s famous Rockettes dancers with such precision flying. The theory for their fluid action suggests that each bird keys on the movements of the bird next to it. The result is one smooth wave.

Bowerman Basin, because it offers the last bit of tidal mudflats to be covered by high tide, is considered the best shorebird viewing area.

Part of the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, the Basin borders Bowerman Airport. It’s easy to find.

As you are leaving Hoquiam, heading north toward Ocean Shores, Hoquiam High School will be on your right. Opposite the school, you see signs directing you left to the airport and the Wildlife Refuge.

If you attend the festival, on April 28 or 29, a shuttle bus to the viewing area runs continuously on Saturday and Sunday. It’s available at the school. Parking near the airport is minimal and the bus is a good way to go.

Other festival activities are happening at the high school.

The Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival Committee offers an excellent program brochure. It lists many colorful and informative events that are part of this celebration.

You can not only decide what field trips to attend, but there are maps of the area, photos of the birds that will be seen and information on places to eat or find lodging. Available online, this 20-page brochure covers it all. You can view it at: http://www.shorebirdfestival.com.

Shorebird identification can be challenging unless you are able to spend time viewing them on a weekly basis.

A little time with your field guide will enhance your visit to the coast to see this spectacle of Nature.

The large flocks that are so much fun to see are made up of the smaller shorebirds like the Western sandpipers and dunlin. Other birds to look for will be the dowitchers, (don’t try to separate the long-billed from the short-billed).

Red knots are a prize to find in some of the flocks. Greater and lesser yellowlegs can also be expected. Whimbrels, curlews and godwits are always exciting to see.

If you are familiar with our killdeer, make sure you aren’t seeing a semi-palmated plover, a small look-a-like. Keep an eye out for the hunting falcons whenever a flock of shorebirds is in the air. Both the peregrine falcon and the merlin pursue what is favorite prey for them.

Don’t forget the secret of the tides when planning a trip to view shorebirds – at the coast or on beaches closer to home.

Arrive at the viewing area two hours before high tide. The water will bring the birds to you.

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Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected]

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