BIRD WATCH: See more birds by the sea shore

SUDDEN MOVEMENT NEAR a large piece of driftwood caught everyone’s attention — especially the dogs.

A bleached log was lying on the tide line. Left by the ocean’s receding waves, it had no scent that interested the dogs.

They wanted to keep walking, but I wanted to know who was hiding under the log.

A Savannah sparrow was tucked under its thickest end. It was the first of several seen on our walk.

My sister and I were enjoying some September sunshine near Ilwaco, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Birds are migrating down the coast right now and will continue to do so for several weeks.

Savannah sparrows, just like song sparrows, are often found near water, especially salt water. The yellow in front of their eyes was bright enough to suggest they were still wearing breeding plumage. Otherwise, that yellow is almost indiscernible.

There’s a long stretch of sandy beach that runs for miles and finding feeding sandpipers can be challenging.

When a small flock landed near us, they looked and acted like the expected Sanderlings.

They sprinted back and forth, staying at the water’s edge as they chased the receding waves.

They weren’t in their winter white plumage yet. Instead, they added some confusion with the remains of their breeding colors.

Their wave-chasing actions always give them away.

Late summer and early fall bring interesting birds to our coast.

A favorite is the brown pelican. How can you watch pelicans flying over the waves and not be mesmerized by them? I love their formation flying and fishing.

The way they skim the ocean waves while flying in a straight line is fascinating.

They stay just above the foaming waters and often drop from sight as they fish the trough between the waves.

The lead bird suddenly dives and one by one the others go down like ducks in a shooting gallery

Both Brandt’s and pelagic cormorants frequent coastal areas.

They are often seen flying up and down the beach but can also be viewed on the rocky cliffs at the mouth of the Columbia.

This is a good opportunity to study sitting cormorants instead of having only a quick look at they fly past.

It’s early enough in the fall that some breeding birds may still retain their colorful facial patches.

It is also noticeable how they differ in size with the pelagic being considerably smaller than the Brandt’s.

The gull population is at its peak at this time of the year.

This year’s young are out and about and several species frequent the coast.

Young Heermann’s gulls with their red bills are easy to spot.

Many of the others are first year California, Herring, Western, mew and glaucous-winged.

They’re difficult to separate and identify.

Gulls keep changing their plumage until they are three years.

It’s more entertaining to watch the pelicans instead of trying to put a name on all the gulls.

Birdwatchers visiting the coastal beaches in the fall always look for one particular bird.

Much of the world’s population of sooty shearwaters passes down our coast at this time of the year.

They are usually seen far off shore where you look toward the horizon.

Thousands of birds form a long, continuous line as far as you can see.

Only when conditions are just right do they pass closer to the shore.

As their name implies, they fly low over the waves, shearing them with their cartwheel manner of flight.

One visit to the ocean never seems like enough in both the spring and fall.

You never know what you will see.


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:

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