By Sharon Moore – What an extraordinary birding trip we experienced on May 3 in conjunction with the 2019 Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival. On that crisp, windy day we were led to various Ocean Shores locales by seasoned birders Whittier Johnson and Rob Chrisler. During the spring migration those specific seacoast and harbor habitats are some of the best birding spots on the West Coast hosting more species per location than anywhere else in the state of Washington.
From late April to early May hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to rest and feed on the vast mudflats in the Grays Harbor estuary. There they find abundant tiny shrimp, worms, horseshoe crabs and microscopic organisms. Within one square meter of mud there may be up to 50,000 individual invertebrates. Feeding on those food sources gives the shorebirds sufficient strength and endurance to continue their northern migrations. Some species travel over 15,000 miles from their non-breeding locations in South America to their breeding grounds in northwest Alaska, the Yukon Territory and Wrangel Island in the Arctic.
Our cohort of 35 stalwart birders, carrying 35 binoculars, 10 spotting scopes, many cameras with telephoto lenses and an assortment of bird books spent seven hours locating, observing, exclaiming over and recording sightings of an incredible array of 82 species. The five most abundant – Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers and Semipalmated Plovers – were present in large numbers.
The following list represents our best efforts to record each class of bird we saw that day on the coastal shoreline, North Jetty, ocean expanse and Grays Harbor estuary environs: Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Brant, Surf Bird, Wandering Tattler, Sanderling, Barn Swallow, Western Gull, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Sooty Shearwater, Pelagic Cormorant, Caspian Tern, Common Murre, Western Grebe, Black Turnstone, Harlequin Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Bald Eagle, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, White-crowned Sparrow, Canada Goose, Glaucous-winged gull, Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, Red-breasted Merganser, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Rufous Hummingbird, Violet-green swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Red Knot, Cliff Swallow, Western Sandpiper, Western Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Ring-billed Gull, Red-throated Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Turnstone, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Pheasant, Eurasian Collared Dove, Least Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Pigeon Guillemot, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American-Northwestern Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, American Robin, European Starling, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler.
Consider joining a field trip during the next Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge Shorebird and Nature Festival. You’ll be glad you did.