Spring Migration

Spring migration is a popular draw on the Washington Coast, especially during the Shorebird Festival. The migration has just begun and won’t peak for a couple of weeks, but it’s still thrilling to see masses of shorebirds fill the sky as they move up and down the beach.

Shorebirds Taking Flight

Like most birders, I have my own favorites one of them being this dramatically colored Black-Bellied Plover,

Black-Bellied Plover in Breeding Colors

perhaps because it’s easy to identify. It’s a relatively large shorebird with dramatic colors during the breeding season. Unlike the sandpipers, it sprints from spot to spot picking up food rather than probing the sand.

The easily identified Dunlin

Dunlin in Breeding Colors

is another personal favorite. It’s only about a quarter the size of the Black-Bellied Plover, but its black chest when in breeding colors sets it apart from the huge variety of sandpipers.

I think this is a Sanderling,


just beginning to change into its breeding colors, but I’ll admit it might well be a Western Sandpiper, or even a Least Sandpiper. It would be helpful if all the birds donned their breeding colors at the same times, but apparently they have more important things to do than helping birders identify them.

Truthfully, I don’t worry much about identifying them. In fact, I seldom try until I get home and put them up on the screen. Leaving Bottle Beach, another birder asked me if I’d seen any Dowitchers, and I didn’t realize until that moment that I had and didn’t know if I’d taken any pictures of them until I got home and downloaded the shots.

It’s enough simply to be immersed in shorebirds, experiencing their delicate, infinite, beauty.

Checking out the Beach

Wednesday had been predicted to be the best day of the week, so when the forecast didn’t change in the morning, I took a chance and drove to Tokeland and Ocean Shores hoping to catch the beginning of the Spring Migration of shore birds and ducks.

Much to my surprise, the highlight of the day came before I ever got to the beach while zipping down Highway 107. I glanced off the side of the road and noticed a large herd of Elk. I was going too fast to stop, but I turned around a mile or so down the road and drove back. Of course, once I stopped the herd started moving up the mountain, though a few looked back curiously:

Elk Herd

As I was turning around to leave, I notice another large herd on the other side of the road. I felt blessed that I hadn’t found more of the herd in the middle of the road when I originally drove by.

So by 9:30 when I spotted number of Common Loons in Westport harbor, I’d really accomplished most of what I’d come to do. Though I’m always glad to see a loon like this Common Loon even in it’s non-breeding colors,

Common Loon

the real reason I come back is to see one in full breeding colors.

Common Loon in breeding colors

Just seeing these birds would have seemed more than worth the $44.00 I put in the gas tank, but the day had just begun and I was still waiting to see the Spring Migration.

Summer Edges Closer

Summer’s still not here and is actually supposed to arrive late here in the Pacific Northwest this year, but the sun cooperated again this morning and shone brightly for most of our trip to Theler Wetlands in Belfair.

The Trilliums and Skunk Cabbage were joined by a number of brilliant purple native plants indicating that summer is inching closer.

purple flowers

The Great Blue Herons have returned throughout the wetlands.

close-up of Great Blue Heron

Common Mergansers seem to have paired up before leaving the area,

pair of Common Mergansers in breeding colors

though this handsome male Hooded Merganser didn’t seem to have a mate yet.

male Hooded Merganser

It’s hard to beat a Spring day hinting at better things to come after a long, wet winter.

Horned Grebes

For me, birdwatching, like photography, is just another way of paying attention, seeing things I should have seen in the past but didn’t.

I’m sure I didn’t know what a grebe was a few years ago, much less know the difference between a Horned Grebe and other kinds of grebes. Birding has put me in touch with nature in new ways.

I’ve been watching the Horned Grebes in Port Orchard closely lately, like this one I shot in the middle of March,

Horned Grebe

and watching for the dramatic changes they undergo as they take on their breeding colors. Sunday, at least a few of them had completed their transformation,

Horned Grebe in breeding colors

making it clear why they are named Horned Grebes.

I was actually a little shocked when I looked through the lens and saw

Horned Grebe in breeding colors

the red eyes shining through the grebe’s ‘horn,” a rather intimidating sight.

Birding has made me much more aware of the seasons. I can almost set my calendar by the birds I see and the color of their feathers.

Most of all, though, birding provides me with another way of seeing the beauty that pervades our world when we just take the time to see it.