The 19th Annual Conference of the Washington Ornithological Society was centered in Aberdeen, Washington from Friday September 14 through Monday, September 17.
This area has a wide variety of birds along the coast and long sandy beaches, tidal salt marshes, rock jetty, extensive mudflats, sand dunes, fresh water ponds, woodlots, a golf course, marina, and even a sewage treatment plant. No where else in Washington State do all these habitats coexist in one small place. Ocean Shores is also an excellent location for unusual and rare birds in Washington. It is one of the best locations in the lower forty-eight states to find Pacific golden-plover. Mottled petrel, Manx shearwater, Eurasian dotterel, bristle-thighed curlew, ivory gull, least tern, eastern yellow wagtail, and McKay’s bunting have each put in an appearance. Ocean Shores is exciting birding at any time of year, but fall is particularly good when migrating shorebirds pass through. They do not appear in the vast numbers of the spring migration that sees more shorebirds winging through Grays Harbor on their way to their nesting grounds in the arctic; but fall does provide a better variety at Ocean Shores.The Ocean Shores North field trip will include possible stops at Bill’s Spit, Chinook Park, the Ocean Shores Golf Course, Cyber Lake, Ocean City Sate Park, and Burrow’s Road.
The best birding site on the Grays Harbor North Bay, north of the marina is Bill’s Spit. Geese, ducks, curlews, godwits, small sandpipers, and gulls congregate here, especially one to two hours before or after high tide. Bill’s Spit and Tokeland are probably the two most reliable places in the Lower 48 for Bar-tailed Godwit in the fall. Chinook Park, accessed along Duck Lake Drive (north of Bill’s Spit) provides an opportunity to view a variety of waterfowl, as well as fall migrating passerines (red crossbill) in nearby woodlands. If undisturbed by golfers, any of the grassy expanses of the Ocean Shores Golf Course may host flocks of Canada and occasional greater white-fronted and snow geese, ducks and shorebirds. Flocks of American wigeon, with an occasional Eurasian wigeon, winter here. Buff-breasted sandpiper may rest here during fall storms. Solitary and sharp-tailed sandpipers have been found in the ditch along the fairways behind Linde’s Landing.
Three of the better vantage points are along Brown Point Avenue, Ocean Shores Boulevard, and Minard Avenue south of West Chance A La Mer. Golf course birding is best early in the morning, during high tides, or during stormy weather. At these times, the golf course may be the best place to find golden-plovers, godwits, and curlews. Cyber Lake is accessed from behind the North Beach Middle and High School along SR-115, leaving Ocean Shores. This location can be especially good for roosting shorebirds during fall migration (greater and lesser yellowlegs, and long-billed and short-billed dowitchers), depending on appropriate water levels. Cyber Lake is also known for nesting olive-sided flycatcher and red crossbill, and for fall migrating passerines. Ocean City Park, on the west side of SR-115 just north of Ocean Shores, offers a good selection of typical Western Washington lowland songbirds.
Point Grenville is located south of Taholah with its entrance at MP 37,7 on SR 109. Access to the paved, one-lane road is restricted by a locked gate. Point Grenville is on Quinault Tribal Lands and we have made arrangements to gain access. Once through the gate, we follow the paved road to the spot where dilapidated buildings of the former Coast Guard station stand. During its use by the military, the area around the buildings was cleared and lawns planted. The facility was abandoned in the late 1970’s, and the fields have reverted to tall grass interspersed with shrubby thickets. Sooty grouse nest in the narrow corridor of mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest habitat along the entrance road. Migrant songbirds use the California wax-myrtle, other bushes, and forest edges. The sooty fox sparrow has its southernmost known nesting location here, and is most abundant in the winter in bushes to the southwest of the buildings.
Walking north from the buildings, then west on a dirt track across an open field will lead us to an overlook facing west. In the past, tufted puffin have nested in the bluff just below the cliff face across from the offshore sea-stack. Pigeon guillemots nest in the rock cliffs to the north and pelagic cormorant on the whitewashed, open cliff ledges to the south. On the off-shore rock formations, glaucous-winged and western gulls (and the more common hybrids of these two species) nest in the grassy areas near the top. Peregrine falcons may be visible on these rocks or hunting nearby.
A second viewing area requires a short walk to the south side of the point. From the old buildings , we follow a dirt road to the southwest. Where it appears to end, a small trail leads through thickets of alder, huckleberry, and salal to a steep overlook. Black oystercatchers are often seen below, on the rocky shoreline. Cormorants, gulls, and puffins nest on the second islet to the south. The waters below often have loons, western grebes, surf and white-winged scoters, and common murre.
The Quinault National Recreation Trail System, which starts across the road from the Lake Quinault Lodge (built in 1926 in the heyday of the national-park style with its rustic lobby and expansive grounds overlooking the lake) offers a series of hiking trails through the towering coniferous forests. Birds of these habitats include sooty grouse, northern saw-whet and spotted owls, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, Steller’s jay, common raven, chestnut-backed chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, winter wren, golden-crowned kinglet, varied thrush, Townsend’s warbler, and dark-eyed junco.
Checking around the lodge, other lakeside buildings, gardens, and along the shoreline trail through broadleaf forests and shrubby thickets, you may find red-breasted sapsucker, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, olive-sided and Pacific-slope flycatcher, Hutton’s and warbling vireos, swallows, American dipper (in streams entering the lake), Swainson’s thrush, orange-crowned, yellow, black-throated gray, and Wilson’s warblers, common yellowthroat, western tanager, song and white-crowned sparrows, and black-headed grosbeak.
The lake hosts common loon, hooded and common mergansers, and occasional marbled murrelets, which nest in the old-growth trees in the hills. Around the lake, we will check for osprey nests in snags and bald eagles.
The Grays Harbor estuary is one of eight sites in North America to be designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site of hemispheric importance. The extensive mudflats and the high concentration of invertebrates they support provide a rich resource for the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that stop here to feed and rest before continuing their 7,000-mile journey from South America to their nesting grounds in the Arctic. The peak of spring migration occurs in late April and early May. The annual Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival is timed to coincide with the peak of spring migration. The most prevalent species are western sandpiper, dunlin, and short-billed dowitcher. Black-bellied and semipalmated plovers, greater yellowlegs, red knot and least sandpiper are usually present but in smaller numbers. Merlins and peregrine falcons regularly hunt here, providing a fascinating spectacle as the shorebirds maneuver to elude them. In fall, migrating shorebirds and waterfowl (watch for greater white-fronted goose and Eurasian wigeon) are present in lesser numbers. American white pelican, snowy egret, snow and Ross’s geese, and sandhill crane have put in appearances in the salt marsh here.
Upon leaving the Grays Harbor NWR, we will check the north side of the Hoquiam Sewage Treatment Plant for grebes, ducks, phalaropes (red-necked during fall migration), gulls (glaucous and Franklin’s), and other waterfowl. On the south side of the lagoon, the Chehalis River mudflats host ducks, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Walking the grassy areas just to the south of the sewage lagoon we will check for sparrows and the occasional Lapland and chestnut-collared longspur (latter, one record). Palm warblers have been seen here as well. Time and tides permitting, other stops may include the “K” Street dike along the river and locations within Aberdeen.
Time permitting, additional stops can be made at the Twin Harbors State Park for fall migrating passerines, and returning to Aberdeen, a stop at the athletic fields along SR-105 to check for fall migrating geese (greater white-fronted possible). Just after the bridge, where the two highways divide, we stay right on SR-105 toward Westport. To bird the Johns River Wildlife Area it is necessary to continue southwest on SR-105, turning left onto Johns River Road just after the Johns River bridge. Bearing left at the fork, left at a stop sign, and right down the hill 200 yards brings us to a parking area. Habitats here consist of open farmlands, and fresh- and saltwater marshes, adjoining the Johns River. A half-mile walk along the paved river-dike path to a blind should produce ducks, hawks, and occasionally a short-eared owl (at dawn). The trail continues unpaved for another mile or so past the blind; shorebirds can be observed at high tide in a wetland from the end of the paved trail if water levels are good.
Continuing west on SR-105, a stop will be made in 2.3 miles at Bottle Beach State Park on the Grays Harbor South Bay located to the right, opposite Ocosta Third Street. Shorebird viewing (including Pacific and American golden plovers, ruddy turnstone, red knot, buff-breasted sandpiper, and ruff) can be quite good in fall migration, especially an hour and a half on either side of high tide. The mudflats here are some of the last on the estuary to be covered by the incoming tide. An effort can be made to check the shrubby thickets bordering the trail and beach for fall migrating passerines.
Across SR-105, checking the wetlands along Ocosta Third Street could produce additional waterfowl and shorebirds. Continuing west on SR-105 , Brady’s Oysters at the west end of the Elk River bridge is worth a stop to scan the river for loons, grebes, ducks, and if the tide is out , shorebirds. Great egret is regular in the fall.
One mile further west, we will turn right and travel north on Montesano Street into Westport, the charter-boat fishing capital of the Pacific Northwest. At the Westport Marina, from the observation platform next to the public restrooms at the end of Neddie Rose Drive, common loon, red-necked and western grebes, cormorants, surf and white-winged scoters, gulls, and black-legged kittiwake can be seen. Parasitic jaeger have been seen here, chasing kittiwakes and common tern during fall migration. When strong winds blow in from the ocean, black turnstones, surfbirds, and rock sandpipers – normally out on the jetty – may seek protection on the leeward side of the rock groins to the west of the viewing platform. Wandering tattler is also present in fall.
The nearby walkway next to the Harbor Resort leads to the docks of the Westport Marina and, at the end, to a fishing pier, which offers good views of grebes, cormorants, and gulls. The pier pilings sometimes host black turnstone and surfbirds. The Westport Marina can be good for roosting flocks of large shorebirds, including marbled godwit, especially from Float #21. Hudsonian and bar-tailed godwit have been observed among the more numerous marbled godwit at this location in fall migration. The Westport Jetty offers similar birding possibilities to the Ocean Shores jetty across the channel. It too is best visited in the morning to avoid the glare of the afternoon sun. The base of the jetty is accessible from Westhaven State Park.
Continuing south on SR-105 into Pacific County, a stop will be made at Midway Beach to check for snowy plover, Lapland longspur, and “streaked” horned lark amongst the shorebirds, gulls, and terns. The North Cove area is worth a stop for observing shorebirds, gulls and terns along the beach, as well as loons, grebes, cormorants and seabirds over the open water. Tokeland, at the mouth of the Willapa Bay south of Westport, is famous for its long-legged shorebirds such as greater yellowlegs, willet, long-billed curlew, and bar-tailed (rare in fall) and marbled godwit. From the sandy beach at Fisher Avenue and Seventh Street, we can search the offshore sand spit (Graveyard Spit) and nearby beaches for brown pelican, shorebirds, and gulls
. In late summer and fall, huge flocks of sooty shearwaters sometimes enter Willapa Bay and can be seen from this and other vantage points. Continuing into Tokeland, taking a right at Emerson Avenue and following a short dirt road to its end at Toke Point, we can scan the beach, rocks, and pilings for cormorants, willet, black turnstone, glaucous-winged and western gulls.
From the Public Fishing Pier, we will check the bay for seabirds. Stretching west from here, along Front Lane, the Tokeland Marina – and especially the long rock breakwater beyond the marina – are a favored high-tide godwit roost from late August through the winter. Very often one or more bar-taileds can be picked out among the 200-500 marbleds. Though much rarer, Hudsonian godwit has been seen here, too. Many rare land bird vagrants have appeared in Tokeland, among them white-winged dove, tropical kingbird, northern parula, black-and-white warbler, lark bunting, chestnut-collared longspur, and hooded oriole.
Time permitting, we can walk the short, dead-end residential streets to see what is present. Returning to SR-105, we continue east along the north shore of Willapa Bay with its mudflats, salt marshes, and adjoining coniferous and broadleaf forests. The Cedar and North Rivers and the bay can be checked for migrating greater white-fronted and snow geese. The mouth of the North River can be a good spot for migrating shorebirds on a rising and falling tide. Turning west on Airport Road to the Raymond Airport (officially, Willapa Harbor Airport), the floodplain at the mouth of the Willapa River can be checked. Occasionally, large elk herds graze nearby. The fields and small freshwater ponds and sloughs along SR-105 near the airport support many wintering ducks and raptors. Roosting shorebirds at high tide, and palm warbler in dense brush are possible in fall. In the past, white-tailed kites nested here and were often seen on the tops of evergreen trees near the runway.
Continuing east on SR-105 toward Raymond (just past MP 1) the City of Raymond Waste Water Treatment Plant is on the right and is a good spot to check for ducks, shorebirds, and gulls. Western scrub-jays are possible in the residential areas in the town of Raymond.
East of Aberdeen traveling US-12, we will explore the wooded and wetland habitats of the Chehalis River valley from Montesano to Elma with stops in the Monte Brady Loop Road area, along the Middle Satsop Road north of Brady, the Chehalis Wildlife Area reached by Schouweiler Road, along the Wenzel Slough and Keys Road Loop, and Vance Creek Park. The Monte Brady Loop Road area is a seven mile itinerary south of US-12 that crosses open farmlands on the flood plain of the Chehalis River, where shallow ponds host migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors. Checking the weeds, fenceposts and fencelines, brushy patches, and thickets with large stands of alder along the road can also yield owls, flycatchers, warblers and sparrows. Highlights could include white-tailed kite, American kestrel, short-eared owl, western scrub-jay, and western meadowlark. Mt. quail have been seen in limited numbers in clear cuts and short vegetation along the Middle Satsop Road north of Brady (as well as along forest roads above Newman Creek).
The 527-acre Chehalis Wildlife Area is a haven for waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines in a mosaic of open wetland, riparian shrub, and meadow/field habitats, with some open water. From the Schouweiler Road access gate, birding the paths along weedy edges and thickets can usually produce a good mixture of sparrows. Raptors hunt the fields, and American bitterns, geese, and Virginia rails can be found in the sloughs and ponds. Green herons favor two larger ponds reached by walking east from the access gate along a gravel berm. Returning to US-12, we continue east two miles and take the Third Street Elma exit, following county park and airport signs onto Wenzel Slough Road. This ten mile loop westward from here through more floodplain habitat is at its best in winter and early spring when fields are flooded, but can be good in fall.
From the main parking lot of the Vance Creek County Park, birding the path across the foot-bridge, riparian habitat and the long pond west of the parking lot can yield grebes, waterfowl, and gulls, as well as passerines (especially in migration). Fields near the airport, just ahead, sometimes have shorebirds in migration. Stopping frequently anywhere along this route to check ponds, open fields, riparian vegetation, thickets, and brushy patches, we will keep watch for bald eagle, northern harrier, and red-tailed hawk.
The Wynoochee Valley extends north 35 miles along the Wynoochee River from Montesano through farmlands and managed forests of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock to Wynoochee Lake and Wynoochee Falls. The upper part of the Wynoochee Valley Road allows access to some of the higher elevation birds. The first part of the Wynoochee Valley Road travels by open farmlands surrounded by broadleaf trees and shrubby thickets. There are a number of good places to stop and bird along the road, checking the river, bordering trees, and shrubby thickets for passerines.
Continuing along the Wynoochee Valley Road, we will scan the freshwater marshes and ponds for great blue heron, Wilson’s snipe, and a variety of ducks. Gradually, the valley narrows and open farmlands give way to hillsides of managed forests of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock. At about 18 miles, the road becomes dirt as it enters the Olympic National Forest. Now FR 22, the road continues through stands of coniferous woods and occasional clear cuts. From here north, we will check for warbling vireo (along streams), and purple finch and red crossbill in the conifers.
At 35 miles, FR 22 turns left. Continuing straight ahead on FR 2270, the road runs along the east side of Wynoochee Lake for nine miles to Wynoochee Falls. Along this road and at the north end near Wynoochee Falls, we will check for birds of the higher elevation (sooty grouse, band-tailed pigeon, western screech-owl, Hammond’s and Pacific-slope flycatchers, warbling vireo, Swainson’s, hermit, and varied thrush, and western tanager). Returning to FR 22 , we turn right on FR2294 toward Wynoochee Dam and after passing the outflow of the dam we can view the river below from an outlook near the Visitor Center.
Since the mid-1960’s, the Westport Pelagic Trips have gone offshore to deep oceanic waters, looking for seabirds unlikely to be seen from shore. This pelagic trip to Grays Canyon leaves the Westport marina at 6:30 AM, going approximately 30 miles offshore to the edge of the continental shelf. The Westport trips are well-known among birders for the reliability to view black-footed albatross, northern fulmar, fork-tailed storm-petrel, pink-footed, Buller’s and sooty shearwaters, red-necked and red phalaropes, pomarine, parasitic, and long-tailed jaegers, Sabine’s gull, black-legged kittiwake, California, western, and glaucous-winged gull, Arctic tern, common murre, pigeon guillemot, Cassin’s and rhinoceros auklets. Laysan albatross, flesh-footed shearwater, Leach’s storm-petrel, South Polar skua and tufted puffin are possible this time of year. Saturday’s pelagic trip will leave from float #8 aboard Westport Seabirds’ vessel the Monte Carlo. Sunday and Monday’s trips will leave float #12 aboard Cachalot Tours’ vessel the Discovery. Three expert spotters accompany each trip.