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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

May 11-12 ~ Spring Shorebird Migration near Grays Harbor

For years I've been wanting to head to the outer coast of Washington to catch the spring shorebird migration in and around Grays Harbor. This year, we finally made it happen! While we missed the peak numbers by a week or two, we still saw an incredible variety of species - about 15 different types of shorebirds in two days!

On May 10th, the day we traveled there, the weather was both sunny and unseasonably warm. Of course, the next day saw a 30 degree drop in temperature and was very gray! It made photography a little more difficult, but still could have been much worse had it been windy or rainy instead of just gray and cool.

High tide is the best time to view shorebirds on the mudflats, and unfortunately the high tides while we were there were either very early or very late. Our first stop for the day was at Bottle Beach State Park, where we arrived as the tide was very quickly going out in the morning, but we still got to see a lot of shorebirds, even if mostly from a distance.

I also got what was a bit of a surprise life bird in the red knot, as I really thought I had seen them once before! But nope, they were a lifer! Cool!

Red knots in flight
Next we went to Grayland Beach State Park, a known snowy plover nesting colony complete with a blocked off nesting protection zone. We walked along the perimeter of the nesting zone and were lucky enough to see one snowy plover - the first time I've seen this species north of California!

Snowy plover! New Washington bird for me

We were looking at some gulls on the beach when a sudden a bald eagle came swooping by - in pursuit of a greater white-fronted goose!

Bald eagle in pursuit of a greater white-fronted goose

The goose ended up landing in the ocean and dove underwater three times as the eagle was dive bombing it.

An odd sight: a greater white-fronted goose in the ocean
It was one of those same gulls that then came to the "rescue", chasing the eagle away, and allowing the goose to survive.

At Westport Light State Park the best bird wasn't a shorebird at all, but a very cooperative male common yellowthroat, another new one for the photo year list:

In the late afternoon, we made our way back around Grays Harbor towards Ocean Shores, where we were staying. Near the jetty at Point Brown, it was interesting to see fishermen right in the breakers, successfully hauling in fish. I wonder what they were catching?

We were soon distracted, though, but the hundreds of sandpipers just down the beach! They were mostly sanderling, but there were also a fair number of semipalmated plovers mixed in.

This crab also made for a cool photo op. He/she was alive, though apparently missing an eye and probably not doing so well.

The next morning we came back to the jetty at Point Brown, spending most of our time scanning through the scopes. The bird highlight was a parasitic jaeger, unfortunately much too far away to photography, but rarely enough seen by any of us that it was pretty exciting. We did, however, see 4-5 gray whales fairly close to shore, including this one that spyhopped twice.

Next we headed north up Highway 109 towards Point Grenville, a stretch of coastline none of us had never seen before. Unfortunately the dramatic beaches at Point Grenville were closed to the public, but we were able to see part of the view from up on the bluff, though the birding was a bit disappointing.

View from Point Grenville
After a late lunch we headed to an exciting spot for birders in any town: the sewage ponds! The Hoquiam Sewage Treatment Plant was bustling with bird life, and we successfully located the single blue-winged teal that had been reported earlier:

As we continued to zig zag all over the place, the next walk we took was at the Oyhut Wildlife Recreation Area, which provided yet another different habitat with a marshy lagoon. The low-flying swallows (some of whom were perching on the sand) provided an opportunity for me to finally get a nice photo of a tree swallow for the year:

In the evening we made another high tide attempt just before sunset by visiting Bill's Spit in Ocean Shores. The light was fading and the water was coming in fast, nearly cutting off access to the beach, but the quick visit was worth it, not only for the tranquil scenery but for the shorebirds that were coming in to roost for the night.

Looking out over Grays Harbor
Dunlin in flight
I even snagged one last photo year bird, bringing the trip total to a whopping 18 new species added, nearly doubling my goal of adding 10 species.

The unmistakable silhouette (when viewed larger, at least) of marbled godwits
All in all it was a great trip and I was glad to have finally made it out there, but now of course I definitely want to go back again when both the weather and the tides are more cooperative!

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