From as far away as Argentina they come, intent on their annual trek north to their arctic breeding grounds. The shorebirds’ long flights require great stamina and endurance to reach the rugged shoreline and broad tidal marshes of the Pacific Northwest.
Only a few, widely spaced areas of refuge offer the birds sanctuary of such hemispheric importance. Grays Harbor is one of the most important spots and the annual Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival is its centerpiece. The 2014 Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, April 25-27, 2014 in Hoquiam, Washington
Each spring, tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds descend on the mudflats of Bowerman Basin to rest and recharge their food reserves at the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Reserve (NWR). Dozens of shorebird species spend a few days gobbling up the local worms, insect larva, amphipods, crustaceans, and mollusks. With few stops farther north on their migration route before they can reach their breeding grounds in Alaska, the birds typically spend several days in Grays Harbor.
“It’s an astounding sight,” said Mike Bruner, Grays Harbor Tourism manager. “I never cease to be amazed by the incredible display of nature that takes place here, during the Shorebird Festival.”
The peak of the spectacular avian migration occurs in late April and early May, and coincides with the 19th Annual Shorebird Festival in Hoquiam’s NWR and Hoquiam High School. The refuge west of town is easily accessible off SR 109, with a broad boardwalk and accessible viewing stations. The best places to spot the birds are situated to see the food chain in action as resident Peregrine Falcons dive into the migrating flocks for a meal.
The number of avian species present is also amazing, including such uncommon birds as Red Knots, Whimbrels, Wandering Tattlers, and thousands and thousands of Dunlin and Western Sandpipers. Also in the flocks are Black-bellied Plovers, Pacific Golden Plovers, Snowy Plovers, Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Baird’s Sandpiper, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Marbled Godwit, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, and the Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers.
Over the course of the three-day festival, birding experts offer talks, fieldtrips and conduct small lectures about the hobby of birding at the high school. In the exhibit area all things for birding aficionados are available from binoculars to books, paintings and photographs.
In addition to the viewing schedule are several social events to round out the visitor’s day including a keynote address by Dr. John Marzluff from the U of W and dessert buffet on Friday evening. On Saturday evening, a banquet and auction is scheduled; both events are at the Hoquiam Elk’s Lodge where tales of the day’s events are recounted to the great interest of the birders present. Reservations are recommended by calling (360) 289-5048 or visiting the festival website at www.shorebirdfestival.com for times, locations and costs.
In addition to daytime birding at the NWR, outstanding fieldtrips led by the region’s most-capable birders to other coastal habitats are planned. From the rocky headlands at Point Grenville through rainforest at Lake Quinault and out to the open ocean, visitors are sure to enjoy seeing a wide range of birds. Fieldtrips cost from $10 - $40 each. Free guided walks are available along the Sandpiper trails. A shuttle bus will connect the NWF site with Hoquiam High School and parking during the event.
IMAGE/shorebirds-US Fish and Wildlife