Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival

Great weather at Bottle Beach
 Over the weekend I attended the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival for the fifth time. They offer tours, a keynote speaker and a few vendors. We bought our first pair of Vortex binoculars from the Backyard Bird Shop in Gig Harbor at the first festival we attended. We like them so well we bought a second pair and a scope from Vortex in following years. 
Immature Bald Eagle at Tokeland Harbor
This year I took tours to the Westport area and Quinault, and on Sunday took advantage of hands-on help from the keynote speaker, Clay Taylor, Swarovski’s digiscoping expert. No new birds this trip, but we did get some great views of many of the shorebirds and even a few others. The marginal weather this year dampened things a bit, especially on the Saturday trip to Quinault.

Sandpipers in the lee of the hummock as the tide comes in

No Peregrine, but something spooked the birds
Grays Harbor is one of the most important stops on the Pacific Flyway as millions of shorebirds fuel up on their way to their Arctic breeding grounds. On Friday, we took a yellow school bus to Westport and the nearby villages of Grayland and Tokeland. Fortunately, I did not have to share my seat. School buses are not really built for tall adults. The highlight of this tour is Bottle Beach, a few miles east of Westport. A nice new boardwalk leads to a blind overlooking the beach although the best way to view the birds is to get there about two hours before high tide, stake out a nice sandy spot on the gentle sloping beach and wait for the tide to push the birds to you. I have watched really well-prepared photographers let the water come up and around them to get what must be fabulous close-ups of the birds as rising tide forces them closer and closer. Even our larger group did not scare the birds as we managed to stay quite still and quiet. While the peregrines did not spook the birds on this trip, they can create a good deal of excitement and great pictures of shorebirds blasting off to avoid the danger.

Dunlin in breeding plumage
Dunlin not ready for prime time
Short-billed Dowitcher
Saturday, a much smaller group of ten rode in the Lake Quinault Lodge van with one of their guides and two other leaders to the Quinault Rain Forest. Unfortunately, the rain forest lived up to its name causing many of the birds to be quieter and more elusive.  Nevertheless, we were able to get some good views of a pair of dippers and Bunch Falls and some other fairly rare birds including an Evening Grosbeak and Purple Finch. We took a short walk along the lake shore leaving from the Lodge which took us right past the spot where I lived when I started elementary school. The condemned house we lived in has been replaced by a newer model retaining its great view of the lake and short walk to the water where I remember learning to float as Dad and I went down there nearly every evening in the summer while Mom cooked dinner for the four of us. I learned to swim the next summer in the pool at Concrete High School. As those of us who live in the Northwest know, summers are usually warm and sunny most of the time. The rain record at the lodge showed rainfall to be over 20” most of the winter months, but under 5” during the summer. The winter we lived there (1955-56) the rainfall was typical, but the timing must have been unusual because the lake rose about ten feet coming within a couple of feet of flooding our house. It did rise enough to creep into the garage.

Can you find the Dipper. These small gray birds love water like this where they wander the rocks in the rushing water to catch bugs and small fish being washed down stream. The nest is often hidden behind rocks or under logs in midstream.
Sunday, I spent a few hours with the digi-scoper, learning more about how to make use of the scope as an extra-long lens for photography. The last few pictures show how amazing the results can be. It took us an hour of exploration before we found a suitable site on the beach for the pictures. But finally, we did arrive at a spot where the sun was on the right side of the birds and we could get in some guided practice. Gulls, Marbled Godwits, and Western Sandpipers provided the subjects.
Western Gull
Immature Western Gull
Marbled Godwit and Semipalmated Plover with Western Sandpipers in the background

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