Birding Western Washington

The fog swirled overhead, signaling that it would soon be breaking up. As I stepped out of the car at Bill’s Spit on the southern tip of Ocean Shores, the wail of gulls punctuated the misty air, while the surf lapped against the breakwater. I took in a deep breath to savor the sea air – and I felt at peace.

My trip to Washington was primarily to visit friends; however, I wanted to have the opportunity to bird on the ocean before returning to Albuquerque.

Bill's Spit breakwater

Once on the beach, I headed for the rocky breakwater to look for shorebirds. I had worried about distinguishing between a Wandering Tatler and a Surfbird. When I saw a trio of Wandering Tatlers bobbing, I remembered that behavior as a distinguishing characteristic. Nearby was a lone Surfbird. I also spotted a single Black Turnstone. Brown Pelicans kept vigil at the end of rocks, while others occasionally cruised by overhead.

I studied a flock of cormorants as they flew overhead – short tail, thick neck which was nearly straight. They must be Brandt’s.

A large group of gulls rested on the sand just beyond the incoming tide. There were Heerman’s, Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls – and maybe more that I was not able to ID. Many were begging juveniles.

The clouds were starting to break up, and as I headed back to the car, Barn Swallows darted over the dunes and American Crows seemed to be everywhere.

My next stop was the Sewage Treatment Plant. It was not open on the weekend, but I was able to walk along the fence for a ways. A few Mallards dabbled in the pond, while gulls hung around the edges. They took off en masse when a Northern Harrier swooped low over the adjacent field. Juvenile Song Sparrows clung to the chain link fence and then buzzed when they flew off. More cormorants and pelicans flew by.

I explored the beach at two access points on the Oyhut Wildlife Area. By now the sun was shining across the dune grasses.

Oyhut Wildlife Area

At the water’s edge, I noticed a pair of scoters. When they turned their heads, I saw the white patch on the back of their heads – Surf Scoters. There was another scoter swimming by itself sporting a yellow knob on its bill – a male Black Scoter still in breeding plumage, and a Life Bird!

At the other access point, I was fascinated by plants growing out of the top of abandoned pilings. This beach attracted lots of families. Unfortunately, it was too far for me right now to walk out on the spit, where I would have had a chance to see migrating shorebirds.

As I headed back to my car, a man honked and yelled at a cluster of crows and gulls next to his tent as he pulled his car in next to the picnic table. I laughed to myself. He was mad at the birds for eating all of the chips – which he had left in a bag on the table – an open invitation!

After enjoying a bowl of chowder, it was time to head back so there would be time to stop at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. For many years when I lived in Seattle, I drove by on my way back and forth to Olympia and always wanted to visit, but never had time.

While it was a delightful walk along the Twin Barns boardwalk, there were very few birds that afternoon.

The following morning, I drove from my motel in Federal Way to the Pt. Brown Lighthouse on the north side of the Tacoma Harbor. Again, not many birds. I had hoped to see a Rhinoceros Auklet – or even a Marbled Murrelet, but there were only gulls and cormorants. Then a black gull-like bird flew by and landed on the roof of the nearby community center. I was fascinated by its wings as it flapped in front of me. The primaries were striking with thin black and white vertical stripes. I later was able to figure out that it was a dark morph Parasitic Jaeger. I had seen them in Alaska, but not that close. A real treat.

California Quail

As I headed back to check out of the motel, I stopped to watch a family of California Quail pop in and out of a thicket of blackberries. The male hopped up on a branch to keep vigil.

Despite the exciting birds I encountered along the coast, I also have fond memories of watching and listening to birds one morning while visiting my friend in Redmond: Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Oregon Junco, Stellar’s Jays and a stunning male Anna’s Hummingbird.

I was blessed with a week of friendship and birds.


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