Top Ten Spots for Spring Birding

West: Peep City! Gray's Harbor, Washington

I sometimes find it hard to believe that anything short of a nuke could supply enough energy to power the lifestyle of a two-ounce shorebird. These tiny dynamos of the avian world seem to have endless energy to burn; they are famously jumpy, and when seen skittering along a low-tide flat they are constantly in motion and take flight at countless unseen disturbances. And then there are the migratory habits of shorebirds—every spring and fall, many species follow a path that takes them nearly from pole to pole, with exhausting flights along the way that can consume a third or more of their body weight.

Shorebirds are indeed high-energy birds, and their peripatetic migrations have evolved to put them in the right places at the right times—they're willing to fly many thousands of miles to reap a particularly rich harvest and to avoid predation. On the East Coast, the spring shorebird migration is timed to place hordes of peeps on Delaware Bay precisely when even greater numbers of horseshoe crabs are laying their protein-rich eggs. And here in the Pacific Northwest, up to a million shorebirds stop to rest and feast each spring at Grays Harbor, on the biomass-rich mudflats of Bowerman Basin. It's one of the most important shorebird-migration "filling stations" in the world, and watching great clouds of peeps boiling along the flats is an unforgettable spectacle. About 85 percent of the shorebirds are western sandpipers, but you'll also find good numbers of dunlins, semipalmated plovers, red knots, and short-billed and long-billed dowitchers. The Grays Harbor Audubon Society throws a Shorebird Festival to celebrate the annual arrival of the birds, and legions of birders turn out every year.

Just the Facts

Birding Hot Spots: Although a number of spots in the Grays Harbor area can be productive for shorebirds, the undisputed champ is Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge at Bowerman Basin. It's raw and wet this time of year at this undeveloped refuge—bring rubber boots and warm clothes.

More Western Washington Outdoors: If you're in for some more coastal birding, check out Dungeness and Willapa National Wildlife Refuges. Grays Harbor is just to the south of Olympic National Park, which allows for all the adventure you could possibly want.


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