Outdoors

Fall has pelicans stopping by the coast

There are two months in the year that tempt birders to hit the road and visit their favorite places. May should be two months long and so should September. September is fast slipping away so it’s now or never to head for the mountains or the coast. Fall is a great time to look for birds in both places but if I had to pick just one it would be the coast.

I love to watch the pelicans. Brown pelicans visit Washington every summer. You can head to any of your favorite coastal areas and expect to see them. These are birds from California but once the nesting season is over they head north for some good fishing.

Westport is not only great for pelican watching, it’s great for all bird watching. The breakwater that was built to protect the harbor full of fishing boats also accommodates pedestrians. You can walk along its top and get far enough out to observe the birds on the water and those resting on the accommodating structure.

Pelicans cruise by nonstop. The small groups glide in a manner that is mesmerizing to watch. Shorebirds waiting for the tide to change congregate on the breakwater. As low tide approaches, they head to exposed beaches where the feeding is good. One of those is Bottle Beach to the north of Westport. Another excellent spot is farther south at Tokeland.

Tokeland has its own group of birds that create interest like that of Westport’s pelicans. Marbled godwits gather in large numbers near the small harbor at the road’s end. Along with other large shorebirds they rest on the floats and wait for the tide to run out. A viewing area on the dock lets you look across toward Willapa Bay or toward a long spit where other birds including some terns and pelicans rest.

The godwits are the main draw at Tokeland but mixed in with them will be whimbrels, long-billed curlew, wandering tattlers, yellowlegs, dowitchers and enough shorebirds to keep you busy studying them and the field guide.

If you haven’t visited the southwest part of our coast in a while it’s also a good place to view fall migrants. I just learned that Fort Canby State Park at the mouth of the Columbia River has a new name. In honor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was renamed Cape Disappointment State Park. Whatever the name, the birding is the same.

There will be brown pelicans along with plenty of gull species to study. The only gull with a red bill, Heermann’s, visits the coast in large numbers during late summer. Other gulls like the large Western, the familiar glaucous-winged and both California and mew will be there too.

Also look for migrants in the North Head Lighthouse area. This point jutting out into the ocean affords excellent viewing of fishing brown pelicans and some passerine surprises are possible too. One year, it was a Say’s phoebe that sat down to rest on the fence surrounding the lighthouse. Thousands of birds migrate up and down our coast every year and you never know what you might encounter if you’re in the right place at the right time.

We all have coastal spots that draw us back again and again. Those mentioned here are some of my favorites. Others are equally interesting if you choose to head north. The important decision is deciding to make the trip. Spring is a long way off and winter will last forever so let’s try and make September two -months long.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.

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