Hollywood is going birdwatching this fall, so how about you? Although the Steve Martin/Owen Wilson/Jack Black movie The Big Year was partly filmed east of the Cascade Mountains here in Washington, Grays Harbor on the Washington coast is our major birdwatching destination. Did you know that every year over a million migrating birds stop by Grays Harbor to chow down, party, and rest up on their way north and south?
The fertile estuaries around Grays Harbor make this area an important stop on the Pacific Flyway for thousands of birds migrating from the Arctic down to Central/South America and back. While more birds stop by Bowerman Basin/Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge on the north harbor, many also swing by the Ocosta area in the south harbor.
Bottle Beach State Park, which lies on the site of former 1890s boom-bust town Ocosta by the Sea, has recently been reclaimed for birds and other creatures that live or stop by the immense tideflats. According to Grays Harbor Audubon, Bottle Beach is best for viewing mudflat shorebirds like plovers, dowitchers, dunlins, and sandpipers, along with bald eagles and peregrine falcons.
I stop by Bottle Beach on a brilliant sunny day for a work-related reconaissance outing (tough gig, huh?) and am lucky to be with a wetlands biologist. We walk the half mile or so down a nice trail and boardwalk through wetlands down to a bird-viewing blind perched on the beach edge. During nesting seasons, it’s best to view the avian action from here to not disturb the birds.
Because work duty calls, we venture out onto the mudflats to explore. At low tide, remnant foundations of an old railroad turntable and dock pilings are visible (see the top photo above). It’s hard to tell where the mudflat ends and the waterline starts.
“Hey,it’s a ghost shrimp,” says biologist Jennifer, pointing out the anemic-looking white critter on the sand. I don’t know whether to watch the sand at my feet or scan the sky for birds. So I try my best to do both.
On the northern horizon and a tad to the east, the snow-laced Olympic Mountains are visible. Being a Seattleite, I’ve never seen these mountains from this direction. Very cool!
Afterwards, we have to make a stop in Westport, a fishing/tourist town on the south entrance to Grays Harbor just a few miles past Bottle Beach. (Some of the best local salmon comes from boats fishing off Westport.) The main street along the marina is full of kitschy shops and restaurants. Of course after all that intense work, we have to indulge ourselves with ice cream cones at a Whale of a Cone, every bite worth the wait in line.
When You Go
Click here for a map showing Bottle Beach State Park and directions. Springtime gets a larger batch of migrating birds, but there’s a great show in the autumn as well through October. Check the tides because the best birdwatching is just before high tide. And since I'm not really a good bird photographer, you'll have to check out Northwest nature blogs like Slugyard, Wild Pacific Northwest, and Wild Fidalgo for those.