birdwatching in westport
By Audrey Fraggalosch | Photos courtesy of Experience Westport
Westport is known for many things – world class fishing, clam digging, beaches and surfing - but birding has literally flown under the radar!
With miles of sandy beach, Westport offers some of the most exciting birding and wildlife watching in Washington State. Thousands of shorebirds use the tidal flats to rest and refuel during their long journeys between non-breeding and breeding habitat. Fall and spring migration are the best times to view masses of shorebirds and other migrating species.
Westport is also one of the best places in Washington to spot Pacific gray whales, which hang out off the western coast of Washington from March to May, during their northern migration, to rest, mate and eat. Another marine mammal you may spot is the harbor seal basking on the beach or at the marina.
In the fall/winter you’ll have the beach mostly to yourself, a bonus for birding and beach-combing. Dress warm so you can embrace the wind and salt spray on your cheeks. Bring your binoculars and head out an hour or two before low tide as this is often the best time to see birds foraging for food.
You will most likely see cormorants drying out their wings on rocks and pilings, the occasional bald eagle or blue heron, a variety of gulls sailing above, and sandpipers dashing along at the edge of the water. In the shallow waters close to shore look for ducks, grebes and loons dipping and diving. You might get lucky and even see brown pelicans before they head south in late fall to their breeding grounds.
Enjoy those magic moments when you happen upon a great blue heron fishing or a couple of sandpipers resting on the beach with their heads turned backward and bills tucked under feathers. How these tiny birds manage in face of strong winds and waves seems miraculous!
Flocks of dunlin in flight are a common and marvelous spectacle. Each bird in the flock flies in precise formation only a few inches from its neighbor, and with each change of direction the color of the flock changes. First you see the bird’s dark upper parts then as they swerve to one side, the dark changes to the white of their underparts.
Further offshore, tufted puffins, auklets, storm-petrels, shearwaters and even albatross live off the abundant marine life. Take an all day bird-watching boat trip to see these pelagic species. Tours depart from Westport (March to October) and take you 30 nautical miles out to deep water submarine canyons and the edge of the North American continental shelf.
A favorite Westport birding spot is Bottle Beach State Park, an official Washington State Birding Trail, designated by the Audubon Society. The park hosts over 130 species of birds. Fall shorebirds include Black-bellied Plovers, Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, Whimbrels, Marbled Godwits, and Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers. The extensive mudflats at Bottle Beach are great for viewing the mass spring migration of shorebirds including Western and Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Plovers. This is the best place in Washington to find Red Knots in spring.
When the shorebirds fly in huge, synchronized groups darkening large portions of the sky, look for raptors, like peregrine falcons, waiting for the moment to swoop down and pick off a smaller bird in the air. This makes for exciting birding!
Head to Westport on Washington’s Coast for some of the most incredible birding close to Seattle. Come for a day (or weekend) to enjoy the beach, the birds and make some fun memories year round! Plan your visit with ExperienceWestport.com