A pair of Long-tailed Ducks take off in search of better fishing grounds. ©Joe Meche

Western Grebes are a unique and wonderful sight to behold. ©Eric Ellingson

Great Blue Heron and gulls taking flight are a photographer's delight. ©Eric Ellingson

Wings Over Water NW Birding Festival

by Audrey Fraggalosch

When you feel the first breath of spring, grab your binoculars and cameras and head to the northwest corner of WA for an amazing natural spectacle. As this time of year, thousands of migratory birds visit local beaches along the Salish Sea on their way north to their nesting grounds in Alaska and the Arctic. In celebration of the incredible variety of migratory birds that flock to the coastal waters of Drayton Harbor, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo Bay, the waterfront city of Blaine hosts an annual birding festival weekend. The 18th annual “Wings Over Water: Northwest Birding Festival” is ready to take flight on March 20-22, 2020.

 Join the celebration and experience a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities for all ages and birding interests. There are field trips, boat tours, a wildlife cruise, birding expo with live raptor presentations, wildlife exhibits, arts and craft vendors, kids’ activities, expert wildlife speakers, workshops and more. See the event schedule online at wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com for details about all of the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday events and their locations.

Originally known as the Washington Brant Festival, the Wings Over Water festival focuses on the thousands of Brant as well as other migratory water birds that rest and feed along the pristine shores of Blaine and Birch Bay on their journey north."

Brant flap loudly as they depart from the Birch Bay shoreline.

A pair of Common Goldeneye paddles peacefully along the shoreline. ©Joe Meche

Dunlin searching for their next meal are a common sight here.©CKImageart.com

The 2020 Festival Keynote Presentation: “Owls and their Habitats across the Northwest” by author and photographer Paul Bannick is on Saturday 5:00-7:00 pm at the Blaine Performing Arts Center. His photography has won prestigious awards, including those hosted by Audubon Magazine and the International Conservation Photography Awards.

Originally known as the Washington Brant Festival, the Wings Over Water festival focuses on the thousands of Brant as well as other migratory water birds that rest and feed along the pristine shores of Blaine and Birch Bay on their journey north. The Black Brant is a small dark sea goose about the size of a Mallard duck that stages one of the most spectacular migrations of all waterfowl, with over 140,000 brant migrating along the Pacific Flyway each year. They travel thousands of miles every spring to their far northern nesting grounds and then back south to their warmer winter, stopping along the Salish Sea to rest and feed before continuing their journey.

You’ll see huge flocks of shorebirds on the extensive intertidal mud flats and beaches. Many species of ducks feed in the rich eelgrass beds and shallow waters while grebes, loons and scoters dive to feed in the surrounding deeper waters. Bald eagles soar above and if you’re lucky you might even spot a pair of Peregrine falcons hunting.

Friday, March 20: Reifel Bird Sanctuary Field Trip

The festival begins on Friday March 20 with an all-day bus charter guided field trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta, BC), one of Canada’s top birding spots. Space is limited, purchase tickets online. A two day advanced photography workshop with Ken Salzman also begins on Friday, 9:00 am -4:00 pm, and continues on Saturday 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. Class size is limited to 14, reserve your spot online. Includes both experience in the classroom and in the field. Bring your camera equipment.

Everyone is invited to the Friday evening Festival Opening and Featured Artist Reception at the Great Blue Heron Grill at the Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club. Seating is limited so purchase your tickets ahead of time online. Meet this year’s featured artists Megan and Wendy Bloom (Rainbow Orca Designs) and view an exhibit of their original nature and wildlife-inspired sculptural art and painted creative works. There’s also a presentation by Molly Hashimoto, artist and author of Birds of the West, An Artist’s Guide. The evening reception includes a silent auction.

Saturday, March 21: Guided Birding Tours

Enjoy free activities for the whole family at the all-day Birding Expo at the Blaine Middle School. Don’t miss the live raptor presentations, kids’ birdhouse building, arts and crafts vendors, wildlife exhibits, and a fabulous variety of interactive workshops and speakers. Plover Photo: ©Jack Kintner. Raptor Photo: ©CKImageart.com

1. Guided Birding and Geology Bus Tour to Semiahmoo Spit (10 am -12:30 pm)

2. Explore the Geology and Birds of Birch Bay Bus tour (1:30 pm - 4  pm)

3. Free Birding Field Trip along Blaine Harbor with Joe Meche (12 pm - 2 pm)

4. Salish Sea Open Water Birding and Wildlife Cruise by San Juan Cruises (10 am - 12:00 pm and 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm)

5. The 2020 Festival Keynote Presentation, “Owls and their Habitats across the Northwest,” by author and photographer Paul Bannick is on Saturday 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm at the Blaine Performing Arts Center.

6. Plover Passenger Ferry 45 minute Nature Cruise around Drayton Harbor. (10 am-3 pm departs hourly)

Please check the online WOW schedule for exact times of field trips and to book your boat and bus tours, fees may apply.

Sunday, March 22: Birch Bay State Park & Semiahmoo Spit


Mount Baker and the iconic Alaska Packers water tower stand sentry behind Semiahmoo Resort. ©Semiahmoo Resort

The natural habitat along Birch Bay State Park makes for great birding and wildlife watching.

Street musicians entertain passersby on the Blaine waterfront.

A paved trail winds along the entire spit that leads to Resort Semiahmoo (pictured at top) providing great access to the beach. ©City of Blaine

Sunday morning starts with a Breakfast for Birders at the Semiahmoo Golf Club Great Blue Heron Grill (9:00 am - 11:00 am) along with a presentation on Audubon Washington’s recent report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink.

1.    Guided birding walk along the shoreline and trails of Birch Bay State Park (11:30 am -1:00 pm)

2.    Guided birding walk at Semiahmoo Spit.(11:30 am - 1:00 pm)

Photography enthusiasts can participate in a Beginning Bird Photography Workshop (11:30 am -1:00 pm) with award-winning bird photographer Paul Bannick. No need to own a camera to take this class. Reservations recommended and cost is $15.

There’s lots to amaze all the nature lovers in your family during birding festival weekend, so plan to stay over to fully enjoy this corner of northwest WA. Choose from a variety of accommodations, ranging from a 4-star seaside resort (with golf course & European spa) to cozy beach cabins all within a 5 -10 minute drive from WOW venues.

Experience Blaine’s small town charm and maritime heritage. The Alaska Packers Association Cannery and Fishing Museum is a great spot to learn more about Blaine’s rich maritime history; or relax at an old-time family friendly diner or sip on a latte while enjoying the harbor view. Bring your binoculars, you never know what bird you might see flying by.