Gulls are not the only feathered friends found on our local beaches. Some birds spend most of their time foraging along the beaches, including crows, herons, and eagles. Some spectacular birds, such as oystercatchers depend on our beaches for their food. Some we don’t expect to see at the beach, like robins, wrens, and flickers, but there they are. Others, like sandpipers, are just passing through, and we’re lucky to spot them. Researchers continue to learn about the strategies of migrating birds, tactics that transform their physiology and anatomy to know where to go and how to get there. Here are some of my favorite birds on the beach:
Black Oystercatchers don’t eat oysters but do love our local limpets. These birds are monogamous and stay with their mate year-round. If you see one with a bill that’s brown on the lower half, it’s a juvenile. They regularly forage along the coast from North Beach to Cape George.
American Crows “allopreen” their partner to secure their attachment. Sometimes over a hundred crows gather on the beach at Pt. Hudson. When you’re in the parking lot at North Beach, look for the crow with a crossbill. He/she has lived there for years and was seen last summer happily allopreening with its partner.
Killdeer pair up and raise their babies in nests right on the beach, including at Pt. Wilson and Pt. Hudson. They will call and pretend to have a broken wing to lead us away from the nests.
The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world, the size of a sparrow and weighing only about one ounce. Yet they can migrate thousands of miles. They feed along the edges of mudflats and marshes, finding small invertebrates like this one did at Kala Point.
Sanderlings look like little mice scurrying along the edge of the sea, then plunging their heads into the water or sand to find tiny invertebrates. These are long-distance migrants that breed in the High Arctic tundra.
Look for small groups of Whimbrels stopping on our beaches in April or May. This year the first was spotted on April 5. I love their scientific name, Numenius phaeopus, with Numenius meaning “new moon,” the shape of its long bill.
Belted Kingfishers raise their babies in holes in the cliffs above the beaches. One summer day I was walking on Marrowstone between East Beach and Ft. Flagler and heard this baby calling frantically, having fallen out of its hole. I hope it survived.
. Another baby, a Barn Swallow, was calling for its parents to bring food now on Indian Island.
Northern Flickers mostly eat ants on the ground and insects in tree bark, but I noticed this female poking her beak into the sand near Pt. Wilson.
Black Turnstones really do turn stones (and seaweed) with their sharp beaks to dig out the insects and marine invertebrates they find so delicious. This one gazes across the “cut” from Indian Island.
And last, a gull, and perhaps the most beautiful of our local gulls. Heermann’s Gulls breed on islands off Baja California, but fly to Port Townsend for the summer season. A visitor once asked a docent at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center about “all the baby eagles on the beach.” This Heermann’s Gull with a gray head is non-breeding, but in breeding plumage, they fooled the visitor with their white heads, just like Bald Eagles.
Featured photo at top: Mallards at North Beach (all photos by Wendy Feltham)