Attention residents of Grays Harbor: Prepare to be inundated with hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

grays harbor tourismThis weekend, Hoquiam will become the center of the world for shorebirds as they make their annual migration from South America. Some of these birds will travel over 15,000 miles, making a quick stop in our backyard before continuing their journey north. Since they are stopping by our own backyard wildlife refuge, what better way to welcome them than by throwing a huge festival?

grays harbor shorebird festival
Shorebirds in flight during a visit to the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWS.

This year’s Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival promises to be an excellent adventure. With 24 events, lectures and field trips taking place over the three-day event, birding enthusiasts and newbies to the activity will find something perfect for them. Working together to produce the annual Shorebird and Nature Festival, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Grays Harbor NWR, the City of Hoquiam and a handful of other local sponsors are eager to have you attend this year’s event.

The highlight of this event for many is the bird viewing that occurs at the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge. While many will think that they can just pop down to the refuge and take a good look at the shorebirds, you will need to plan your trip around high tide. The best time to see shorebirds is a four-hour window on either side of high tide. During the two hours before and after high tide, the birds will be closer to the viewing areas and more concentrated, giving you much better sightings. For the 2016 Shorebird Festival, high tide falls during the middle afternoon hours, giving you the perfect chance to head outside and see these huge flocks. Friday’s high tide falls at 1:00 p.m., Saturday’s tide is at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday’s will be at 3:00 p.m.

grays harbor shorebird festival
Sandpipers fly together. Photo credit: Don McCullough.

There are at least 16 types of shorebirds to see; and if you are unfamiliar with them, there are guided walks available. Guided walks serve as the ideal way to get to know the shorebirds and other birds in the region. Led by birding experts, these walks will occur on Friday and Sunday, starting at 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m., respectively. On Saturday, there will not be an official guided tour, but heading out during the hours before and after high tide will have you rubbing shoulders with some of the best birders in the nation, all friendly and willing to point out numerous species.

One expert tip while watching the shorebirds, aside from dressing warmly, is to look up. The shorebirds also bring in the peregrine falcons, who will hunt the smaller birds, grabbing them in mid-flight. It is quite a sight to see.

grays harbor shorebird festival
Shorebirds fly together for safety. Photo credit: Steve Voght.

If heading to the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge isn’t enough birding, there are seven other excellent field trips led by birding experts all around Grays Harbor. On Friday, a trip to Tokeland, Grayland and the Westport Loop is planned, taking visitors to the best shorebird viewing destinations along the coast. Also on Friday, and then again on Saturday, a field trip will take you out to Ocean Shores, visiting a variety of habitats where you might see 60 different species of birds. Finally, on Saturday a field trip will take those interested out to Huynisisoos (formerly known as Point Grenville). Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres and Tufted Puffins nest in the scenic seastacks of the Quinault Tribal lands.

Also on Saturday, there will be a Shorebirds for Beginners trip where you will be led through the wildlife refuge by some of the best birders around. Sunday ends with two more field trips: one to Ocean City and the other to Westport. These are both fantastic and will get you knowledgeable about the coastal regions we call home. Keep in mind that each of these field trips will require a registration fee and for you to sign up as quickly as possible. There will be walking on each of them, so come prepared and ready to have amazing birding opportunities. More information on the field trips, including sign-up sheets and costs, can be found at the festival’s website.

grays harbor shorebird festival
A Peregrine falcon circles above shorebirds. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

While the birding and field trips usually are the most popular, the lecture series presented each year brings in the absolute cream of the crop of the birding community. Friday night’s lecture, which which many consider to be the unofficial kickoff to the Shorebird Festival, will focus on the words and images from keynote speaker Robert Pyle. Pyle will be presenting his talk on the topic of “West-Side Butterflies: Rainforest to Rainshadow.” He is the author of 20 books on all subject matters, from books of prose and poetry, to his most popular The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies and The Butterflies of Cascadia. Other lectures at this year’s Shorebird Festival will include a Shorebird Identification Course, a talk about vultures called “The Turkey Vulture: Love at Second Sight,” and the annual dinner with Speaker Ken Bevis talking about The Wonders of Wildlife. More information on the lectures, including locations and costs to attend, can be found on the Shorebird Festival website.

grays harbor shorebird festival
The Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival is slated for Friday, May 6 through Sunday, May 8. Photo credit: Bill Pitts

The events mentioned here are just a few highlights to this local, annual event. There is nothing as amazing as being part of the wildlife experience in our own backyard, celebrating our area’s richness. Heading to the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival should be the highlight of your spring and help remind us all just how diverse and amazing Grays Harbor County is.

Check out the website, highlight the events you want to attend and fly yourself and your family out to the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge May 6 – 8.

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