Waterbird Wonderland
By Jenna Boyle Feehan
Published: 09/26/2010  Updated: 08/06/2019
Common Snipe
Common Snipe  photo by Gary Hayes

Bays and estuaries of the Northwest Coast teem with avifauna. All you need is a pair of binoculars, a field guide and perhaps a little patience.

The bays and estuaries of the Pacific Northwest coastline are prime birdwatching locations in fall and winter. These brackish water zones, where salt and fresh water mingle, support a multitude of migrating, seasonal and year-round species. Migratory water birds such as Harlequin Ducks, Buffleheads, and Common, Pacific and Yellow-billed Loons begin to arrive after spending the summer breeding season in Canada and Alaska.

Other fall and winter visitors include Scoters, Scaups, Goldeneyes, Grebes, and Mergansers. Year-round residents - the Great Blue Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Merganser, Wood Duck, American Coot, Double-crested and Brandt's Cormorants, and that adorable little dabbler, the Green-winged Teal - provide the opportunity for waterbird watching regardless of the season, and Osprey and Bald Eagles commonly soar overhead. Though Brown Pelicans generally migrate southward for the winter, the past two years have seen many individuals forgoing the seasonal trip; they will likely be observable on the Northwest coast deep into the winter season.

The most earnest birdwatchers will want to invest in a scope with a tripod, but a pair of good binoculars will typically get you zoomed in enough to spot birds' distinguishing features. A field guide with detailed illustrations or photographs proves invaluable for species identification, supplying info on the calls and behaviors of the birds as well as their characteristic appearances. Of course, always take care to avoid disturbing your subjects - if they seem to be flying away from you, you're either too close or too noisy, so please adjust your behavior accordingly. With gentle patience and a bit of luck, you'll discover an avian wonderland on the bays and estuaries of the Northwest Coast.
Waterbird Wonderland