Spring is here (well, allegedly), and with it comes the migration of thousands of birds through Grays Harbor en route to their Arctic breeding grounds.
And with that comes the annual Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival.
This year’s event will be held Friday through Sunday, May 3-5, with its base of operations at Hoquiam Middle School. But the deadline to pre-register for field trips and the two expert lectures is coming up on Wednesday, and a few featured events are already sold out.
The keynote speaker is Noah Strycker, a self-professed “bird nerd” who visited all seven continents in 2015, logging more than half of the world’s bird species. He will share the inside story of that epic trip after a dessert reception Friday, May 3. The cost is $15.
At the annual dinner the following night, scientist Brian Atwater will discuss pioneer naturalist James Graham Cooper’s documentation of Washington’s “ghost forests” and how that data served as a basis for modern earthquake and tsunami preparation. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased by this coming Wednesday, April 24.
Topics of other talks to be held at the school or in the field include identifying shorebirds, getting to know coastal raptors and bringing back bees. These talks are $10 to $15 per person.
Visitors may go to the nearby Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge at no charge for guided shorebird viewing. Shuttles will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 4 and 5 between the school and the refuge, where local experts will be on hand to help identify the birds and provide other information.
“The birds seen from the Sandpiper Trail (at the refuge) will be different this year, due to the festival being a week later,” said Arnie Martin, who’s been running the show for about 10 years. There may be more red knots, he said, but fewer dunlin and Western sandpipers.
Guided field trips also are scheduled for various shorebird viewing locations along the coast, both north and south of the Harbor, for fees ranging from $35 to $45. More were added to this year’s schedule to accommodate demand.
“Some notable birds seen on the 2018 Tokeland-Westport-Bottle Beach trip that impressed me were cinnamon teal, Pacific brant and rhinoceros auklet,” said Martin.
He said his favorite role in the festival is co-leading the “Shorebirds for Beginners” walks.
“Scott Morrison is the leader — he’s a great teacher,” he said. “But I enjoy going out on the boardwalk with a scope and showing the people the birds he’s just told people how to recognize.”
Vendors and local organizations will be selling their wares and sharing information all weekend at Hoquiam Middle School. The “Birding Marketplace” will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 4, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. that Sunday.
The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team is among the new exhibitors this year. COASST identifies and keeps records of dead birds on the beach, among other things. “They’re going to have a training program (at the festival), and it’s free,” said Martin.
Also during those hours, the Nature Fun Fair will be conducted by volunteers at the school. Kids of all ages will be able to participate in various artistic and educational activities there, including creating masks for Sunday afternoon’s Procession of the Shorebirds.
All proceeds from this festival go toward education programs and scientific research at the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge in Hoquiam. More than $4,500 was raised last year, and Martin hopes to surpass that number this year.
“They’re having education programs in the schools at Lincoln Elementary, Oakville, Wishkah, Stevens, Cosmopolis, Robert Gray and A.J. West,” he said. “And all of those kids that were taking those classes in nature studies — a lot of them are going to be participating in the shorebird drawing competition.”
Each year, elementary students from across the county vie for the honor of having their artwork used on Shorebird Festival posters, official T-shirts and other materials. This year’s featured artist is Ezri Carroll, who was a fifth-grader at St. Mary School a year ago when her oil pastel piece was chosen.
Entries for the 2020 festival will be displayed at the school during this year’s event, with the winner to be announced on Sunday, May 5.
“We spend maybe five hours picking the best one from each grade level, and then we put them up against each other to figure out who’s the grand winner,” said Martin. “My personal favorite was when a second-grader won. I asked him to sign one of the rack cards for me, and he printed his name because he didn’t know how to sign in cursive.”
One final note: Martin asks that attendees leave their pets at home for this event. Dogs are prohibited year-round at the refuge, and they will not be allowed at any of the related events, including the field trips.
“They have a tendency toward barking when the shorebirds flush because they’ve been attacked by a peregrine falcon or something,” he said. “You might be able to restrain them from moving, but it’s hard to make a dog stop barking.”