One of nature’s wonders flies into the Twin Harbors this weekend as the yearly spring migration of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds is celebrated at the 23rd Annual Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival, Friday through Sunday, April 27 – 29. The event is based this year at Hoquiam Middle School, 200 Spencer St., and as usual at the nearby Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, located next to the Bowerman Field airport.
The festival offers a variety of opportunities to observe and learn about a brief but crucial part of the epic journey of shorebirds from their winter homes in South America, that includes a “rest and refuel” stop on the beaches and intertidal flats of Grays Harbor and Willipa Bay.
Festival Chairman Arnie Martin said 1,000 or more folks will attend the event, typically coming from across the country. This year, a woman will travel to Grays Harbor from the far side of the world, Townsville, in Queensland, Australia.
The Shorebird Festival was created by the Grays Harbor Audubon Society. Many of the 40 or so volunteers who help with the event come via festival partner the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex, of which the Grays Harbor Refuge is a part. The City of Hoquiam also partners in the event.
“Shorebirds are a good indicator of what we’re doing to the environment,” Martin said. “Both Willipa Bay and Grays Harbor are sites of critical importance to the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network,” an intercontinental conservation effort begun in 1985. “It’s obvious that you have to protect these areas,” he added.
The Festival offers a cornucopia of content including lectures, displays, an eclectic variety of vendors at the birding marketplace, and more. Free family events include the Nature Fun Fair with wildlife art projects starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, bird mask making Sunday and the annual elementary students’ poster contest, followed by a kids’ parade, all at Hoquiam Middle School.
Another highlight is “Run for the Birds” with registration at 9 a.m. Saturday at Hoquiam City Hall for a 2-mile walk/run and 5K and 10K runs.
One of the Festival’s focal points is the Grays Harbor Refuge’s Sandpiper Trail, a one-mile boardwalk that ends in a large viewing area built over the tidal mudflats. This, and on the field trips, is where you’ll see the amazing flights of flocks of birds, along with the serious birders and their cameras with gigantic telephoto lenses.
During peak viewing times, volunteers with spotting scopes are available to assist and answer questions. This year, the best viewing times at the Refuge are approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. A shuttle bus will run continuously from Hoquiam Middle School to the Refuge, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Keynote Speaker Friday night is UW Professor of Wildlife Science and author John Marzluff, who will discuss his latest book, “Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers and Other Wildlife,” at Hoquiam High School, in the Little Theatre.
At Saturday’s already sold out dinner at the Hoquiam Elks Lodge, Larry Workman will speak on “Surviving in the Anthropocene.” Workman is the Centralized Communications Department manager for the Quinault Indian Nation, co-editor of the QIN monthly paper, “Nugguam,” and an award-winning photographer. He will discuss environmental and other challenges brought about climate change as it relates to the Quinault area.
Other lecture topics include ”Shorebird Identification Basics” and “Bring Back the Bees” on Saturday and “Coastal Raptors: A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two on the Beach,” on Sunday.
Martin, who also serves as president of the local Audubon Society, said the fields trips to coastal viewing areas are always a favorite element of the weekend. Field trips originate in Hoquiam, run 6-8 hours, and cost $35 to $45.
The Friday field trip to Tokeland, Grayland and Westport is already sold out, as is the Saturday trip to Ocean Shores, although Friday remains open. The Saturday trip to Huynisisoos (Pt. Grenville) is still available, as is a $15 “Shorebirds for Beginners” guided excursion to the Refuge, and Sunday’s visit to Westport, Grayland and John’s River. Those wishing to register for field trips should call Jean Davis at 360-580-8162.
In addition to family fun and a little bit of learning, the festival raises funds to help pay for lessons on the shorebirds and our local ecosystem, presented to local third and fourth grade students by an AmeriCorps member. Melanie Graeff, who regularly travels from Olympia for a series of six lessons and a field trip to the Refuge, at six area schools, said, “The kids really love this program. It gets them outside to explore habitats and identify birds and things they’ve studied.”
Detailed information on the Festival is available online at www.shorebirdfestival.com.