West Coast Rock Shorebirds Sweep
Last weekend on a trip with my birding class I was lucky enough to have a complete sweep of all five possible species of the shorebirds commonly called rock birds. These are species that are almost exclusively found on rocky shorelines near the breaking surf. Like most northern hemisphere sandpipers these are birds that breed in the high arctic and come south to winter. In Washington state we are lucky enough to have times in the spring and fall migration when we can find all five of these species on the same day.
Saturday May 7, was just such a day for our group. We got to the Ocean Shores jetty at the north side of the mouth of the entrance to Gray’s Harbor after lunch, at about mid-tide. The weather was obliging, and so were the birds.
We quickly located a Wandering Tattler on the rocks bobbing its tail as is its custom. Within just a few minutes we had located only 9 rock birds, but there was at least one of all five species: Wandering Tattler (3), Ruddy Turnstone (2), Black Turnstone (2), Surfbird (1) and Rock Sandpiper (1). The really cool aspect of this day was that since it’s springtime all of these species were in fresh alternate (breeding) plumage. In some of them the difference between their breeding plumage and their much more dreary basic (winter) plumage is dramatic.
The Wandering Tattler in breeding plumage has crisp sharp streaking on its ventral side. The Surfbird has bright golden speckles on the feathers of the shoulder area. The Rock Sandpiper has a black patch on the belly area making it stand out dramatically in its breeding plumage.
To have all five of these species in one place at one time in bright alternate plumage was a real treat for this birder. Be sure to check out Ocean Shores, WA in migration for these and other great shorebird species. While you are there be sure to visit the Oyhut game range, the golf course, and the airport for other great shorebird viewing. You’ll need good waterproof boots for the game range viewing, but most of the rest is easily accessible and you can drive to near where you’ll get good views