By GENE BULLOCK
Casual bird watchers can get a lot of enjoyment from their own backyards, where a variety of birds are within easy view of anyone with a bird feeder and binoculars.
But for more adventurous bird watchers, spring birding is about finding “migrant traps” and places where flyway traffic gets concentrated and funneled through natural restrictions.
Point-No-Point County Park at the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula is one of those special places where migrating birds converge, refuel and rest up for the hazardous crossing over Admiralty Inlet. The point’s tidal eddies also create an upwelling of nutrients that attract bait fish and the birds and fish that feed on them.
Migrating flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls, Heerman’s gulls, common terns, red-necked phalaropes and shorebirds join local populations of pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and marbled murrelets in these tidal feasts, while bird watchers gorge on a smorgasbord of wildlife viewing opportunities.
Riparian areas like Clear Creek in Silverdale and Fish Park in Poulsbo offer an urban oasis for migrating songbirds, where they can hunker down and wait for favorable travel winds. Many migrate at night when they are less vulnerable to predators. They may nap much of the day, but their dawn chorus is soul-stirring music to those who love nature—and especially to bird watchers. Birders who can recognize a few of the songs relish these morning outbursts as birds boldly announce their identity and whereabouts.
Shorelines along the coastal flyway offer a seasonal bonus to attentive bird watchers. Some critical stopovers along the flyway, like Bowerman’s Basin in Aberdeen, host migrating shorebirds by the tens of thousands. Such locations may combine tidal mud flats, rich with embedded marine life, and freshwater streams and estuaries that are prolific nurseries for an incredible variety of marine life. These special places are essential to the survival of many shorebird species; but the pressure to develop them is relentless. Nearby residential and commercial activity is an ever-present threat to healthy habitat.
Once you pack your binoculars and field guide and branch out from your own backyard, you realize that bird watching is a lot like fishing. It helps to know where to go and when. For marine birds, it helps to know the tide schedule and how it affects feeding activity. For songbirds, it helps to know some of their songs. It also helps to get an early start, before the birds stop singing and actively feeding. There are few places quieter than a midday forest, when the birds are resting up, and experienced bird watchers have shifted their attention from forest birds to birds feeding on tidal mud flats.
When all else fails, of course, there is nothing like the comfort of sitting at your kitchen window and enjoying spring birds in your own backyard. It’s something you can do even when it rains.