WILLAPA BAY — Sometimes an event comes together because two people have similar ideas at the same time.
Bob Duke dreamed up the annual “Wonders of Willapa” four years ago, inviting nature lovers to learn more about the outdoor majesty of the South Bay Trail.
As community outreach coordinator of the Friends of Willapa, the Ocean Park resident was wondering what to do differently this year.
Enter Jackie Ferrier, project leader from the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. She was chatting with refuge supporters Erin and Dave Ryan, also of Ocean Park, about ways to enhance awareness of the Peninsula’s rich bird life.
Thus was born, “Wings over Willapa,” a three-day public event planned for Sept. 28-30 to showcase bird migration.
“We sat down with Jackie Ferrer from the Refuge,” recalled Erin Ryan. “She had been wanting to do this for a long time and nobody had stepped up. We thought, ‘We love birds. We can get folks to come out.’”
Duke was delighted at the energy, hoping it will spawn considerable public interest and eventually financial support for the refuge’s planned relocation.
Celebrating nature’s wonders
“Wings over Willapa” will celebrate the region’s birds and nature, as well as the art they inspire with classes, workshops and guided tours.
“Explore the northern tip of Long Beach and spot snowy plovers and thousands of waterfowl, cross to Long Island and walk through a native, old growth cedar forest, and head out to sea for possible sightings of albatross,” said David Ryan.
“Whether you’re an experienced birder or getting acquainted with the outdoors, nature lovers of all ages are sure to find plenty to do.”
The event is timed to coincide with the start of fall migration along the Pacific Flyway.
Among the tours offered will be an East Sand Island kayak trip, a bird walk at Cape Disappointment State Park, a pelagic trip departing from Ilwaco, two barge trips into Willapa Bay, as well as self-guided tours at Tarlatt, Teal and Greenhead sloughs.
Guided tours of the Leadbetter Unit of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge will include one of the beach and dunes and another with an animal tracking specialist of the bay and forest side.
Presentations will include beginning birding, nature photography, shorebirds and pelagic birds. Bird box building, a decoy carving demonstration, beach baskets, biking and birding tour, feather raku pottery, stationary making, and a paint and sip class are some of the indoor offerings.
Capping off the day Sept. 29 will be an evening gathering at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, event headquarters, with a keynote speaker, Joan Walsh, an ornithologist from Massachusetts, food and drink, plus a silent auction.
The festival is hosted by the Friends of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Because space is limited, registration is required for each of the events. For more information and a schedule, log on to https://friendsofwillaparefuge.org/wings-over-willapa/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designated sites of international significance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network in Willapa Bay and the Long Beach Peninsula boast many and varied habitats within a concentrated region.
Tidal mudflats, along with adjacent salt marshes, pastures, and outer beaches, provide large concentrations of shorebirds with diverse habitats critical for feeding and roosting. The region represents the largest remaining area of tidal mudflat habitat and coastal salt marsh habitat in southwestern Washington and the second largest estuary on the U.S. Pacific coast.
Hundreds of species of birds nest or migrate through Pacific County. Highlighted species include snowy plover, pygmy owl and peregrine falcon. More common sightings are gulls, bald eagles, brown pelicans and great blue herons. Seasonal sightings include sanderling, trumpeter swans, snowy owls, dunlin, merlin and black-bellied plovers.
“This critical link along the Pacific Flyway is threatened by habitat loss,” said Ferrier, from the Refuge.
“By increasing your awareness and appreciation of shorebirds in this region, you will be contributing to the success of long-term conservation efforts.”
Ryan, a forester with the Nature Conservancy, spoke with enthusiasm as he recalled how the event came together.
“There was a lot of latent energy, and there was unparalleled support,” Ryan said. “The business community started supporting it and we said, ‘Let’s make this happen!’ ”