The excitement of spring migration and the nesting season has come and gone. Never fear though, fall migration has begun. Our summer residents are beginning to gather in preparation for the long trip to their wintering grounds. Sooty shearwaters are already engaging in a “fly past” at our ocean beaches in huge numbers. Migration is on their mind.
Raptors have begun to return to be with us for the fall and winter months, including turkey Vultures and Peregrine Falcons. In addition, now that their parental duties have come to an end, northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and cooper’s hawks are seen on the hunt more frequently now. They are permanent residents in our area.
Ravens, also permanent residents, are playing together, rolling, circling and turning with each other against the vibrant, blue sky as they catch the wind in the up and down drafts. They will forage together in winter. Perhaps they are also seeking a common roost in our area.
Fall migration will bring us waterfowl in great numbers. They will come to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge to rest and feed before they move on. One of the most common sightings will be brant on Willapa Bay feeding on eel grass that grows in the nutrient-rich waters. Willapa Bay is critical to the brant’s survival. The flock of brant usually numbers just under 2,000 birds, and will stay here for the winter.
Other waterfowl include green-winged teal, American wigeon, northern pintail, great scaup, common goldeneye, bufflehead and the ring-necked duck. The most common ducks, by far, are the northern pintail and the American wigeon. Most of these species will move on after they have rested and fattened up before moving on to winter in the southern U.S., and/or Mexico, and Central America.
Golden-crowned sparrows will soon be common on the refuge and the Peninsula, along with the fox sparrow. We can also look forward to seeing other species such as the northern shrike, Townsend’s warbler, red-necked grebe and the red-throated loon to name a few. Snowy owls often make an appearance on the refuge in winter. Although they are considered rare in our area, at least one has been seen during the last few years.
Shorebirds are on the move, so now is a good time to bird watch on the beach. Thousands of sanderlings are frantically racing along the sandy beaches looking for tasty small crustaceans, bivalves, polychaete worms, insects, and amphipods. Be on the lookout for other species of shorebirds such as dunlin, ruddy turnstones, black turnstones and black-bellied plover. Yet, another treat awaits…. A few brown pelicans have returned to feed in our coastal waters. These prehistoric looking birds that dive from on high to scoop up crustaceans and fish such as herring, mullet, and silversides are quite entertaining.
Fall and winter will not be dull. The curtain is now beginning to rise on the wildlife stage. A new play is about to begin with a new cast, even so, some of the old cast will remain. Sit back with your binoculars and get ready for Act 1. The show has begun in earnest!