Jackie Ferrier is the refuge manager for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state. In the past seven years that Jackie has worked out of this office, she has witnessed the migration of millions of shorebirds and waterfowl that use key stopover habitat this area provides. Jackie talked with us last week about the importance of this area for birds migrating along the pacific flyway.
Situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, the refuge is comprised of over 15,000 acres of tidelands, temperate rainforest, ocean beaches, and remnants of old-growth coastal cedar forest. Willapa Bay is the second largest estuary on the Pacific Coast and can expose up to 50,000 acres of mudflats–prime foraging habitat for shorebirds migrating up to breeding grounds in the Arctic. The refuge is one of the highlight sites for the 2017 International Migratory Bird Day conservation theme “Stopover Sites: Helping Birds Along the Way”, as a key stopover site for migratory birds. Over 10% of the total population of pacific flyway shorebirds pass through the wetland complex during spring migration, and it is of particular importance for Dunlin, Dowitchers, and Red Knots. Earlier this month, Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula received the 97th designation as a site of international importance within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). During the May 13th International Migratory Bird Day event, a dedication ceremony will be held at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.
The rainy weather this winter has carried on into springtime along the Washington coast. While the larger flocks of waterfowl have already moved through the area, Jackie says it is difficult to tell if shorebird migration has reached peak. Stormy weather will often keep birds grounded and can potentially delay their migration schedule. Jackie estimates there are flocks in the 150-200 thousands of shorebirds currently in the area, whereas peak migration numbers typically reach 200-300 thousand! Dunlin, Sanderling, Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper are spread across wetland and mudflat habitat, foraging for macroinvetebrates and worms to fuel the final leg of northbound migration. Throughout the month of May beaches will be awash in red, when Red Knot numbers reach their peak. Many have been banded in Oregon and California, so keep binoculars and scopes on the lookout for leg bands!
If you find yourself in Washington in May, consider joining the Willapa Bay International Migratory Bird Day celebration on May 13th. For more information on this event click here.