Hotspot Update: Back to Drayton Harbor, Blaine, Washington

Delta Naturalists' Society casual birders at Drayton Harbor, Blaine, Washington, January 6, 2014. Photo by Ken Borrie.Delta Naturalists’ Society casual birders at Drayton Harbor, Blaine, Washington, January 6, 2014. Photo by Ken Borrie.

In “Hotspots Near You” in our December 2012 issue, author and naturalist Anne Murray described a wonderful place in the Pacific Northwest: Drayton Harbor in Blaine, Washington.

As Anne wrote, Drayton Harbor is a great place for birdwatching, an Important Bird Area where thousands of Brant Geese, Northern Pintails and other waterfowl congregate for food, shelter and socialize every winter.

We liked what she wrote so much that we asked her if she had been back recently, and if so, what she had seen. She sent us the following report:

BW1212_Map_DraytonHarborWADrayton Harbor, Hotspot Near You No. 149, continues to live up to its “Hotspot” tag, judging by the long list of species our Casual Birders group compiled on a cold, clear morning early in the morning. January 2014.

We started in Delta, BC. After crossing the international border at Peace Arch, we headed straight for the Blaine Fishing Pier. This location offers excellent views of the deep waters of Boundary and Semiahmoo Bay, where loons, grebes and diving ducks like to hang out. It didn’t disappoint, as we quickly spotted three species of loons (common, pacific, and red-throated), as well as horned, western, and red-necked grebes.

Pelagic and double-crested cormorants fished in surprisingly calm waters. A belted kingfisher was ready to dock, with the usual grey-winged gulls waiting for scraps. Deep-sea specialists – Long-tailed Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Greater Scaup, Scoters and Pigeon Guillemots – were visible in the narrow water passage at the mouth of Drayton Harbour. We got even closer views of a lot of Semiahmoo Spit later in the morning.

Driving in a convoy of carpool cars, the group returned to a viewpoint on the inner harbor, where a Pied-billed Grebe marked us our fourth grebe of the day, and a mixed group of Dabbling Ducks increased our numbers. of species. A large roosting herd of Dunlins flew off one of the breakwaters.

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Continuing, we looped around the bay, arriving at the southern end of Semiahmoo Spit. There is a convenient parking space here and walking paths along the marina and resort area. Outside the spit, the open waters stretching across Boundary Bay provide ideal habitat for diving ducks. Sure enough, a group of about 40 Harlequin Ducks, Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters were feeding there, and we were delighted to see a few pairs of Black Scoters among them. Flocks of Brant were flying in the distance.

Along the inner shore we saw more cormorants, mergansers, pintails and green-winged teal. A few Sanderlings and Dunlins are tinkering on the floating docks. Although good views of Canvasbacks and Ruddy Ducks are not uncommon here in the winter, the two species were far too far out today for anything more than a telescope view. Having the birds scattered over relatively calm seas is a small inconvenience in good weather.

We missed a solitary Mountain Bluebird that had been reported since the Christmas Bird Count, but I have reports that it is still around this month (February 2014). Cold toes were starting to affect many of us so it was nice to warm up with a coffee at the marina cafe before heading home. As usual, Drayton Harbor proved to be a haven for birds in winter.

Note: The Casual Birders are a birding group of the Delta Naturalists’ Society, Delta, BC, often accompanied by members of the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists and Nature Vancouver, and occasional visitors.

The group is coordinated by Tom Bearss, who writes a humorous description of each trip with great photos of the members for the Delta Naturalists’ Society blog. The group trip to Drayton Harbor took place on January 6, 2014. In the photo above, I am seated in the front row of the group photo wearing a blue toque and striped scarf. —Anne Murray

Anne is the author of two books: A nature guide to Boundary Bay And Tracing Our Past: A Guide to Boundary Bay Heritage (Nature Guides BC). She wrote about Drayton Harbor in our December 2012 issue. She also wrote about Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Hotspot Near You No. 132, and the Boundary Bay Dykes, Hotspot Near You No. 173. She also described how tiny devices known as geolocators are unlocking the biggest secrets of bird migration.

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List of species

Port of Drayton, Blaine, Washington
Hotspot near you No. 149
January 6, 2014

Canada Goose
american duck
Green-winged teal
Rear canvas
greater duck
Harlequin Duck
surf scoter
White-winged Scoter
black scoter
long tail duck
Small tourniquet
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
crested merganser
red duck
Red-throated Diving
pacific loon
common loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
red-necked grebe
western grebe
double-crested cormorant
pelagic cormorant
great blue heron
Bald Eagle
American coot
Glaucous-winged Gull
Pigeon Guillemot
rock pigeon
belted kingfisher
Northwest Raven
black-capped chickadee
Mountain Bluebird (reported by day but not seen by group)
American Robin
European starling
song sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Slate Junco
house finch
house sparrow

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