Migrating birds pass over state in March

  • By Sharon Wootton, Columnist
  • Friday, March 16, 2012 2:16pm
  • Life

Wings large and small are cutting through the skies of March, with snow geese, tundra swans and other winter migratory birds flying north to their breeding grounds.

Tens of thousands of sandhill cranes are migrating but stopping at feeding grounds in the Columbia Basin, the Vancouver lowlands and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where their annual spring mating dance is a show that’s not to be missed.

“Around 35,000 lesser sandhill cranes migrate through the Pacific Flyway and many of these birds travel through the Basin,” said state Department of Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist Rich Finger.

The cranes come from the southern portion of California’s Central Valley and pass through Washington on their way to nesting sites in south-central Alaska.

The greatest concentration of cranes arrives in March and typically stays until mid-April in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge marsh units, Frenchmen Reserve, Potholes Reservoir, Scootney Reservoir and Winchester Reserve.

I recommend the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival from March 23 to 25, which offers tours, classes and other events. Check the website, othellosandhillcranefestival.org. Stay until dusk and catch the cranes taking off from feeding areas to their roosting grounds.

Long billed curlews will be shortly behind the cranes, usually March through June in agricultural fields or in large expanses of very short vegetation. Farm fields near Othello, Moses Lake, George and Quincy all have potential to support curlews.

“We know we have curlew nesting in the short grasses of the Seep Lakes Unit of our Columbia Basin Wildlife Area,” Finger said.

Reports of incoming birds are coming from every direction.

Sage grouse are on their mating grounds in north-central Douglas County this month. Okanogan County birds include red-tailed, rough-legged and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harrier, prairie falcon, northern shrike, pileated woodpecker, common redpoll, Bohemian waxwing and Clark’s nutcracker

Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds are arriving, too, so set out your hummingbird feeders right away.

Birders continue to see snowy owls in Western Washington, including a few last week in the Stanwood area, a couple dozen along Boundary Bay in Whatcom County and several in Ocean Shores. There’s no time like the present because they’re on the way to breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Not to be outdone, the annual gray whales are migrating north this month, swimming from off the Mexican coast to the Arctic Ocean. Grays have been spotted off Whidbey and Camano islands, particularly Saratoga Passage. Since they blend in with gray skies and gray waters, look for their spouts, sometimes 10 to 12 feet high, when the whale surfaces and exhales.

New look. The North Cascades Institute has a new website at ncascades.org. It’s the key to dozens of outdoor-related classes and projects. Now’s the chance to get an early bird discount, too, as well as sign up for the expanded Skagit tours or apply for the new Northwest Naturalist certificate program.

Classes include exploring Yellow and Goose islands by boat and boot, Citizen Science: NestWatch, dragonflies across the Cascades, and volcanoes of Mount Baker.

For more information or to register, go to the website or call 360-854-2599.

Hands-on experiences. The nonprofit Washington Outdoor Women, now in its 15th year, continues to offer one-day and weekend workshops for women interesting in learning about outdoors activities.

The 20 skill classes include wilderness first aid, freshwater fishing, archery, map and compass, wildlife photography, canoeing, big game hunting, cooking with wild foods, backpacking, survival and, on March 24, introduction to hunting waterfowl.

The classes are taught by experienced female volunteers. At last September’s weekend workshop, women came from 72 cities in four states, including Hawaii.

For more information, go to www.washingtonwildlife.org or call 206-849-9691.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.soungandword.com.

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