A bar-tailed godwit at Bottle Beach State Park, on the shore of Grays Harbor, perhaps blown off course on its migration from Alaska to New Zealand. (Tim Boyer)

A bar-tailed godwit at Bottle Beach State Park, on the shore of Grays Harbor, perhaps blown off course on its migration from Alaska to New Zealand. (Tim Boyer)

Learn about birds’ migratory miracles at Bird Fest in Edmonds

Bird expert Tim Boyer’s keynote address is on “Understanding Shorebirds: The Miracle of Migration.”

One bird, a sanderling, flies 3,000 miles over open water from Alaska to Hawaii on its annual migration.

At 2 ounces, “it’s a little bit lighter than a golf ball,” said Tim Boyer, whose interest in birding has led to a career as a nature photographer and master birder.

Another bird, the bar-tailed godwit, makes an annual fall journey from Alaska to New Zealand — 7,200 miles — nonstop across the ocean.

“It’s an incredible thing,” Boyer said. “I started thinking: ‘How are they able to do this?’”

His keen appreciation of shorebirds’ navigational feats led to his study of their migration patterns, which is the subject of his keynote speech at Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds.

Although reservations for his presentation were snapped up within two weeks of its announcement in August, standby tickets for no-shows may be available for the event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Plaza Room near the Frances Anderson Center.

This year’s keynote speaker at the Puget Sound Bird Fest is Tim Boyer.

This year’s keynote speaker at the Puget Sound Bird Fest is Tim Boyer.

Boyer’s presentation kicks off the annual three-day event, which includes seminars, exhibits and guided walks, most of which are free.

Most of the events on Saturday are held in the gym of the Frances Anderson Center, including a community science bird symposium and a live raptor presentation by the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center. Kids activities are planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Traditionally, Bird Fest presentations have been spread out on several floors in the Frances Anderson Center. Having many of Saturday’s talks in the gym should make it easier for people to find the ones they want “so they don’t miss anything,” said Jenifer Leach, event coordinator.

Presentations at the nearby Plaza Room include “Do Crows Have Language,” by Douglas Wacker, “Better Bird Photography” by Steve Ball and Jenny Love’s “Understanding the Birds of Edmonds Marsh.”

A Pacific golden plover, which nests in the Arctic but migrates to islands in the Pacific Ocean. (Tim Boyer)

A Pacific golden plover, which nests in the Arctic but migrates to islands in the Pacific Ocean. (Tim Boyer)

There also are guided walks, some of which require registration, and others, like those scheduled at Pine Ridge Park on Saturday and Sunday, you just show up for.

“One of the most exciting things folks can do, which is free, is go to the University of Washington Bothell campus and watch the crows fly in,” Leach said. That Bird Fest event is scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday to see some 16,000 crows fly in for their communal roost on campus. “It’s kind of a spectacle,” she said.

Last year, the event drew 460 people, some coming from as far away as Olympia and Bainbridge Island.

Boyer, the keynote speaker, said his interest in the migratory routes of birds began on a family vacation in Hawaii.

“The kids were out boogie boarding. I’m sitting there on the beach, and it’s like, ‘What’s a sanderling doing here?’ I flew six hours in a big jet to get there.”

They’re common shorebirds along the Washington coast, often seen chasing the waves.

Sanderlings can often be seen on the Washington coast during their migrations. (Tim Boyer)

Sanderlings can often be seen on the Washington coast during their migrations. (Tim Boyer)

The birds breed near Barrow, Alaska, then navigate their way to Hawaii.

As Boyer looked more closely at the sanderling on the Hawaiian beach, he saw that it was a juvenile.

Each year, biologists discover new facts about birds, so each year as Boyer makes presentations on migration, he adds these updated findings to his talks.

“There’s all kinds of interesting things,” he said. “The design of their wings. How they navigate.”

One thing, though, remains constant. His wonder and awe of the birds’ ability to fly thousands of miles on their migratory routes each year.

“How does this bird do this? How is it even possible? There’s the scientific mind, and then part of me is just, “’Wow, this is just incredible.’”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

If you go

Puget Sound Bird Fest is Sept. 13-15 and features speakers, exhibits, field trips and activities all about birding, mainly at the Frances Anderson Center, 700 Main St., Edmonds. Keynote speaker is nature photographer Tim Boyer on “Understanding Shorebirds: The Miracle of Migration.” Free. Opening reception is 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Edmonds Plaza Room, 650 Main St. For more information, including an events schedule, go to www.pugetsoundbirdfest.com.

Where to see migratory birds

Tim Boyer, who is making the keynote address at Puget Sound Bird Fest, has some recommendations on where to go for bird watching:

Alki Beach Park in Seattle, where a few weeks ago he saw black turnstones.

Ocean Shores, where the spring migration can be seen in April and May the fall migration from late July to early October.

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge at Hoquiam, which has a boardwalk. In April, two hours before high tide, thousands of shorebirds can be spotted. The fall migration, which lasts through September, is less concentrated than the spring migration.

Bottle Beach State Park in Aberdeen, where sandpipers and red knots can be seen in the spring. During the fall migration, which starts in July and continues through September or October, black-bellied plovers, whimbrels and marbled godwits, as well as short-billed and long-billed dowitchers can be seen.

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