Believe it or Not, Fall Shorebird Migration is Underway

Author: Jay Adams | 07/23/20

Greater Yellowlegs shorebird at Crockett Lake

Greater Yellowlegs at Crockett Lake Preserve. Photo by Craig Johnson.

There is a lot to be said for birding in Island County. The islands’ various habitats attract and support some 240 species annually. Some might say spring with its arriving migrant songbirds is the best time of the birding year. Others might argue that winter is best thanks to the abundance of waterfowl. But for me, the best season of all — fall shorebird migration season — is just now getting started.

With a few exceptions, shorebirds migrate both spring and fall. The spring migration is over almost before you know it — the birds are driven to get to the high arctic to breed. But fall migration is more protracted, for two reasons. First, less rushed on the way south, the birds will spend time at stopover points to feed and rest. Second, shorebirds migrate in stages. The first to return in the fall are often failed nesters. These birds are followed by adults who successfully hatched young. They in turn are followed by their juvenile offspring — young shorebirds make their initial migration without the benefit of parental guidance. Thus, the fall shorebird show typically goes on for four or five months.

On Whidbey Island, the best place to witness this spectacle is the crucial stopover place called Crockett Lake Preserve. Early morning is best as there is less heat shimmer at that time of day. The birding platform across the road from the lake’s south shore is a good vantage point. A spotting scope really helps to view distant birds.

I am writing this after birding at the lake on July 13. More than 1,000 shorebirds representing 10 species — Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover, and Killdeer — were present.


  • Jay Adams,  a Whidbey Camano Land Trust board member, is an avid birder and bird-walk leader.

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