Adventure. Exploration. Discovery. Community. These four words were the theme of the day as a group of over thirty people, ranging from age 11 to over age 80, walked excitedly down a freezing beach together. No, they weren’t there to beach comb – they were there to bird.
“I like the outdoors- and birds come with it,” says Stephen Frank, a Navy veteran who moved to this area in 1969. “I like being out at dawn and I like the people. Everyone is friendly, no one litters and they have goals for clean water and clean air. Really, the people are just great.”
Eric Ellingson, a local photographer, came to love birds when he realized the challenge around finding them. “Birds are beautiful and in areas that are hard to photograph. After I would finally get a good photo of one, I’d have to find out what type of bird it was. Then I was hooked.”
He and his partner, Marcia Kolinisky, both go birding regularly. “Our last vacation was nonstop birding,” she joked. “In the morning we would take out our phones and go to E-bird, where people log bird sightings. After we found a hot-spot, we’d go to Google maps and find our way there.”
The couple met a few years before on that very beach, on the same birding expedition. Marcia was already an avid birder, but since they’ve been together, Eric has become the expert.
“It’s been a great hobby,” Eric continued. “It gets you outside, active and meeting people. Wherever you travel you can use it. Even just here, every month I come to this group and there are always new birds migrating in or out. I started birding here and realized, ‘Wow, this is so easy.'”
The group he is referring to is the North Cascades Audubon Society, who hosts this birding outing the first Saturday of each month at the Semiahmoo Spit.
Hiking, traveling, road tripping, walking, sitting; it is an activity suited for any age and any lifestyle. Doug Stark, out with his mother, wife and son, agreed with this sentiment completely. “My son and I like to play Pokémon Go, and get outside looking for the little monsters. Birding is so much like that. You get outside and you are also searching for different creatures. Some are rare and some aren’t but you still get excited about finding them. Different habitats bring different types and it’s one big scavenger hunt. It’s the same idea.”
Karen Stark, Doug’s mother, recently moved to the county and began birding. “I love getting out,” she says. “It’s an adventure! Every time I make new discoveries. Just today we’re exploring a new area and I’ve seen three new species of birds I’d never seen before. And just this morning in my driveway I saw a Pileated Woodpecker!”
Doug didn’t go look at birds as a child but he did run around outside a lot. “Maybe more than she realized,” he joked, smiling at his mom. “Now I work for the City of Bellingham, educating on water resources and conservation. My love of birds has progressed from love of playing outside to liking the creatures outside, to taking care of our water for our health and theirs.”
Rowan, age 11, says, “Taking pictures is my favorite part. I have pictures of the waves and the black scooters over there. I loved when we went to the snowy owl migration. They were really cool and were so white they looked like ghosts.”
Doug also added his favorite part of birding, “Chatting with old and new friends, going to events like this outing, or bigger events like the Wings over Water Birding Festival. Having that friendly connection is key.”
As we talk, Paul Woodcock, the volunteer leader of this monthly outing for almost ten years now, is helping other birders identify what is out on the water. “That is a female Red-Breasted Merganser, and to the right is a Sanderling, our lightest colored shorebird, next to a black Turnstone- our darkest.”
The enthusiasm and joy coming from these discoveries is contagious, and even though we are all shaking and cold in the wind, no one wants to leave early or turn back. We go on forward and keep watchful eyes on the shore.
“I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t find birding fascinating,” new birder Robert Kaye told me with a smile. “People are so helpful and you learn so much in just one day. The people are great. You can come here like me, not knowing anything, and people will share their equipment with you, point out interesting things, share histories and facts and personal stories, and laugh with you. It’s very welcoming.”
His wife, Deborah Kaye, agreed and added, “I like being out in nature and birds are out all the time. Mammals are hard to find but birds are always out- day or night, forest or beach, anywhere in the world you can always find a bird. My love for birds came just watching them in our backyard feeder.”
Stephen, the Navy veteran and current handyman, goes to Audubon meetings whenever he can. “I’m a novice, really, even though I’ve been birding for ten years in this area. I don’t know much but I love birds.”
Every month you can attend a public program or lecture on local birds, or join in on one of 30 annual outings led by knowledgeable guides for free. Visit the North Cascades Audubon Society Website to find up-to-date information and upcoming events.