[Tweeters] Apparent herring spawn at Birch Bay attracts 1000s of birds

Bob and Barb Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Sun Mar 29 22:56:18 PDT 2009

Hello, Tweeters,

While visiting our son at Bellingham, my wife Barb and I ventured out
on Sunday morning, 3/29, to Birch Bay and Blaine. Of greatest
interest was a huge feeding flock of mostly diving ducks and gulls at
the south end of Birch Bay State Park, within a few hundred yards of
shore and on the beach. About a couple thousand gulls, nearly all
Mews, lined the beach for at least a half mile, pecking repeatedly at
the sand. Offshore, a very concentrated flock of mostly Surf and
White-winged Scoters, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes,
and gulls fed like mad, furiously diving, pecking at the surface, and
generally inhaling whatever it was they were eating. Big flocks of
Brant also swam with the other birds -- many of the Brant had
eelgrass dangling in their mouths.

We examined the beach where the gulls were feeding, finding lots of
fresh strands of eelgrass covered with what looked like herring
eggs. We didn't see any of the little transparent eggs on the beach
away from the eelgrass, but apparently the gulls did, because they
were pecking all over the beach as the waves washed in and out.
Sorry, we didn't get any stomach samples, but it seemed pretty clear
that herring eggs were the target of their foraging efforts. There's
a nice description of herring, including a picture of their eggs
attached to eelgrass just like what we saw, at the WDFW website --

It's very good to see apparent herring spawn going on in our local
waters -- maybe it bodes well for local seabirds. It was
particularly interesting that this flock contained essentially none
of the birds we usually consider piscivorous, like loons, grebes,
alcids, mergansers, etc. We never saw a bird come up with a fish --
the birds seemed to be feeding only on tiny prey items the whole time
(other than the Brant eating eelgrass).

We watched the flock between 9 and 10 a.m., during which time the
birds never stopped feeding other than a few hundred Brant that flew
away to the north. The tide was ebbing, winds were calm, and 2-3
foot waves washed up on the beach the whole time we watched.

We did our best to estimate numbers of birds, but counting birds in
the giant, constantly-moving flock with a significant percentage of
the diving ducks underwater at any given time was probably not real
Surf Scoter - 2000 +
White-winged Scoter - 800 +
Brant - 1200 +
Bufflehead - 1000 +
Greater Scaup - 600 +
Common Goldeneye - 400 +
Mew Gull - 2400 +
Glaucous-winged/Olympic Gulls - 300 +
Pintail - 200 +
Mallard - 40 +
Black Scoter - 3 only, seen feeding with other scoters offshore
Bonaparte's Gull - 1 only, seen feeding offshore with Mew Gulls
Herring Gull - 1 only, seen feeding on the beach with other gulls
Western Grebe - 20 +
Red-necked Grebe - 2 further offshore
Eared Grebe - 2 - at northern edge of the flock

Total estimate of birds in the flock, about 9000.

Bob Boekelheide
bboek at olympus.net

Bob and Barb Boekelheide
bboek at olympus.net

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