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On the Wild Side: Strange news from the World of Wildlife!

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© Gene & Jason Stone (Leeson Photography)

Spring Spectacle

This eerily beautiful image looks like a work of art, made of metal, glass, or mirrors. But then again it looks like a work of nature, the ripples and waves on the ocean surface reflecting light in silvers and blues. Take another look. It's not the ocean, but if you guessed it had to do with water you are close. It's a flock of migrating sandpipers, charging along the Washington coast at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in late April.

One of the greatest shorebird spectacles anywhere unfolds each spring from March to early June along the Pacific coast as millions of northbound migrating shorebirds stop to rest and feed before continuing onward to their tundra nesting areas. Many of these birds have traveled tremendous distances, coming from as far away as the tip of South America. Warm southerly winds help them along on their journey. Washington's Willapa and Grays Harbor refuges are among the shorebird hot spots. In April as many as 500,000 sandpipers may converge at one time in the estuary at Bowerman Basin in Grays Harbor. The sight of their huge aerobatic flocks is astounding. About 85 percent of them are Western Sandpipers, followed by Dunlins, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Semipalmated Plovers. Brilliant Red Knots turn up reliably, some of them in the course of an annual 20,000-mile round-trip migration between the high Arctic and southern South America. Taking advantage of the bounty are swift-swooping Peregrine Falcons and Merlins, whose presence may be signaled by thousands of shorebirds simultaneously taking flight.

Learn more about the sandpipers of North America.