A kayaker paddles among the migrating flock in Drayton Harbor near Resort Semiahmoo. Photo ©Eric Ellingson

A dunlin pair snacking at water's edge. Photo ©Chuck Kinzer

Thousands of Brant as well as other migratory birds feed along the pristine shores of Blaine and Birch Bay. Photo ©Maynard Axelson

Blaine's Wings Over Water Birding Festival

by Audrey Fraggalosch

When winter loosens its grip on western Washington and you feel the warmth of spring in the air, it’s the time of year when thousands of migratory birds visit our local beaches on their way to their nesting grounds in Alaska and the Arctic. The coastal waters of Drayton Harbor, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo Bay along the Salish Sea are a major stopover on the Pacific Flyway between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, B.C., and within easy driving distance of both.

In celebration of this amazing natural spectacle, the waterfront city of Blaine hosts an annual birding festival. The 17th annual “Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival” is ready to take flight on March 15-17, 2019. Join the celebration and experience a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities for all ages and birding interests. There are field trips, boat tours, a wildlife cruise, birding expo with live raptor presentations, wildlife exhibits, arts and craft vendors, kids activities, expert wildlife speakers, workshops and more. For more information on the full schedule of events visit wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com. You can register and reserve online as fees apply to some activities.

You’ll see huge flocks of shorebirds, loons and grebes as well as numerous species of migrating waterfowl on the extensive intertidal mud flats and beaches."

Originally known as the Washington Brant Festival, the Wings Over Water festival focuses on the thousands of Brant and other migratory birds that rest and feed along the coastal shores of Blaine and Birch Bay on their journey north. The Black Brant is a small dark sea goose about the size of a mallard that stages one of the most spectacular migrations of all waterfowl, with over 140,000 Brant migrating along the Pacific Flyway each year. They travel thousands of miles every spring to their far northern nesting grounds and then back south to their warmer winter range, stopping along the Salish Sea to rest and feed before continuing their journey.

Birders come from miles around to catch a glimpse of the spring migration at the Wings Over Water Festival in Blaine. Photo ©Debbie Harger

A Harlequin duck paddles silently through the placid waters of Drayton Harbor. Photo ©Eric Ellingson

These Whimbrels are people watching. Photo ©Chuck Kinzer

A group of Brant taking a break on Blaine's waterfront. Photo ©Joe Meche

The festival’s keynote speaker Tim Boyer’s presentation is all about "The Miracle of Migration." Discover how a Sanderling that weighs on average of 2-ounces can fly 3,000 miles from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands, or how a Bar-tailed Godwit can fly from the Yukon Delta in Alaska to New Zealand in eight days. The presentation is free and open to all (donations welcome) on Saturday 5:00-7:00 pm at the Blaine Performing Arts Center.

The festival begins on Friday, March 15 with an all-day field trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta, BC) where you can see a remarkable number of birds and have up-close encounters with many species. Don’t miss the Friday evening Festival Opening Dinner and Featured Artist Reception at the Vault Wine Bar. Meet this year’s featured artist Dona Reed and view an exhibit of her nature-inspired mixed media art pieces. . 

Start Saturday with a pancake breakfast and then hop aboard the 50’ Salish Sea for an offshore birding adventure in Semiahmoo Bay or cruise around Drayton Harbor on the historic Plover, a passenger ferry. For land-lovers, there are guided birding field trips in the area. Please check the online schedule for exact times of field trips and to book your boat tours (fees apply). Families will enjoy the all-day free Expo at Blaine Middle School (10am to 5pm) where kids can enjoy interactive activities and games, birdhouse-building, live raptor shows and wildlife exhibits.

Sunday morning starts with a Breakfast for Birders and a presentation at the Semiahmoo Golf Club Blue Heron Grill. After breakfast, choose between a guided field trip to Semiahmoo Spit or along the shoreline and trails of Birch Bay State Park or a free photography workshop with award-winning bird photographer Tim Boyer to learn how to focus on taking the best bird images, with whatever equipment you are currently using.

The luxurious Resort Semiahmoo sits directly across Drayton Harbor from downtown Blaine. Photo ©Resort Semiahmoo

Street musicians provide entertainment on the waterfront. Photo ©Richard Sturgill.

Downtown Blaine, with its boutique shops and eateries sits directly on the Canadian border near the inspiring Peace Arch monument. Photo ©Ruth Lauman

There’s lots to amaze all the nature lovers in your family during birding festival weekend, so plan to stay over and enjoy this corner of northwest WA. Choose from a variety of accommodations, ranging from a 4-star seaside resort (with golf course & European spa) to cozy beach cabins all within a 5 -10 minute drive from WOW venues. Experience Blaine’s small town charm and maritime heritage. Relax at an old-time family friendly diner or sip on a latte while enjoying the harbor view. Bring your binoculars, you never know what bird you might see flying by.