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Winter Bird Watching at Ecola State Park
Published: 12/11/2009
Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park's woodland, wetland and rocky ocean shoreline habitats can offer bird watchers many opportunities. Pictured is a Swainson's Thrush.
Photo by Neal Maine

There is a major influx of colorful visitors to Ecola State Park when winter takes wing.

From Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons to hummingbirds, the Pacific coast attracts dozens of unique species of birds that make this region their home during the winter. Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach offers bird watchers a wide variety of diverse environments that provide habitat for distinct communities of birds. With rocky shorelines and beaches, woodlands, thick rainforests and estuarine environments the park is a winter bird watching haven. Many of the birds are just passing through or only spend the winters in the mild coastal climate. Some are year-round residents that may be much more visible during the winter.

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons might be seen any time of year at Ecola State Park, but the season also brings an increased number of wintering birds. The park offers good vantage points for spotting these birds of prey. Eagles and falcons often find an easy meal among flocks of gulls resting on the beach or near-shore rocks. Watch for them sitting in prominent open perches and when other birds scatter in alarm.

The beaches and rocky shoreline of Indian Beach at Ecola State Park can offer sightings of a large variety of shorebirds and seabirds. Two of the most common seabirds you will see on offshore rocks include the Double Crested Cormorant and the Pelagic Cormorant. A third cormorant, Brandt's, can also be seen in smaller numbers in winter.

Scan the turbulent waters near the rocky shore for Harlequin Ducks. These colorful birds spend most of the year on fast moving inland streams, but winter on the coast, preferring rocky shores with pounding surf. Smaller rocks or ledges closer to the water offer feeding habitat for several varieties of shorebirds including Black Turnstones, Surfbirds and Black Oystercatchers. The Oystercatcher is a stocky jet-black bird with a stout orange bill, pink legs, yellow iris and red eye-ring. They can often be seen in pairs feeding on rocks and are recognized by their whistling call. The most common shorebirds seen on the beach are wintering Sanderlings, a small pale sandpiper that feeds at the waters edge, sometimes in large flocks.

The woodland and rainforest trails at Ecola State Park offer yet more birding opportunities. With alder trees bare of leaves, it's easier to see birds in the forest. You might see several varieties of woodpeckers including Pileated, Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker or the Red-breasted Sapsucker. Dozens of passerines can be spotted with the trained eye. The most common include juncos, kinglets, Wrentit, Winter Wren, chickadees and several varieties of sparrows. Although most hummingbirds are summer visitors, Anna's Hummingbird is a year-round resident of the coast. At about four inches, it's relatively large for a hummingbird. Males have a deep rose-colored head and throat. Bird watchers can find hiking maps and information on nearby natural areas at the Cannon Beach Information Center at Second and Spruce streets downtown. - By Gary Hayes

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