Drayton Harbor and adjacent Semiahmoo Bay make up an Important Bird Area tucked away on the U.S.-Canada border. Their quiet, shallow waters come alive in winter, when thousands of waterfowl, including Brant, Northern Pintail, and American Wigeon, gather to feed, shelter, and socialize. What makes the hotspot so special, however, is its proximity to deep water outside the harbor breakwaters. I willingly brave the cold for up-close views of Common, Pacific, and Red-throated Loons, Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks, and four species of grebe, with the knowledge that I can soon warm up at a nearby coffee shop.
I have seen flocks of hundreds of loons flying into Drayton Harbor when the tide changes. A succession of shorebirds, including Western and Least Sandpipers and Dunlin, pass through on migration, and unusual species can turn up anytime. I once was surprised to see a Horned Lark crouching on a breakwater road. Scores of Great Blue Herons, part of the coastal fannini subspecies that is of conservation concern, gather on the bay in breeding season, and Double-crested Cormorants nest near the fishing pier. — Anne Murray
Shallow marine bay and intertidal, sandy spit abutting deep-water bay.
Flat. Easy walking and wheelchair-accessible. Birds can be observed from a car.
Year-round: Bald Eagle, Pigeon Guillemot, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Hooded Merganser, Black Oystercatcher, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Glaucous-winged Gull, Northwestern Crow. Fall and winter: Common, Pacific, and Red-throated Loons, Horned, Eared, Western, and Red-necked Grebes, White-winged, Surf, and Black Scoters, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Brant, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Turnstone, Greater Yellowlegs, Peregrine Falcon. Spring: Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Brant (March-April), Pacific Loon (April), Bonaparte’s Gull, Common Tern. Summer: Caspian Tern, Savannah Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat. Migrant shorebirds return in mid- to late July.
When to go
Best in winter for loons, grebes, and diving ducks.
Viewing platforms in Marine Park. On the spit, Semiahmoo Park has restrooms and viewing platforms, and the Semiahmoo Resort has a publicly accessible boardwalk. Marina coffee shop is open year-round. Wings over Water Northwest Birding Festival held every March.
Public waterways and city parks. All key viewing sites are readily accessible on public roads. No entrance fees.
For shorebirds in spring and summer, check Cain Creek, the mouth of California Creek, or the beaches of Semiahmoo Spit two to three hours before the incoming tide.