On the wild side - Parks offering day and night-time Semiahmoo beach walks

Published on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 by Marisa Willis

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Intrigued by shimmering ghost shrimps, white-winged scoters or horned grebes? Then check out the back-to-back events at Semiahmoo Park this weekend and scour the spit looking for wildlife.

Whatcom County Parks and Recreation has helped organized an evening beach walk from 7 – 9 p.m. on Friday, February 6 and a birding the beaches from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, February 7.

Both events are a part of the outdoor recreation and interpretive programs and are meant to educate the public about the area’s diverse wildlife, said parks and recreation program coordinator David Bean.

“It’s a part of the heritage that we all share,” Bean said. “The importance of a lot of the wildlife is that it indicates the health of the environment. That’s something that we all need to be very conscious of.”

While Friday’s event will be the first time the evening beach walk has taken place at Semiahmoo Park, previous walks have been held on the shores of Larrabee State Park, Marine Park and Boulevard Park.

Education coordinator Doug Stark from RE Sources for Sustainable Communities’ Beach Naturalist program will be leading the walk.

Bean said the walks were brought to Semiahmoo because of the popularity of past walks and the unique experience the cover of night should bring. By using only headlamps and flashlights, a wide range of nocturnal animals and sea life should be visible. Current tides are the lowest in the evenings, so nighttime provides the best opportunity to see the most wildlife, Bean said.

“Every night provides a different experience,” Bean said. “A lot of the time, critters that would normally scuttle away and be hidden from us during the day time will be out at night.”

Stark said there are many unusual organisms visitors can expect to see during the evening walk. Living sand dollars, ghost shrimps shimmering in standing water areas, and clams are just some of the favorites that can be seen in the mudflats.

Stark said he has led numerous evening beach walks because they give people the opportunity to look at creatures they might have otherwise passed by. Participants are able to experience the Semiahmoo shore more intimately and gain a different sense of what it has to offer. Stark said he hopes the walks build an appreciation and respect for the shoreline.

And just as thriving as the sea life at Semiahmoo this winter are the songbirds and waterfowl. Chickadees, grebes, loons, herons and scoters are among the species often seen during birding the beaches, held the first Saturday morning of every month.

North Cascades Audubon Society vice president Paul Woodcock has been leading the event for three years and said there are normally 30-40 species of birds sighted every morning the event takes place.

“It’s always a good time,” Woodcock said. “Even if it is raining or snowing there is always something incredible to see. You just have to spend a little time looking sometimes.”

Despite poor conditions last month, Woodcock said 18 people participated in the bird walk and saw an estimated 20 different species of birds. He said visitors are always impressed with the amount of birds living in the Semiahmoo area, especially those who are not as familiar with the region’s wildlife.

Woodcock said Semiahmoo Park and Drayton Harbor are habitat and feeding grounds for a large concentration of birds. The eelgrass that grows on the shoreline is an essential part of the ecosystem and food chain. Woodcock said because of these factors, Semiahmoo is the only place in Whatcom County that the Audubon Society has designated as an area of significance.

From geoducks to ruddy ducks, Bean said events like birding the beaches and evening beach walk are about gaining a deeper connection with the kinds of wildlife that make their home in the Semiahmoo shores.

“The more populated this region becomes, the more necessary it is to make people aware of these habitats,” Woodcock said. “It’s a part of the fabric of life and it’s very important for our own well-being.”