'There are so many birds on the coast' – Discover Our Coast


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Updated: November 24, 2022 @ 1:07 am
Swanson’s guide features descriptions grouped by family, such as alcids and loons.
Swanson’s book serves as a guide for locals and visitors curious about coastal bird species.
Oystercatchers are among the birds often spotted in the spring at Haystack Rock.
Author Sarah Swanson, left, and partner Max Smith.
A flock of dunlins passes by.

Swanson’s book serves as a guide for locals and visitors curious about coastal bird species.
Notably described by 1930s zoologist Konrad Lorenz, the principle of imprinting details the process by which a young bird forms attachments and develops a sense of its own identity. Imprinting allows a mother duck to lead her tiny flock away from danger.
It is also responsible for the famous videos of migrating geese following an ultralight aircraft across the Canadian plains. For author Sarah Swanson, imprinting can also be seen as a driving force that parlayed childhood trips to the Oregon Coast into a career as a conservationist and avian advocate.
Author Sarah Swanson, left, and partner Max Smith.
Swanson, who recently released her second book, “Best Little Book of Birds: The Oregon Coast,” grew up in a family whose sole vacation destination was the western edge of the state.
These early coastal adventures fueled a passion for nature and animals, and sent Swanson on a journey to study, protect and evangelize Oregon’s feathered residents and visitors.
Along the way, Swanson studied birds and marine life at the University of Oregon and specialized in the discipline during graduate study. It was during these academic pursuits that a chance meeting with a fellow student amplified Swanson’s passion for birding and motivated her to maximize time behind binoculars. The two remain birding partners to this day, though they now share a life as husband and wife. They are also co-authors of Swanson’s first book, “Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest.”
Upon flipping through “Best Little Book of Birds: The Oregon Coast,” the reader will soon notice that Swanson has made a deliberate effort to eschew the stuffy and elitist air of many birding guides. This is not to say that the book lacks substance – balancing ease-of-use with a modified form factor, Swanson has taken great care to ensure that the book provides value to birders of all experience levels.
Swanson’s guide features descriptions grouped by family, such as alcids and loons.
“Not every bird book needs to be the same,” said Swanson. “I focused on the birds that people are most likely to see along the coast. I also kept families of birds together, but not in a strict taxonomic manner.”
For example, the book mixes birds often found floating in bays. Some may be duck-shaped but not necessarily related. This organizational scheme goes far in allowing easy identification of common species.
With its focus on coastal geography, the book is valuable to local readers looking for guidance on where to find specific birds. Swanson also has a recommendation of where to begin. “For beginning birders, Fort Stevens State Park, with its variety of habitats, is a fantastic place to start,” she said.
A flock of dunlins passes by.
The South Jetty (when not under construction) and Trestle Bay are great for watching shorebirds. Further south, the Cove in Seaside is ideal for spotting turnstones and surfbirds.
There, visitors can use a scope to locate distant loons and grebes. Necanicum Estuary is also a good spot to find ducks, gulls and shorebirds. Of course, Haystack Rock is ideal for viewing nesting and roosting birds, especially visiting tufted puffins in the summer months.
Though born of Swanson’s passion and desire to educate, the development of this book was not without its challenges. “There are so many birds on the coast,” Swanson said, “but I couldn’t fit them all into a pocket guide. The hardest part was making the cuts of birds like snow buntings and tropical kingbirds. Many owls had to go as well.”
Timing was also not on the author’s side. “I signed the contract to write the book in January of 2020,” she said. While she was excited to travel and scout for book, the pandemic initially limited the touring and research necessary for authoring such a volume.
But Swanson was finally able to submit a draft the following year. With the cold and rainy season descending upon the North Coast, Swanson was quick to offer tips to those wishing to brave the elements in search of birds. “First, make sure that your binoculars are waterproof,” she said. “They don’t need to be expensive, but they need to not fog up.”
Oystercatchers are among the birds often spotted in the spring at Haystack Rock.
Regarding safety, Swanson added that birding at the coast has specific hazards. “Don’t take your eyes off of the ocean,” she said. “Also, don’t go way out on jetty without knowing conditions or in stormy seas.”
For birders willing to brave the landscape, winter brings rewarding sights –sparrows, ducks and loons. “For a lot of birds, Oregon is south for the winter,” Swanson said. She added that birds nesting in Alaska or Canada can find a temperate winter climate in Oregon. Things don’t often freeze and rodents are active.
In a nod to her day job at the Portland Audubon Society, Sarah infuses her writings with ways in which readers can help local bird species. “The conservation challenges that birds face, that we all face, can seem daunting,” she said, expanding on the notion. “I encourage people to find a productive thing to do on their own or as part of community to make a difference.”
It’s how birders can stay hopeful in the face of challenges, she said. “Join a community science project, gather data on shorelines, take part in public projects. Many groups work on these issues; they can use help in writing letters and advocating.”
“Best Little Book of Birds: The Oregon Coast” is available from Timber Press online and in bookstores.
By Sarah Swanson
Timber Press – 304 pp – paperback $16.99, e-book $10.99
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