KEY NORTH AMERICAN MIGRATION SITES FOR
Red Knots & Semipalmated Sandpipers

Grays Harbor Estuary  

Country: USA

Region: Washington,

Nearest city/town: Ocean Shores

Site: Grays Harbor Estuary  

Species/Sub-species: REKN-roselaari

Total biogeographic population: 21,7702,3,

Count Method: Maximum day count

Count: 5,6654,5

% biogeographic pop. at site: 26.02

Season (primarily): Spring

Site recognition: WHSRN IBA

Site recognition (other): Some areas are protected, but not entire site. Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge; Bottle Beach State Park; Audubon lands; Department of Natural Resources - Natural Area Preserves; The Nature Conservancy; Chehalis Land Trust land; Forterra (Land Trust land); Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lands [Note that protected status protects from potential land use impacts, but does not protect from other factors such as pollutants, effects of seas level change, etc.]

Site description: Using the Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Type, the site's habitat characteristics are marine and coastal, with estuarine waters (permanent water of estuaries and estuarine systems of deltas), intertidal mud, sand or salt flats, intertidal marshes (including salt marshes, salt meadows, saltings, raised salt marshes, and tidal brackish and freshwater marshes), rocky marine shores (including rocky offshore islands and sea cliffs), and intertidal forested wetlands (including mangrove swamps, nipah swamps and tidal freshwater swamp forests). There may be offshore islands and seas cliffs that match the common perception of such features. One island in Grays Harbor is a remnant of a ridge of soft sedimentary rock that has become isolated. The area of this island is perhaps roughly 0.1 - 0.25 acre6. Land ownership is a mix of federal, state, and private lands, including Washington State Departments of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources, and Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; The Nature Conservancy; Army Corp of Engineers; county, powerline right of ways, and various industrial and perhaps non-industrial private landowners (shellfish operators and perhaps a forest landowner). [Note: Department of Natural Resources is a land management agency that leases some of its lands for shellfish production or other uses.]7 Existing knowledge about the site has been gathered through some monitoring, but carried out in only small part of WHSRN site. Many areas are physically difficult to get to from shore to monitor. A Shoreline Master Plan exists. There is a Grays Harbor Audubon Habitat Protection Program - land purchase. Currently in 2016 there was some research happening on commercial bivalves; eelgrass; sea-level rise effects on estuaries (USGS models). There has been a socio-economic evaluation of Grays Harbor by EarthEconomics (sometime between 2011 and 2016) and also one done by the shellfish industry. Monitoring or other studies of Red Knot migration has included the vast majority of areas historically documented to have supported large aggregations of the species7. Work currently underway at the site in 2016 included Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival (which is usually held on the last weekend of April, during the peak of spring migration and includes field trips and lectures, and is coordinated by the Grays Harbor Audubon Society and includes field trips and lectures, and is coordinated by the Grays Harbor Audubon Society), the Migratory Shorebird Project (Pacific Flyway shorebird survey, winter), Christmas Bird Counts, regular monitoring at the National Wildlife Refuge (especially spring); aerial surveys every spring (for 5 years), a Red Knot monitoring/population estimate, and winter beach surveys. The restoration work around Grays Harbor is mostly related to an active program of monitoring for and removal of invasive plants (phragmites) found on or adjacent to salt marshes7.

Known threats: Exploitation of renewable resources (the shellfish industry) is a threat the site, as is extraction of sand from outer beaches. Wind energy adjacent to Grayland Beach and near south side of Grays Harbor is a threat11. It is unknown whether there is commercial fishing in the bay. In terms of site land use change, invasive/problematic species and genes (invasive alien species such as vegetation) is a high threat. Invasive introduced vegetation is also a current threat to the native plant community. Giant Reed (Phragmites Communis) and Spartina are two of these invasive species. Past site land use change threats have been related to the creation of peninsula resulting in Bowerman Basin (part of NWR); the shellfish activity; a marsh fill for a small landing strip in the 1980s on the west side of northern part of harbor; the creation of jetties that influence longshore distribution of sand and also local erosion patterns on north side of harbor mouth; channel dredging and distribution of spoils; the creation of dikes around the harbor; urban and suburban areas, and also a marina and industrial port. Current site land use change threats are related to ongoing shellfish management; and run-off from urban, suburban and industrial areas. Planned land use change that would be a threat to the site includes a proposed oil transport at industrial port. Pollution/contamination-related threats in terms of industrial and military effluents include the very high threat of oil slicks. The threats of commercial/industrial sources of effluents and ocean acidification are high. Likely pollutants include general urban and suburban sources of pollutants (lawn chemicals, industrial pollutants, minor oil spills). Major oil spills are uncommon (one oiled a large number of shorebirds about in the 1980s) but have potentially significant consequences. If the oil port is built at Grays Harbor and oil transport is increased there may be a greater risk of a large spill. Possible future pollution threats include shellfish growers who are concerned about the influence of ghost shrimp on commercial shellfish production, and for which chemical control of ghost shrimp has been proposed. An environmental impact statement (EIS) was written to inform decisions about control of ghost shrimp. The shellfish growers decided against using the chemicals evaluated in the EIS. After a short period they appear to be interested in again proposing use of the same chemicals to manage ghost shrimp12,13. Recreation activities that disturb shorebirds occur primarily on outer beaches (Ocean Shores, Grayland Beach) where large numbers of shorebirds roost during high tides. Disturbance is caused by the close proximity of motorized vehicles (cars and sometimes motorcycles), beach walkers, dogs off-leash, and kite-fliers. There have been little attempts educate the public about the importance of sharing the beach with roosting shorebirds. Shorebirds appear to react much less frequently (if at all) when the proximity to these disturbance factors is greater14. In terms of physical alteration of the site, climate change poses a very high threat in terms of habitat shifting and alteration and temperature extremes with climate variability increased and altered weather patterns. Ocean warming has an effect on invertebrate prey populations. An expert would need to assess the degree to which climate change related changes have occurred at the site. The future potential is significant, but it is difficult to say these factors have impacted the bay or the outer beaches during the period 1980-2016).

Notes: These site boundaries follow WHSRN site boundaries. [According to Joe Buchanan this includes the outer beaches (Ocean Shores and Grayland Beach) which are used by many thousands of roosting birds at high tides.] Part of the area (and the area that supports the largest numbers of Red Knots) is closer to the community of Ocean Shores1. Grays Harbor has long been recognized as one of the most important stopover sites along the Pacific Flyway. It has supported high counts of an estimated one million shorebirds, numbers that rival San Francisco Bay as the most important site south of Alaska. It appears that most if not the vast majority of the Red Knot (roselaari) population migrates through Grays Harbor or Willapa Bay; Grays Harbor supports more knots than Willapa Bay. Moreover, count data indicate that Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay support more spring migrant Red Knots than any other site between the wintering ground in Mexico and stopover sites in Alaska.7,8,9,10

Sources: 1DeLorme atlas. 2Baker, A., P. Gonzalez, R.I.G. Morrison and B. A. Harrington. 2013. Red Knot (Calidris canutus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/563 doi:10.2173/bna.563 3Niles, L. J., H. P. Sitters, A. D. Dey, P. W. Atkinson, A. J. Baker, K. A. Bennett, R. Carmona, K.E. Clark, N. A. Clark, C. Espoz, P. M. Gonzalez, B. A. Harrington, D.E. Hernandez, K.S. Kalasz, R.G. Lathrop, R.N. Matus, C.D. T. Minton, R. I. G. Morrison, M. K. Peck, W. Pitts, R. A. Robinson, AND I. L. Serrano. 2008. Status of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) in the Western Hemisphere. Ephrata: Studies in Avian Biology No. 36. 4For population estimate for Red Knot: Lyons, J. E., W.L. Kendall, J.A. Royle, S.J. Converse, B.A. Andres and J.B. Buchanan. 2015. Population Size and Stopover Duration Estimation Using Mark–Resight Data and Bayesian Analysis of a Superpopulation Model. Biometric 72(1): 262–271. 5Buchanan, J. B., L.J. Salzer, G.J. Wiles, K. Brady, S.M. Desimone and W. Michaelis. 2011. An investigation of Red Knot Calidris canutus spring migration at Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, Washington. Wader Study Group Bulletin 118(2): 97–104. (8 May 2010) 6WHSRN site nomination http://www.whsrn.org/site-profile/grays-harbor-estuary 7WHSRN Site Assessment Tool (SAT) 2015 8For information about abundance of shorebirds at Grays Harbor: Herman, S. G. and J.B Bulger. 1981. The distribution and abundance of shorebirds during the 1981 spring migration at Grays Harbor, Washington. Seattle: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 9For a recent paper on daily high counts of Red Knots: Buchanan, J. B., L.J. Salzer, G.J. Wiles, K. Brady, S.M. Desimone, and W. Michaelis. 2011. An investigation of Red Knot Calidris canutus spring migration at Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, Washington. Wader Study Group Bulletin 118(2): 97-104. 10For relative importance of Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay in comparison to other sites along the flyway: Carmona, R., N. Arce, V. Ayala-Perez, A. Hernández-Alvarez, J.B. Buchanan, L.J. Salzer, P.S. Tomkovich, J.A. Johnson, R.E. Gill, Jr., B.J. McCaffery, J.E. Lyons, L.J. Niles, and D. Newstead. 2013. Red Knot Calidris canutus roselaari migration connectivity, abundance and non-breeding distribution along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Wader Study Group Bulletin 120(3): 168–180. 11Numerous citations as to commercial importance of Grays Harbor for shellfish production. 12Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Priority Habitats and Species document on shorebirds for general information. 132015 EIS on chemical use to control ghost shrimp. 14Personal observation (Joe Buchanan) and unpublished data from about 150 site visits.