Monday, May 18th, 2015
Let’s Go Birding! by Kayak from Blaine to Semiahmoo
Todd Elsworth

My introduction to the City of Blaine, WA was led by two locals who love their town. Alex Wenger, Community Planner, and Debbie Harger, Community Development and Tourism Coordinator, took me on a tour that showed off their pieces of pride. First up was the reclamation of the beach. This is both for the birds (and other wildlife) and for us to as enjoy as humans!


Alex pointed out how the beach has been improved for wildlife habitat and public access. This waterfront used to be thriving with industry but eventually became landfill. The city used this as a pilot project and in the process of beach reclamation removed 60 tons of broken concrete and 440 tons of rip-rap.

Working with the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District the city also created access to Drayton Harbor at the mouth of Dakota Creek. This spot is now on my list of future places to explore.


The mouth of Dakota Creek is in the tidal zone, so timing the tides is crucial. It’s a beautiful spot to put in and either explore the creek or Drayton Harbor (another time, though)


On an overcast Sunday, my paddling partner and I set out to explore the shore and GO Birding! We put in at the boat launch in Blaine Harbor and after paddling through the marina had Semiahmoo in our sights.


The crossing from Blaine to Semiahmoo is a short trip. If you’re not a kayaker but want to get out on the water to enjoy the scenery, consider taking a trip on the Historic Plover Ferry. I had the chance to meet Captain Richard Sturgill on my earlier visit and am looking forward to returning in the summer with my family and friends to ride the ferry and check out the Alaska Packers Association Cannery Museum.

SemiahmooTowerWe had our minds set on getting out into Semiahmoo Bay and looking back at the mainland and Canada to the north. We paddled past the old pilings that creek and whisper stories from the past.


As we rounded the corner and set out into the open water, birds were abundant. As a fledgling ornithologist, I enjoy watching these winged creatures on the water. Referring to the Let’s go birding! book that I picked up at the Bellingham/Whatcom County Tourism Visitor Center, I was able to identify the Barrow’s Goldeneyes taking off to escape our intrusion. “These sea ducks are very active during the day and are common throughout the winter. The males are quite handsome with a crescent-shaped swoosh on their cheeks.”


The juxtaposition of a large city looming in the distance is an interesting perspective. The city of White Rock, British Columbia sits comfortably across the bay. It is a destination for those of us that live on the south side of the international border. A fun day trip to get a taste of our northern neighbors.


The tide was way out on this particular day. Dozens of Great Blue Herons waded in the shallows of the muddy spit that extends from the beach at the resort. As the book states, “They spend hours in one location waiting for their next meal. Large, beautiful and stealthy. Gathering in marine habitats by the hundreds, they stalk anything that fits into their omnivorous diet, including fish, frogs, reptiles, large insects and even small birds.” I’m glad that we’re not on their list.


As for the people and the land, the thriving fish packing industry operations were gradually phased out over time. 1964 was the last year salmon was packed here. The company moved the headquarters to Bellevue in 1974 and sold the property in 1980. The Inn at Semi-ah-moo opened in June 1987. Pictured below is the recently refurbished resort. Check out the Semiahmoo Resort website for great photos and information about staying and playing there. Or take my lead and Start Your Adventure at Semiahmoo.


As we circled back we paddled past a channel marker as a waypoint to mark our way. All of the sudden I exclaimed (in a relative whisper) “Al, LOOK UP!” There, perched on the pilings was our national symbol- a Bald Eagle. “Powerful, cunning and opportunistic. Their keen eyes can spot prey up to one mile away and they can dive at speeds of up to one hundred miles an hour.”


We simply sat in our boats and the big bird was evidently not disturbed by our presence. Lingering for long enough to say hi and take a couple quick shots, we floated past with the incoming tide.


Respect. As we sat and stared at one another, the eagle was not intimidated by our presence. Looking down at us in our boats, he gave us the nod to be able to pass and return to the mainland.


We didn’t have to go far to see a bunch of birds in their natural environment. These are just a few of what we were able to capture (on “film”). We also saw our fair share of gulls, various ducks and others in the distance.

The complimentary guidebook (you should get one) challenges you to see the 12 species listed in a 24-hour period. In addition to those listed above, these include: Black Oystercatcher, Brant, Common Loon, Dunlin, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Pigeon Guillemot, Western Grebe and a Wood Duck. Happy Birding in Blaine – Semiahmoo!

We were in no hurry, so we decided to beach the boats on the shore at Semiahmoo and went ashore for a beer on the patio. I had heard from a “little bird” that Packers Oyster Bar at Semiahmoo Resort is Perfect for Happy Hour. 😉

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at

1 Comment »

  1. Hey Todd! This is a great local blog site or whatever they’re called. Really enjoyed your story and pics! Will return many times – Thanks for doing this! Cheers! BW

    Comment by Barry A. Wenger — March 31, 2016 @ 11:49 am

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