The last day of February I hear the startling wheep, wheep, wheep, wheep of four black oystercatchers as they come screaming down the shoreline and hurtle onto the rocks by the Cattle Point lighthouse.

Black oystercatcher vocalizing | Photo: Gary Luhm

Archibald Menzies, naturalist on Captain George Vancouver’s Voyage of Discovery, found oystercatchers off Cypress Island in 1792. The “black sea pies,” as the birds were commonly called in that era, were abundant then and are still seen along [rocky shores] throughout the year.They touch down among a group of six more of their kind and form a circle continuing to call and appearing to bow several times to one another: a greeting ceremony of sorts, or so it seems. Then they pad off on long pink legs and feet, probing the exposed outcroppings of the mid-tide and high tide zones for marine worms, and prying limpets and snails off the substrate with their flashy red bills.

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Excerpted from Rainshadow World: A Naturalist’s Year in the San Juan Islands, pp. 40-41, © 2010 by Susan Vernon. Used with permission.