In 1852, James Swan took up residence in what we now know as Willapa Bay on the southwest coast of Washington State. In his book The Northwest Coast, Swan described the birds he observed on the bay: “white and black swans, white geese, Canada geese, brant, Sheldrake, cormorants, loon, mallard ducks, red-head, gray, and canvas-back ducks, teal, curlew, snipe, plover (maybe an ancestor of this Western Snowy Plover!), pheasant, quail, pigeons, and robins. … Pelicans … Innumerable flocks of gulls of various species …”
Today, Willapa Bay is a national wildlife refuge!
James Swan’s Willapa Bay
Written by Todd Peterson
This is BirdNote.
[Lapping of water]
It appeared to him a kind of paradise, this place he called Shoalwater Bay, so pleasing was it in its natural abundance. His name was James Swan and he was, in 1852, “one of perhaps two dozen white Americans then on the Pacific Coast north of the Columbia River.”* That year he took up residence in what we now know as Willapa Bay on the southwest coast of Washington State.
[Canada Geese fly by in the distance]
In his book The Northwest Coast, Swan describes the birds he observed on the bay:
“The feathered tribe are numerous, and during the season flock hither in clouds: white and black swans, white geese, Canada geese, brant, Sheldrake, cormorants, loon, mallard ducks, red-head, gray, and canvas-back ducks, teal, curlew, snipe, plover, pheasant, quail, pigeons, and robins. During the summer months pelicans are plenty, and go sailing round in their heavy, lazy flight, occasionally dashing down into the water in the most clumsy manner to catch a fish…Innumerable flocks of gulls of various species are constantly to be seen, and at times, when attracted by any quantity of food, appear like clouds.”**
It is perhaps instructive for us to reflect on the fate of that natural abundance, not just of birds but of the region’s forests of fir and cedar, its salmon, trout, and sturgeon, in the blink of time that is the 160 years since James Swan entered paradise.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Sounds of provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Calls of Canada Geese recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; call of a Curlew recorded by G.A. Keller; calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls 59257 recorded by Grace Bell.
Ambient provided by C. Peterson, recorded at Shoalwater Bay.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org July 2012 Narrator: Michael Stein
* Norman H. Clark. Introduction to The Northwest Coast Or, Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory by James G. Swan. University of Washington Press. 1972. Page v.
** Swan. The Northwest Coast. P. 29.