OCEAN SHORES — Before migrating from Southern California, Dianna Moore would gaze out from her Pacific Bell office window in Los Angeles and peer across the Harbor Freeway at a raptor nest on a high-rise that seemingly defied the surrounding environment.
“I would look across from my second-floor window, and the CEO of the Union Bank building across the freeway from me had used his money to get Tom Cade and the Peregrine Foundation to put a nest box on the 11th-floor balcony,” Moore said of her memorable urban birding experience. “Never in my wildest dream did I think I would one day be holding one of those birds in my hands.”
Not only would she come north to hold them, she would help study them, care for them and bring the beauty of birds to countless others with somewhat of a second career still in full flight.
Retiring in 1996 from a career spent mostly in California, Moore first came north to visit and help care for family in Olympia and found it was time to leave L.A. once and for all. Her father passed away from cancer in 1998 and her mother needed assisted living care, so decided she had to be close at hand.
“I was the logical choice because I was retired and had two brothers who were still working,” the 68-year-old Grays Harbor Audubon Society board member said of her decision to move to the area.
“So I went home, and frantically sold my home in Burbank,” and moved to a completely different climate and environment: Ocean Shores and the shores of Duck Lake and Grays Harbor.
As a child, her father liked to move around every seven years or so, and he had an engaging career as a meteorologist.
“It was all up and down the coast, and he retired in Olympia,” she said of her father Jack E. Davis.
“And I was born in Oceanside, Calif., so I’ve always wanted to live near the beach. It (Ocean Shores) was so reasonable compared to what I was paying in Burbank. I was renting a house for $100 a month less than I was paying in Southern California and it was twice the size. It was not anything like this. I like forest. I like birds. I like the beach. This worked.”
Moore was never much of a birder until about a year before her father’s death. In their retirement, Jack and Ada Davis had become active in the effort to save and enhance the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, and it was a passion that Moore began to take an interest in, too.
“They helped save it from becoming a log facility for Weyerhaeuser. They took them to court,” she said of the Nisqually-area effort her parents were involved with.
After fully relocating, she then went to an Audubon Society meeting and knew she had found a bird of a feather: Dan Varland, who since 1995 had been color-marking raptors and conducting line-transect surveys by vehicle along Washington’s outer coastal beaches.
“He was doing a program on cavity-nesting birds, and he said he had some nest boxes like those used by my father,” Moore said of the noted Hoquiam-based scientific researcher and expert.
Varland is studying the long-term health and viability of raptors found along coastlines and the risks they face from exposure to wind turbines, oil spills, human disturbance and severe storms.
After their initial meeting, Varland asked Moore if she would like to assist with his research on peregrine falcons, and Moore was instantly captivated by everything about the task. She’s now one of the principal supporters of Varland’s non-profit, Coastal Raptors.
“She’s a real level-headed person who sees both sides to issues and is careful about presentation of information,” Varland said of the detail-oriented Moore. “People understand where she’s coming from and she’s very tactful, also.”
Arnold Martin, president of Grays Harbor Audubon, said Moore was one of the first people he met at a meeting when he moved to the area in 2005. He notes that not only is she on the Shorebird Festival committee, and has been the festival registrar for eight years, she also has organized the Christmas Bird Count for the past three years.
“That’s one of the most important things Audubon does, maintaining the continuity of the records of sightings on the Harbor for the past 20 years, and for 113 years nationally,” Martin said. “The hard part about working with Dianna is not to over-commit her time. She always thinks that she has time for projects, when she should be taking time for her own needs.”
Moore also writes a column on birding for The Daily World. “She adds enough to the information to make them personal, and always interesting,” Martin said.
Many non-birders may have have a Hollywood-exaggerated view of birders, thanks in large part to the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” which features some competitive cutthroat antics as birders, played by Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, try to out-do each other with rare sightings.
Moore acknowledges that it can be a competitive activity.
She points to a popular Northwest online site called “Tweeters,” which is a blog where birders can post “what’s being seen and when. If you belong to it, you get about 20 emails a day,” Moore said.
The Tweeters lit up the board several times this year over snowy owl sightings and tips for proper viewing, as well as pointed complaints about people and pets getting too close to the birds.
“I’m one of the people from out here who does participate because of the snowys,” Moore said of her unofficial role as moderator of the owl information overload.
Birding is fairly inexpensive and it doesn’t take much but desire and patience to participate. And it can be combined with other outdoor activities, such as gardening. In Ocean Shores and much of Grays Harbor, you don’t even have to venture far from your backyard.
“The older the population gets, I think people start looking for things to do,” Moore said of why birding seems to be a growing pastime. “Everybody hangs a bird feeder out, and if you’re a gardener, you plant things that are native or the birds will like. There are berries that the birds like, or flowers that attract hummingbirds.”
The most money Moore ever spends on birding goes for gas when she takes a treasured trip to the east side of the Cascades for a completely different birding environment.
To make ends meet, Moore does side jobs, transporting people up the North Beach who can’t otherwise get around or drive. She usually stops on the way back to visit a park and view the birds.
“She’s got a lot of good qualities, and it is good that we found each other as we did,” Varland said.
“She’s got real sharp eyes and became a quick learner,” he added about how Moore adapted to the tasks naturally in his scientific research. “She has been a valuable contributor to the research over the years.”
It’s now migration season and Moore takes a recent visitor from Alaska out to the sandy beaches as he marvels at the amazing variety of birds flocking up the coast.
“We have several thousand shorebirds out there and they are all running around,” she said. “He was fascinated. Once they discover it, it’s hard not to be impressed.”
Some of her favorite places include the Copalis River, watching the colorful mergansers with “their pumped out hairdo” and the bald eagles that hang out in the trees.
Some of her favorite birds in the spring are the marbled godwits that have long, skinny legs and pointed bills.
“They are already turning a russet color. I go over to Bill’s Spit at Ocean Shores and just wait for them to come out,” she said. They are usually bigger than other shorebirds and hang out higher up the beach. Moore already has spotted a few early ones this spring.
Another good birding spot is on the golf course (at Ocean Shores) when there are not too many golfers playing the course. “If they are in breeding plumage, that’s when the black-bellied plovers come out,” Moore said.
She has a mobile pair of high-powered binoculars that she can attach to her car window with a mount and is known to just park and sit out by the golf course waiting for the birds to show.
“If you bird from your car, it’s like being in a blind. They don’t seem to mind you much,” she said.
In August, Moore advises a trip to the Oyehut Recreation Area between Damon Point and the North Jetty. At the Ocean Shores Municipal Airport, there are the cackling geese that find refuge.
At the jetty, you can see pelagic birds, or birds that only come ashore to breed.
“The beach is my favorite place to go. Because of the Shorebird Festival, I am very aware of the shorebirds when they come and go, and their breeding plumage and regular plumage,” Moore said.
In addition to her duties as a board member for Grays Harbor Audubon, she also chairs the Field Trip Committee and is instrumental in the yearlong planning that goes into the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, which will begin April 27. She is the official compiler of birds for Grays Harbor County.
The rarest bird to be added to the list was in 2009 when a king eider showed up off of Damon Point. They usually stay up in the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula.
“That was big news. She showed up that July but wasn’t seen at all last year and we haven’t seen her since,” Moore said.
In the winter, she also works on the Christmas Bird Count, inheriting the job from Bob Morse of Olympia, who started the Audubon annual tally of Grays Harbor birds within a 10-square mile of the Harbor, including Ocean Shores and Westport into Bowerman Basin and as far as Bottle Beach.
Last Christmas, the 32 people who participated counted 141 different species of birds.
“That’s just phenomenal. This is a really rich area. We’ve got the freshwater birds. We’ve got the saltwater birds. We’ve got forest birds and everything in between,” she said. “It’s a real interesting diversity.
Angelo Bruscas, North Coast News editor, can be reached at (360) 289-3968 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.