PORT TOWNSEND — “Widgeons … mallards … we got some scaups … we have a bunch of American coots, a great blue heron … one bufflehead …”
On Saturday morning, a dozen citizen scientists from the Admiralty Audubon Society fanned out in Kai Tai Lagoon Nature Park with pens and notebooks, binoculars and scopes to participate in the 118th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). More than 60 people were involved across the Quimper Peninsula.
At Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park, the damp air was punctuated by the sounds of birds intermixed with hushed human voices calling out what’s been spied so the species can be notated.
“… six more American crows …”
This yearly exercise records the number of birds seen during an eight-hour period, all within a specific “count circle.” Small parties follow an assigned route that changes little from year-to-year. Each person counts every bird they see.
The East Jefferson County bird count was the first on the North Olympic Peninsula this year. The Neah Bay count is today. Sequim-Dungeness’ CBC is Monday. Port Angeles will count on Sat., Dec 30.
CBC Team Leader Ron Sykes has a particular fondness for Kah Tai because of its diverse habitat and proximity to Port Townsend Bay. It attracts a broad range of sea and land species.
“…seven American wigeons…”
The Kah Tai Lagoon count incorporates both woodland and water, so the species are varied.
“I expect to see a Lincoln’s sparrow. They are hard to find and very shy,” Sykes said.
“… crows, gulls, marsh wren, Anna’s hummingbird and a song sparrow … an eagle.”
Sykes’ wife, Rosemary, said: “There were reports of a barred owl hanging out in this area of the woodland the past week. I haven’t seen it yet today.”
All the local data will be collected, collated and catalogued for use by ornithologists and other scientists, environmental experts, and the general public after it has been confirmed by the National Audubon Society. The point of the project is to understand how native birds are faring during the winter months.
Craig Wester has been involved on and off for 30 years and this is the third time he’s counting in this specific area. He is a recorder as well as a spotter. After 90 minutes, his lagoon group saw 50 Mallards, two Golden Eyes, 36 Buffleheads, a couple Lesser Scaups, five Pied Billed Grebs, 35 American Coots, one Gadwall, 55 Wigeons, one Eurasian Wigeon, one Crow, one Great Blue Heron, and one Bald Eagle.
Jerry Gilbert’s team was positioned at water’s edge near the south end of the lagoon.
“It’s a slow day. We don’t know why,” he said.
His group’s count: 33 Mallards, one Pied Billed Greib, one Bufflehead, 10 gull species, 10 American Crows, one Virginia Rail, 10 Ruddy Ducks, one Bald Eagle, 19 Rock Pigeons, three Golden Crowned Kinglets, three Spotted Towhees, three American Robins, 13 Black Capped Chickadees, 20 Bushtits, two Song Sparrows, one Pacific Wren, one Hooded Merganser, two Anna’s Hummingbirds and 40 Pine Siskins.
This is Gilbert’s 30th year of counting and since he lives near the park, his almost daily observations reveal some interesting insights.
“A lot of birds are shifting their ranges,” he said. “You can call it global warming or milder weather patterns.
“We’re seeing birds that we haven’t seen that often moving in here, like the Eurasian Collared-Dove. They’re now in my neighborhood. This is about the fourth year I’ve seen them. It’s a species that’s only been in the U.S. a short while and now they’re coming en masse.”
Dan Waggoner is the lead organizer and compiler of all the Christmas Bird Count data on the Quimper Peninsula. He’s been a participant for 20 years, personally counting in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties. He’s taken the lead for the past eight years.
“In Jefferson County, we have teams fanned out in a radius of 7.5 miles using the dock on Indian Island as the central point,” he said.
“One group does Mats Mats, Oak Bay, and part of Indian Island. Two groups are doing Marrowstone. There’s Chimacum Valley, Chimacum and Hadlock. There’s the West Valley and Eaglemount areas, and Discovery Bay up to Anderson Lake State Park. And from Point Hudson to Fort Townsend. There’s a group that will do Fort Worden. And the team that counts Kah Tai Lagoon.”
According to Waggoner, one of the most interesting recorded changes in this area affects one of our tiniest visitors.
“When we started this, we did not see the Anna’s Hummingbird this late in the year. Now we have 40 or more locally. The birds have expanded their range beyond Baja, California to southern Oregon,” he said.
“They basically live from sea level to 400 feet, and they don’t want to be in areas that are too cold. Anna’s spend most of their time in gardens that might still have flowers, regardless of the time of year.”
During the past few years, local counts revealed several sea birds populations are in decline.
“The Western Grebe has gone from the thousands to around 200. The White-Winged Scoter and the Scaup Duck have also seen a significant decrease in numbers, too,” Waggoner said.
“About 40 years ago, their numbers were quite high on Discovery Bay. Since the fishery has collapsed and their food source has been depleted, they are all in decline.”
Even though the idea of watching and counting birds seems somewhat low-tech, the way to keep track of findings has become anything but.
“I used to keep a notebook and I have many of them from over the years. Now I use an app,” Waggoner laughed.
“When you’re observing nature, you see the effects of global warming. We see birds that shouldn’t be here. They’re looking for food or suitable habitat,” Waggoner explained.
“Somehow we’ve lost sight of how the cycle works. The birds are proving it.”
Jeannie McMacken is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.