MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Area Christmas bird count starts Monday in Sequim

THE ANNALS OF science are calling.

It is up to you, my dear Peninsulites, to answer the hoot.

One can give future generations an invaluable gift this holiday season by participating in one of three upcoming Christmas bird counts on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The annual tally returns to the Peninsula in the coming weeks, beginning with the Sequim-Dungeness count Monday.

All-day counts are also set for Dec. 19 on the Quimper Peninsula and Jan. 2 in Port Angeles.

But the one in Dungeness Valley, which observed a state record 150 species in December of 2007, is the biggest of them all.

As Dungeness River Audubon Center director Bob Boekelheide said, the count is the perfect chance to further our understanding of our feathered friends.

“People can actually add to our knowledge of what these birds are doing,” said Boekelheide, who will head up his 13th Dungeness Christmas Count this year.

“We can get this snapshot in time of what birds are doing and compare it to previous years. That would be impossible [without the help of volunteers].

“Change is inevitable. I think that is what [the count] is documenting, is how things are changing over time.”

The Sequim count has existed since 1975.

During that time, it has helped ornithologists document certain trends in bird behavior that reflect changes in nature as a whole.

For example, counts in the last 10 years have pointed to a marked decline in certain saltwater birds in the area, including loons and grebes.

Such an observation seems to correlate with drops in salmon returns, which feed on the same forage fish as those birds.

Other counts throughout the country, some of which date back 50 years or more, point to the gradual movement of birds’ wintering areas to the north.

“[Birds] are an excellent bell weather,” Boekelheide said. “First of all they are visible. Second of all you can have nonprofessionals out there making the observations.

“So they are a really easy way for us to keep tabs on the natural world.”

Approximately 100 people have already volunteered to participate in the Sequim count.

Some will head out into the field, including one brave soul who will kayak around Dungeness Bay, while others will simply watch the bird feeder out back.

Boekelheide himself will be up bright and early at 2 a.m. to get a handle on the hooters (aka owls).

“It’s nice having a lot of people,” Boekelheide said. “Of the 150 species we observe, there’s probably 120 that we see almost every year.

“It’s the additional 30 that require the work. We’re just in a good spot here where we have very interesting habitat.”

The Sequim count stretches from Dungeness Spit all the way to the foothills of the Olympic mountains to the south. The western boundary borders McDonald Creek and the eastern Diamond Point and Protection Island.

Volunteers have until Friday to contact the River Center (360-681-4076) to participate in the Sequim count.

A chili feed is set for 5 p.m. at the River Center on the same day. That is when the official tally will also take place.

Those looking to join the Port Townsend-area tally on Dec. 19 can contact Dick Johnson (360-385-5418). The contact for the Port Angeles count on Jan. 2 is Barb Blackie (360-477-8028).

There is a $5 participation fee for each, with proceeds supporting field analysis of the collected data.

That fee also entitles counters to the Christmas Count issue of American Birds.

________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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