One of the joys of working in the Pacific Northwest is the opportunity to work with other enthusiastic bird nerds. When I explain to laypeople that I work with birds, I am mostly met with confusion or, better yet, the “Can You Identify This Bird Based On Vague Descriptions” game. But there is a special breed of people who, like me, enjoy watching swallows cut and weave through the air and identifying them by their iridescent plumage. I have lived and worked in several other states across the US and have yet to find such a welcoming and delightful community of binocular-toting, bird-book-reading individuals anywhere else.
As part of our assessment of avian responses to estuary restoration, Ecostudies Institute has reached out to community to help us achieve our goals. They represent a valuable font of information and many are intimately familiar with the Leque Island study site. As a result of their efforts, I am delighted to say that the 2016 bird surveys have been an unqualified success thanks to these dedicated volunteers.
In April, I had the very great privilege of leading the first Citizen Science Leque Island Bird Surveys with Gary Slater and biologists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). This is the first time a program quite like this has been attempted at Leque Island. We intended to build a project that would augment our own surveys and generate data about the species composition and abundance during the breeding season.
This is the time of year when migration is in full swing and everybody from the marsh wrens in the estuaries to the mallards in the bushes are displaying to mates, building nests and carefully tending to tiny offspring. It’s a busy season and I needed all the help I could get. So we asked volunteers to pick sections of Leque Island and patrol for a set amount of time, writing down all the birds they encountered.
The orientation training occurred on a beautifully blue sky spring day, when the tree swallows soared over our heads in pursuit of a tasty insect lunch. I had an absolutely blast, comparing bird sightings and discussing species ranges with the 15+ people who graciously took a few hours out of their Sunday to help us. There were some hiccups; I have yet to hear of a pilot project that transitioned easily from paper to the field. But, in the end, we adjusted smoothly and made notes for next time.