It takes a lot of binoculars and birders to tally a day’s worth of birds for the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This group scrutinizes Ewing Marsh during the 2012 Whidbey chapter count. Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

It takes a lot of binoculars and birders to tally a day’s worth of birds for the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This group scrutinizes Ewing Marsh during the 2012 Whidbey chapter count. Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

Binoculars, birds and keeping tabs on Whidbey’s habitat

Whidbey’s Audubon annual count adds up for conservation

Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a bird, it’s a bird.

It’s another bird.

It’s the Whidbey Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

For two Saturdays, Dec. 16 and Dec. 30, Whidbey’s bird nerds will be out in force counting tens of thousands of birds for the National Audubon Society’s annual tally of bird species.

They’ll be craning their necks inside a designated 15-mile wide circle, identifying species and adding up numbers of birds.

Whidbey’s two circles join some 2,500 other bird-counting circles in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s a fun day but it’s also contributing to science,” said Anne Casey, who plans to participate in both island counts. “The data is used all over the world. It’s a good feeling to know that.”

North Whidbey’s count was Dec. 16. Two weeks later, South Whidbey birders will be scouring their woods, shoreline, lakes and backyard bird feeders, tracking every bird they see.

Every single bird.

From Red-breasted Sapsuckers and Western Sandpipers to fidgeting flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos, bushtits, sparrows, robins and Varied Thrush to chattering chickadees, they all must be counted.

Last year’s North Whidbey tally, led by 44 humans, counted 20,860 birds representing 118 species.

For South Whidbey, 42 participants counted 19,281 individual birds and 105 species.

“This is a way to take an active role in keeping Whidbey Island the special place that it is,” said Govinda Rosling, coordinator for the South Whidbey circle. “Long-term studies like this are important to track for conservation efforts, to get a pulse on long-term bird population trends.”

Notebooks in hand and binoculars at the ready, members of the Whidbey Audubon Chapter work in teams as spotters and recorders. The day lasts from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Some birders go out earlier, listening for the hoot of owls.

Now in its 118th year, the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is considered the largest and longest-running citizen science project in the world.

Annual counts can spark preservation efforts, explained Jay Adams, North Whidbey bird count coordinator.

“It’s one good source of quality data about whether a species’ number is increasing or decreasing, or whether a species is moving from one place to the next,” he said. “It helps understand the relation between birds and where they live and habitat changes.”

Whidbey Island lies in the middle of the Pacific Flyway — the route birds migrate north and south along the West Coast. Birds have their pick of habitats here, including wetlands, woods, shoreline, lakes and endless acres of farm fields.

Earlier this year, the Whidbey Audubon Society released a revised “Birds of Whidbey” checklist based on the island’s changing population.

It includes 230 different species, Adams says.

He should know because he’s one of those who keep a Life List tallying up every bird on every outing in every place, every time, every year.

“But I also keep a year list and I find that useful for comparisons,” he said. “I think I’ve seen 193 species on Whidbey so far this year.”

Whipping winds makes for a difficult day for birds and bird watchers alike.

“Wind is really hard on song birds, chickadees and such, so if it’s windy all of us are really looking and listening for them,” Adams explained.

Stormy weather? Of course. But the count goes on.

Crockett Lake and Deer Lagoon offer the challenge of a dizzying number of ducks suddenly deciding to duck out.

“Those places are fantastically wonderful for shorebirds and raptors,” Casey said. “But there are hundreds and hundreds of ducks there now.”

Spying an unexpected species always makes for a good story at the day’s end when the bird counters gather for food, hot drinks and data discussions.

“It’s always kind of interesting, now and again we will see an osprey during the Christmas count,” Casey said. “They’re usually here April to September and then go south to Central America.”

Last year, Trumpeter Swans, sanderlings, and ring-billed gulls made the South Whidbey Christmas count for the first time.

A brown pelican was spotted on the Clinton ferry dock during the 2013 count, perhaps an indication its species is pushing further north.

At Deer Lagoon, white pelicans again took up residence for the second consecutive summer. However, the rare, fair beauties won’t make the Christmas count.

Months ago, they winged out of Whidbey bound for warmer climes.

Unless, of course, some stuck around.

Just to be counted.

White-winged scoter, a diving duck that breeds in the Arctic and winters in Puget Sound.
                                Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

White-winged scoter, a diving duck that breeds in the Arctic and winters in Puget Sound. Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

The red-footed Pigeon Guillemot breeds in 25 colonies from Clinton to Deception Pass. Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

The red-footed Pigeon Guillemot breeds in 25 colonies from Clinton to Deception Pass. Photo provided by Govinda Rosling

More in Life

Origins of fairgrounds’ story pole is a mystery

South Whidbey historian on the case to uncover true carver

Blues, berries, fun and fundraising at Saturday festival

Mutiny Bay Blues Farm hosts Commons Cafe event

Annual street dance, live bands set for Saturday

Langley’s new annual dancing-in-the-street summertime tradition is back for the third year,… Continue reading

New public art debuts in Langley

Steel and glass shape pieces chosen by arts commission

Denis Zimmermann and his wife, Cheryl, run Langley’s new ramen restaurant, Ultra House, which opened in May 2018. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times.
Langley restaurant owner is recreating his childhood with new ramen house

Denis Zimmer-mann said he’s not re-inventing the wheel with his ramen restaurant… Continue reading

A 1941 Graham Hollywood, owned by Roy Deaver of Clinton, was chosen as Best of Show in the Cool Bayview Nights car show Saturday.
Rain doesn’t dampen the fun at Cool Bayview Nights car show

Attendees selected the mildly modified and rebuilt 1941 Graham Hollywood, owned by… Continue reading

Shakespeare Festival plays emotional range

Female directors, perspective at the forefront

Expanding knowledge

Whidbey Institute adds more lodging, plans open house

Congolese Festival is a chance to celebrate, educate

Last event before Northwest Cultural Center relocates

Shhh…it’s a surprise party for old-timer Bill Lanning

Friends, customers invited to celebrate former owner of Bill’s Feed Tack

Mucking about for clams

‘Digging for Dinner’ a popular Sound Water activity

Scorch is a play about gender identification showing at Outcast’s black box theater on the Island County fairgrounds June 13-17. It’s a one-person play, performed by Carmen Berkeley. Director and co-producer Ty Molbak went to middle school in Langley was was active in Whidbey Children’s Theater. Both will be seniors at Rutgers University in the fall. One scene in the play “Scorch” portrays the main character looking into mirrors and wondering what others see.
‘Scorch’ looks at first love and ‘gender fraud’

Irish play revolves around one character’s confusion