I recently enjoyed a dazzling day of birding at Deer Lagoon and Crockett Lake. Shorebirds danced on the tide flats, ducks and wild fowl floated on the lake and bay while sparrows skulked in the shrubs. A few late-migrating Violet-green, Barn and Tree Swallows swooped overhead.
A Virginia Rail popped up onto a sturdy reed and sat preening in the early morning sun, a rare encounter for this shy creature.
After counting nearly 60 species in about five hours of birding, I was assured that the abundance of fall and winter birding here on Whidbey is definitely cranking up.
I recently began using the online bird list tracking system called eBird. It electronically stores and evaluates my bird lists.
There is a part of my psyche that enjoys the listing and ordering of this hobby.
I rile at eBird’s ability to suck up my time but also recognize the need to track bird populations to understand how they are faring in our ever-changing ecosystems.
One of our Western Washington ecosystems that is going to experience dramatic change is the Elwha River on the northern section of the Olympic Peninsula. Last month the first chunks of concrete were removed from the first of two dams, which have clogged that river for 100 years. When complete in three years, this will be the largest dam removal project in the entire world.
My fascination with this project has led me to research the history of the Elwha River and I also began reading Jonathan Evison’s “West of Here,” a novel based on that history.
In the novel, in 1890, one character who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs is counting not only the number of Native Americans but also their goods and possessions. That character is challenged by a S’Klallam woman who asks why he is doing this.
“By counting,” she says, “you only make the world smaller.”
I was immediately struck by the sense of abundance the woman must have felt. From her perspective, there was plenty until one began to count and quantify what one had.
Those words weighed heavily on my mind for several days and I pined for not only the loss of nature over those 100 years, but also for the largeness and abundance the S’Klallam woman felt.
Of course we need to count the birds, but in doing so, we make the world smaller.
I certainly bemoan the loss of California Quail in my neighborhood. I’m deeply saddened to see flocks of only 10 to 20 Western Grebes arriving this fall, when just 12 years ago when I first moved to Whidbey Island, I’d count flocks of 100 birds.
Yet, awareness of the problems should not prevent our joy in appreciating the abundance of the nature that remains. We must cherish it, feel it in our bones and hold it close.
We absolutely must get outside, absorb the changing seasons and visit the glorious parks and beaches of Whidbey. Watch for flocks of wintering shorebirds scattered along our beaches, listen for the eagle calling from a tall fir and admire the chickadees coming to our feeders.
Imagine how the natural ecosystems that we protect will be cherished in our communities 100 years from now.
Frances Wood recently launched a website called 41 Whidbey Places: Our Island, our stories. Please visit 41whidbeyplaces.com to read the growing collection of stories.