Lifestyle

ISLAND BIRDING: Some birds have rebounded, but it may not last

Whidbey Audubon turned

25 this year. Members and guests gathered for a birthday party this past month to celebrate our past and to look forward to the future.

We were reminded that the first gathering of what became the Whidbey Audubon Society was held on Oct. 13, 1981. About 20 Whidbey Islanders met with Dick Martyr, a vice president of National Audubon and the legendary Hazel Wolfe, then secretary of Seattle Audubon. Founding members of Whidbey Audubon included: Roger and Connie Allin, Hank and Doris Hansen, Horace and Mary Brandt, Arlie and Allen Ostling, K.C. and Dorthea Jones, Vince and Tracy Hagel.

We also honored one of our oldest members, Maurine Ryan at 101 years.

Volume 1, Number 1 of the Whidbey Audubon Newsletter dated Jan. 6, 1982 included these sightings:

“The snow geese are in the Skagit Flats and the eagles are on the river. One of our members saw a yellow-billed loon in Discovery Bay as well as 11 black oystercatchers. He also watched a peregrine falcon attack a large flock of goldeneyes on Protection Island. A flock of golden-crowned kinglets was seen near Pay Less in Oak Harbor and a large flock of varied thrushes have just invaded the territory from Polnell Point to Oak Harbor.”

Sharing our bird sightings has been a special part of our monthly meetings during these last

25 years.

Today we are all too keenly aware of the dramatic loss of many bird populations throughout our region, but at this celebration we focused on the positive changes.

Twenty-five years ago, there were only a handful of bald eagles nesting on the Island. Today we have likely reached the saturation point for that species with nearly 50 nesting territories. This comeback is mainly due to banning the use of DDT.

Back in 1983, osprey were rare, yet now we have a generous population of nesting birds. They migrate to our Island each April to raise young in the tops of tall trees.

Some new avian neighbors have joined us on Whidbey Island. Anna’s Hummingbirds recently colonized this area, stretching their resident population slowly north from California. Twenty-five years ago, they were unknown in this region. Now they spend all year in my garden.

Ravens have taken up residence at several points on the Island, including the South End. Mourning doves didn’t live anywhere south of Coupeville until recently. As I write this, a pair is strutting around under my bird feeder south of Langley.

Of course, crows have multiplied as well. Some “pest birds” including brown-headed cowbirds, house sparrows and European starlings have mushroomed in numbers, corresponding to increases in population of their human hosts.

The first meeting of Whidbey Audubon included an art exhibit. It was fitting that our 25th birthday party also featured an art show with paintings by children from Coupeville and Oak Harbor elementary schools. More than 200 students participated in the art project initiated by members of Whidbey Audubon’s Education Committee, headed by Kathy Stella and Renee Smith.

Our celebration featured the program: “Wings and Tales” with Whidbey’s own bird experts Steve and Martha Ellis. At the end of their presentation, Steve gave his projections of changes we might see in the bird population during the next 25 years.

Steve expects that breeding pairs of bald eagles will begin a slow decline on the Island due to development. The great blue heron will disappear as a breeding bird but continue to forage here. The osprey will become a near non-migratory bird and be seen year round.

He also suggests we watch for these species to appear. Scrub jays will begin breeding here using our woodlots and brush piles for habitat. Gray catbirds will hop the Cascades and settle here.

If we experience a drier climate, we can expect more house wrens and mourning doves. And if we lose our wetlands, we’ll have to also give up yellow warblers and common yellowthroats.

Twenty-five years hence, we know that our sightings reports will be different. And even Steve’s crystal ball can’t factor in the effects of climate change.

To help mitigate those changes, we can all act now. We must preserve and protect wetlands. We must join with the Puget Sound Partnership’s effort to clean up Puget Sound by 2020.

Each and every one of us can create backyard habitat for wildlife. Add native plans to your gardens, avoid pesticides, leave a snag for cavity nesters and keep cats indoors. Along with the list I gave earlier of bird success stories, an equal number of Whidbey’s bird species are already struggling to survive. Now add climate change; the threat is looming and the effects are already being felt.

The one thing you can do right now is to join Whidbey Audubon. Go to www.whidbeyaudubon.org and check on “membership form.” Or just slip $10 (checks made out to Whidbey Audubon) and your address into an envelope and mail it directly to me: 5477 Wilkinson Road, Langley, 98260.

We want YOU to join our party for the next 25 years.

Frances Wood can be reached at wood@whidbey.com. She is author of “Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West.”

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