South Whidbey birders gather for the annual count

Dyanne Sheldon, Jean Singer and Joan Benedusi search for gulls at the Clinton ferry dock on Friday, Dec. 27. They were part of the annual Christmas Bird Count by the Whidbey Audubon Society.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Dyanne Sheldon, Jean Singer and Joan Benedusi search for gulls at the Clinton ferry dock on Friday, Dec. 27. They were part of the annual Christmas Bird Count by the Whidbey Audubon Society.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Friday was a day for the birds for more than 60 people signed up and taking part in the annual Christmas Bird Count.

In its 114th year nationally and third year on South Whidbey, the annual event took place Dec. 27 and covered the area from Greenbank Farm to the Clinton ferry dock. The North End bird count was held Saturday, Dec. 21.

The counts were hosted by the Whidbey Audubon Society and aim to promote citizen science by documenting the number and species of birds around the area. The event attracted a range of skill levels, from brand-new to lifetime birders. This is the longest running wildlife census in the country and helps contribute to data for researchers, conservation biologists and organizations, such as the National Audubon Society.

The final count was not available as of press time Friday afternoon.

Many participants happily noted gentler weather this year. Temperatures hovered around the mid-40s compared to a cold and rainy day in 2012.

Dyanne Sheldon, a team leader, guided a group of eight people around the Clinton ferry dock. The group later traveled to Dan Porter Park, Deer Lake and a few private properties in the Clinton area.

They used guidebooks to narrow down the species of each bird they saw, identifying them by colors, size and sound. Sheldon helped analyze each bird they saw for accuracy.

Sheldon said counting gulls is one of the most challenging parts of the day. As they reach maturity, gulls go through multiple color morphs, which make each individual hard to identify. Sheldon also added, there is no such thing as a seagull — they are all gulls, she said.

Clinton resident and Sheldon’s partner, Jean Singer, has been bird watching for several years now and helped tally the birds for the team. She said she is not a “major birder” but enjoys finding them.

“I’m a spotter. I know what we’ve got and what might be unusual,” she said.

In the morning the group saw birds that were typical at the ferry such as glaucous-winged gulls, loons and Western grebes, but nothing unusual.

Birding helps contribute to the understanding of what species are on the island, Singer said, and is a good social activity.

Lea Kouba, a Clinton resident, expressed similar sentiments. Even though it’s citizen science, the annual count increases understanding of the environment over time.

“Over the years you begin to see trends of birds increasing and decreasing,” she said. “It’s a valuable way to keep track of the environment and keep track of the world.”

Kouba has been birding for about 20 years and has seen a few trends on her own. Kouba remembers thousands of Western grebes on Penn Cove around the 1980s, but she hasn’t seen any recently. She also has seen a steady increase of bald eagles over the years.

Kouba said she enjoys identifying the birds and the possibility of seeing the unusual.

“I learn something every time I go out,” she said.

Clinton resident, Wendy Visconty, has been taking classes with the Audubon Society and wanted to join the count to learn more about birds.

It’s a new hobby for Visconty, who has been bird-watching for one year now. She said she enjoys learning the information and participating in a useful hobby.

“It’s a fun project,” she said. “Whatever (bird) shows up is great.”


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