On a cold, gray, rainy December morning in Luther Burbank Park, local birders took on a unique, yet very important, task: counting the birds on Mercer Island. The 2012 count took place on Saturday, Dec. 29. Ten volunteers counted for four and a half hours, noting 64 species and 2,416 individual birds. One new species was spotted on the Island: a White-Throated Sparrow.
Linda Anchondo, Marty Jackson and Kevan Atteberry, all of Bellevue, have worked with the Seattle Audubon Society since their high school days and continue to keep track of a crucial environmental indicator.
“We need more volunteers,” Anchondo said. “We’ve been [counting birds] for 150 years, and it’s part of an international registry. It really tells you what we’re doing to our planet, especially within the last 30 years.”
Anchondo pointed out that a bird in the area that was once very common, the western grebe, is now hardly ever seen, and the dramatic drop has occurred within the past 20 years or so. In 2010, counters saw 32 western grebe, which jumped to 101 in 2011, but only 10 were seen this year.
The tallies from Mercer Island will be compiled with data from the regional Seattle area, which will then be included in state, national and international data. Atteberry kept a tally of each different species of bird they saw, while Jackson and Anchondo identified the birds’ species by looking for the birds through binoculars and comparing them to descriptions in a book. Atteberry and Anchondo also used iPhone and iPad apps that imitated bird calls to make the birds come closer, or call back if the call matches up with the species. Hearing is also an effective way to count, if the listener knows well enough which sound matches up with which type of bird.
Birders doing the count this year saw 63 Canadian geese, up from 58 in 2011, and saw 22 gadwalls, down from 37 the year before. One of the largest jumps was for ring-necked ducks, with 218 seen in 2012, up from 109 last year. Birders saw just five common Mergansers this year, after seeing 26 in 2011, while there were 108 rock pigeons, up from 73.
American robins have seen a steady increase in numbers, with 114 in 2010, 220 in 2011, and 287 last year. There were 269 European starlings in 2011, but only 184 in 2012. Song sparrows were also less seen in 2012, as birders counted 34, after seeing 87 the year before.
Overall, it is clear that the Island is home to a much more diverse crowd of birds than the common crows.
See the bird chart here.