Bird lovers unite

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This Red Breasted Robin was one of the 4,952 birds seen during the annual bird count on Mercer Island in December. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This Red Breasted Robin was one of the 4,952 birds seen during the annual bird count on Mercer Island in December.
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Once again, bird lovers united for the annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29, 2007. Inspired by their esoteric fascination with Washington’s feathered creatures, 24 birders prepared for a half-day search, covering Mercer Island from thicket to waterfront. The group, a combination of birders from Mercer Island, Seattle and the Eastside, is part of the Seattle Audubon Society — a local branch of the National Audubon Society established to “value and protect birds and the natural environment.”

Every year, bird watchers across the world convene around Christmas time for an official bird count. The Seattle Audubon Society covers a 15-mile radius, including Mercer Island. According to Judith Roan, coordinator of the MI bird count, the Island is a feathered-flying haven.

“We have a lot of habitat. We have shoreline, we have conifers — evergreen and deciduous — and we have really healthy back yards,” said Roan, who has counted birds for 18 years.

Between Mercer Island’s lush parks and protected waterfront, the natural habitat is home to a variety of species.

“Food, shelter and water are the three things that lure birds, and our area is very conducive to that. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain our parks,” she said.

Part of the purpose behind the bird count is to monitor the surrounding ecology. A decrease in birds often suggests endangered habitat. Thankfully, Mercer Island has seen consistent numbers.

“Some things are up and some things are down, but on the whole we found about 5,000 individual birds and 66 species — that’s holding steady,” Roan said.

Although counting birds may seem a tedious occupation, the Island group enjoys every minute of it, especially when the weather is good.

“We were blessed with an overcast, rain-free, 40-degree day,” Roan said, referring to last month’s count. “It’s not difficult to see them in good weather. Once you start birding, you become very observant.”

The group was up and ready to go on Mercer Island by 8 a.m. Equipped with binoculars, tally boards and reference books, the birders split into groups and dispersed across the Island. They covered neighborhood streets, parks, public beaches and docks, as well as some private yards, after receiving permission from the landowners.

“We go in teams with at least one very knowledgeable person. Beginning birders are encouraged to come along. We often start them as tally people,” Roan explained.

The count stopped at precisely 12:30 p.m. The group met with their tallies, which were later combined for a total count. Asked if there were any surprises in this year’s count, Roan said the group was blessed to spot some Trumpeter Swans flying over Luther Burbank Park.

“That’s very unusual,” the bird enthusiast said. “They migrate up to the Skagit area for the winter, and they just happened to be flying over our Island.”

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