Saturday, January 26, 2019

MLK Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off!

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Our four Americorps members. Photo credit: Wendy Feltham

This year, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center held its eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service “Weedpull.” This event is inspired by Dr. King’s example to serve the community. Thus, our four Americorps staff organize this activity inspired by the idea of “a day on, not a day off.”

Every year, we join forces with other local organizations like the Native Plant Society and the Friends of Fort Worden to discuss which area of Fort Worden State Park and species of invasive weed should be targeted. Once that is decided, the parks staff helps by providing transportation and disposal of the organic waste.

Local high school students involved in the Youth Environmental Stewards program.
Photo credit: Wendy Feltham

Monday, Jan. 21 was a lovely breeze-less day, with the sun even making an appearance, peeking out from behind the clouds. We had an amazing turn out of PTMSC and FFW volunteers, as well as many first timers. More than 40 individuals offered up their time.

Doug Rogers, excited to be done and cleaning up tools in the beautiful sunshine.
 Photo credit: Wendy Feltham
As a group, we conquered two large zones of invasive beach grass (ammophila) that have been present for many years. Each year the size of the patch gets smaller and smaller. With the intensity of our volunteers this year, we were able to completely clear the zone on the south side of the pier. It was a sight to see!

Volunteers tackling the dune grass patch near our pier.
Photo credit: Wendy Feltham

An event like this also provided the opportunity for public education. Several times we were questioned by individuals on what we were doing or why we were “making more beach.” We were able to educate people on the problem with invasive species in our environment. In addition, we explained how removing invasive plants provides native plants and the natural landscape the opportunity to flourish again.

It was remarkable to see the willingness of everyone who came out that day to get down in the sand and dig. I am constantly amazed by the talent and dedication of this community.

Thank you to the many organizations involved (see above) for their collaboration. It takes a team to tackle projects like this and it wouldn’t have turned out nearly as well as it did without their help and the amazing volunteers who turned out for the event!

Volunteers hard at work! Photo credit: Wendy Feltham
Written by Mandi Johnson, Americorps Volunteer Program Educator.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey

Survey collects long-term data to estimate the size of local seabird populations

White-winged scoter
(obtained from Wikimedia Commons)
Ever since my first week at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, I have been participating in the Puget Sound Seabird Survey. The PSSS, managed by Seattle Audubon, is a monthly shore-based survey that runs every year from October to April at over 120 locations throughout Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

One of the main goals of this survey is to collect long-term data that allow us to estimate the size of local seabird populations. This is important for two reasons. First, it gives us a better understanding about the seasonal trends and community composition for the seabirds inhabiting Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Second, if there is ever a man-made or natural disaster, subsequent surveys will show us how these seabird communities have changed compared to those before the disaster.

Besides its ecological importance, another great thing about the PSSS is that it is conducted by over 200 citizen science volunteers. Whether you are an expert or beginning bird-watcher, everyone who is interested is invited to be trained by Seattle Audubon. Because it is open to virtually anyone willing to learn the protocol, Seattle Audubon has a plethora of volunteers that are capable of collecting data over a vast area of the southern part of the Salish Sea. Plus, because it only occurs once a month, there is no large time commitment involved.

In order to collect meaningful data, the PSSS always occurs on the first Saturday of each month within a pre-determined four-hour window. Because each survey team conducts their survey on the same day at relatively the same time, it reduces the chance that any bird is counted twice at two different sites. Each survey team aims to conduct their survey during -- or close to -- high tide, within the four-hour window, so that the birds are closer to the observer and therefore easier to identify.

Overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Point Wilson
(Photo by Michael Siddel)
In order to actually estimate the density of seabirds in a given area, the PSSS utilizes a method known as distance sampling. Distance sampling is a commonly used method for surveying animals in an area in which you cannot directly observe and count them all. It operates on the assumption that that chance of observing an animal decreases as the distance from the observer increases.

Essentially, if we count all of the seabirds that we can see on the water and measure their distance from us, we can estimate the actual number of birds in the area, even the ones we didn’t see. 

Admittedly, the actual math that goes into estimating the distance from observer to a seabird, as well as their actual density, is discussion best saved for another blog post. 

PSSS volunteers (from left to right) Steve McDevitt, Ron Sikes, and Tim Weissman
(Photo by Michael Siddel)
Personally, I am a part of the team that conducts the PSSS at Point Wilson, just under a mile north of the PTMSC. Our last survey took place on January 5, and while there weren’t a large number of birds present, we were treated to a good diversity of species. These included horned grebes, a common loon, pigeon guillemots, red-breasted mergansers, a pelagic cormorant, surf scoters, a mew gull, harlequin ducks, buffleheads, a glaucous-winged gull, marbled murrelets, a double-crested cormorant and a white-winged scoter.

Regardless of how each survey goes, I am always eager for the next one!

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member