Friday, December 7, 2018

December Survey for Protection Island Aquatic Reserve

On December 6th, I was fortunate enough to join the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee for their 24th monthly bird and mammal survey. Beginning in December 2016, the Citizen Stewardship Committee has conducted monthly, boat-based surveys for marine birds and mammals inhabiting Protection Island Aquatic Reserve. This Aquatic Reserve encompasses over 23,000 acres of state-owned aquatic lands that surround Protection Island, a National Wildlife Refuge that serves as an important nesting area for over 70 percent of the marine birds in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

A group of pigeon guillemots in winter plumage.
Photo by Betsy Carlson

These monthly surveys are conducted so that we can better understand the population trends, diversity, and behavioral patterns of the marine birds that utilize Protection Island Aquatic Reserve. As of this last survey, the Citizen Stewardship Committee has collected two years of data, which has led to some interesting findings. One thing they’ve learned is that some yellow-billed loons, which are more commonly found in Canada and Alaska, will spend their winters in the Aquatic Reserve. We were even lucky enough to spot a few of them!

A rare yellow-billed loon.
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

It couldn’t have been a better day to conduct the survey. The Sun shone brightly and provided some much needed warmth. There was a light breeze that rippled the otherwise calm ocean water. Visibility was seemingly limitless, as we weren’t able to count the number of mountains in sight on one hand. In addition to the rare yellow-billed loons, we were treated with a fantastic array of birds and mammals. Most of the birds we saw included common murres, pigeon guillemots, glaucous-winged gulls, and mew gulls. However, we also spotted harbor seals, harbor porpoises, surf scoters, white-winged scoters, buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers, ancient murrelets, and even the threatened marbled murrelet!

I’m grateful to the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee for letting me be a part of this valuable survey. I’m eager not only to visit the Aquatic Reserve again, but also to see what new things we can learn from this survey in the coming years!

(Left to Right) Bob Boekelheide, Michael Siddel, Steve Grace.
Photo by Betsy Carlson

Written by Michael Siddel, AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator

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