(This edition of Noo-Kayet was written by Roma Call, environmental coordinator of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe)
Do you know the name of the gulls most common to our area? You would be forgiven for thinking “sea”; their proper name is actually Glaucous Winged Gull. Rarely far from water, this bird is often mistaken for the Western Gull and lives, on average, 15 years.
If you haven’t already guessed, this column is for the birds. Specifically about an exciting partnership between the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Northwest Indian College and Kitsap Audubon Society to count and catalog bird species around Port Gamble Bay.
A birds-eye view of the project: twice a month, for the next year, students from Northwest Indian College will assist members of Kitsap Audubon at specific locations around the bay.
Equipped with binoculars and bird field guides, these volunteers will identify and count bird species before handing the results to PGST’s Natural Resources Department. This information will be used to help us better understand bird life — including habitats and food sources — around the bay.
The Kitsap Audubon Society has been essential in getting this program off the ground. They’ve helped complete similar projects around Miller Bay in Indianola and Old Mill Park in Silverdale, among others. Annually, the group organizes a Christmas Bird Count (named for the time of year the event occurs), where members literally count all the birds they see in Kitsap County within a defined 15-mile radius.
We’re starting the Port Gamble Bay bird-counting project now because apparently not all birds fly south for the winter: November through February are the best months for birding in our area. Some of the species we expect to find include:
– Alcid. This species includes the Pigeon Guillemot, which can be easily identified by bright red legs. In the winter, their plumage is mostly white with a dusky back. During the summer, their dress is more formal — all black with white wing patches.
– Bald Eagle: Did you know our national bird was once almost extinct? Protection laws have since helped bring population levels back up to non-threatened status. Of course, this eagle isn’t bald; the term “bald” once meant white in the English language.
– Belted Kingfisher: Abundant throughout the United States and Canada, these medium-sized birds enjoy a varied diet that includes fish, amphibians, insects, small mammals and reptiles. They can often be found perched in trees or other above-water vantage points to make diving after prey easier.
– Grebe: These small- to medium-sized birds are excellent swimmers and often respond to danger not by flying away, but by diving into the water. No need for a wet suit: their plumage is waterproof. The most likely year-round grebe inhabitants of the bay include the Eared, Red-Necked, Pied Bill, and Western.
– Heron: The Great Blue Heron is a regal-looking bird, with long legs and an S-shaped neck, found close to shore in freshwater, coastal areas. Species of heron (also known as egrets or bitterns) exist on all continents except Antarctica.
– Osprey: This bird of prey keeps house close to places like Port Gamble Bay — a body of water with an ample food supply. They are also known as seahawks or fish hawks.
One bird we’re hoping to find is the Marbled Murrelet, which is currently threatened. These are diving birds that eat fish, but will often nest within nearby forests.
Birds are an important indicator to the health of an ecosystem. With this project, we hope to better understand the birds of Port Gamble Bay and how to conserve their habitats and food supplies. We thank the Kitsap Audubon Society and the Northwest Indian College for their help in coordinating this important effort.
If you’d like to become involved with the Port Gamble Bay bird count, please contact Roma or Destiny at (360) 297-6284.