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Find Some Great Birds on the Christmas Bird Count!

The Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society is sponsoring the local Christmas Bird Count (CBC) again this year, and we’re looking forward to seeing some great birds.  You can join in the fun and citizen science in two ways:  

1.     Join an expert counting birds at one of Vashon’s many bird hot spots like Tramp Harbor, Mukai Pond or Point Robinson.  Bird watchers from absolute beginner to experienced are welcome; everyone can contribute because every extra pair of eyes means more birds get spotted.

2.    Count the birds coming to your own bird feeder or property.  Keep a list during the count day of the birds you see around your place.

This year, the count actually comes a little after Christmas on Sunday, January 5.  People across the country will be conducting counts during a two week period stretching from just before to a little after Christmas.  The name Christmas Bird Count comes from early conservationists trying to change a deadly tradition.  In much of the nineteenth century, on Christmas Day, many Americans would get their guns and compete to shoot as many animals and birds off all kinds as they could, regardless of edibility.  Tens of thousands of birds would die in day, wasted for “sport.”  Conservationists started a movement to count, not kill, the birds.  This idea worked together with action to create hunting seasons and protections for non-game species to successfully prevent the extinction of several bird species.

The Christmas Bird Count now plays an extremely important role in understanding bird populations across the continent.  The coming count is the 114th CBC.  The CBC represents one of the largest sets of data over more than a century of time, providing a very strong statistical basis for understanding trends in the health of bird species.

On Vashon, we now have fifteen years of data and that begins to provide enough data to see some real trends rather just some sort of wobble in numbers.  For example, The Vashon count documents that Western Grebes numbers, once plentiful here, have fallen 95% since censuses in the 1990’s.  This mirrors a disturbing trend across Puget Sound.  At the same time, several duck species such as scoters and goldeneye appear to be holding steady in our waters even while other areas of the Sound see an almost continuous decline.

Every year on our count, every group sees some really cool birds to report at the end of the day that add excitement to the numbers.  Last year around Wax Orchards  five different raptor species showed up:  Red-tailed Hawk, a first for Vashon Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle and American Kestrel.  Many of the water watchers saw three species of loons in a number of locations:  Common Loon, Pacific Loon and Red-throated Loon.

If you would like to sign up for the Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, January 5, call Ed Swan at 463-7976 or email at

Ed Swan is returning after a long break to writing columns on birds and wildlife habitat for the Vashon Loop.  Ed is also releasing the vastly expanded and revised second edition of The Birds of Vashon Island, the comprehensive book about Vashon birds, habitat and natural history.  Order now by contacting Ed at the address above or at Ed’s website: