Never been bird watching? This is a great time of year to do so
Whether you’re aware of it or not, we live in something of a birders paradise, uniquely bordered on the west by a natural fjord and to the north and east by the spectacular Puget Sound.
Bainbridge Island – and the surrounding Kitsap Peninsula – is home to more than 200 species of birds, with approximately 115 nesting hereabouts. And you don’t have to be James Audubon, or a die heart birding enthusiast with field glasses or a mile-long photo lens to enjoy this most natural of past-times.
Just look out your back window, or take in the sounds and sights of birds as you walk through your own neighborhood or stroll through one the island’s many parks or trails.
Birds are everywhere: Eagles and Osprey flying overhead, often in search of prey in the waters or forests below; Blue Herons, with their long, spindly legs and protruding beaks, canvassing the shorelines for tiny sea creatures and then majestically flying away when you get a bit too close.
Of course, we can’t forget those foreign invaders from the north – Canada Geese, who swoop overhead like a squadron of 747s, dashing from one delicious grassy area to another. While they have become unwelcome guests in some areas – and actually euthanized for their numbers and behavior – they do provide us with at least one human quality that is hard to resist: they mate for life!
Along the shore and perhaps in ponds likes the ones at Battle Point Park and Gazzam Lake, you will spy Mallards, Wigeons, Grebes, Pintails, Mergansers, Cormorants, and other shore and marsh birds. But perhaps the best viewing of birds – specifically more common ones – is oftentimes in your own backyard.
We live on the edge of the nine-acre Moritani Preserve in Downtown Winslow. It’s a passive park aimed at providing a refuge for island wildlife. At night, we’ll occasionally hear the screech of an owl – possibly a Great Horned – and the somber, chilling song of a coyote or two, perhaps celebrating a kill, or maybe communicating with fellow members of their pack.
Birds of all species seem to enjoy the habitat here, as well as most other parts of the island. We did a bird count last November in cooperation with the Kitsap Audubon Society and identified some 14 different species in our backyard!
That might have been a lucky day.
During this past winter’s salmonella scare – effecting migrating bird populations in particular – we like many others took our bird-feeders down for several months and so many of our fine feathered friends all but disappeared.
In the last several weeks, however, we’ve re-installed our feeders – mostly with suet and sunflower seeds – and the birds are back! We also have a hummingbird feeder, filled with nectar that attracts Rufus hummingbirds year-round.
The feeders, meanwhile, receive steady traffic daily from a wide-assortment of visitors. These include the ever-present Junco, Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Towhees, Robins, Northern Flickers, Morning Doves and the occasional Purple Finch
We have a very large and old Silver Maple Tree on our property that is a feeding ground for Pilated Woodpeckers, and their cousin, the Red-throated Woodpecker, which is a wee bit smaller. Our tree, estimated to be around 150 years old, is home to squirrels, insects and other critters, along with our bird buddies.
So how is the health of the island and region’s bird population? We asked long-time islander and respected birder, Brad Waggoner for his insights.
Overall health – “As with any place in the lowlands of western Washington, the inevitable growth in housing and the reduction in habitat, will be impactful on the health of many of the species that frequent the island. But some species actually benefit from human disturbances so this question doesn’t allow for an easy answer. At least here on the island a fair chunk of land has been preserved to open space where development is not allowed. The other plus is the miles of shoreline and surrounding waters (that) seem in relatively good health, so water bird populations are in fairly good shape for the most part.”
How many species are on the island? – “One can’t really put a number to this question. There are winter visitors, especially water birds. There are arriving summer breeders. And, there are migratory birds both fall and spring that may just visit briefly or even just be noted in flight. There have been 250+ species of birds recorded on the island. If a birder made a real effort in a year’s time to record as many birds as possible, then realistically they could get 190 or so species. The most common species (are) dependent on the season. Winter populations of Dark-eyed Juncos can be impressive. Year-round resident Song Sparrows fill quite a few habitat niches and are thus plentiful island wide. Migrant numbers of American Robins can be impressive in season. Common winter water birds include American Widgeon and Horned Grebes.”
The Salmonella problem – “Certainly there was visual evidence of Pine Siskins (mostly) in poor health or dying near outside feeder locations. But as an irruptive species as they are, they showed up in the Pacific Northwest in the hundreds of thousands. To me, there is little question (that) they would present visual evidence of mortality to the bird feeding public. I didn’t see a real effect to other species that visited my feeder area.”
Should you sanitize feeders – “I would say this just seems like a common-sense practice to do regardless of any timing having to do with this recent salmonella event.”
Waggoner, who runs his own landscaping company when he’s not observing bird species, says bird watching in our areas appears to be on the rise.
“I think if there was a positive to the Covid pandemic, it was people realized the benefits to being in the great outdoors. Though I can’t point to any hard numbers, it does seem I am seeing more bird watchers at some of my favorite haunts these days”, he says. And this is a great time of year to be birding, with many species now with their young!
Where to find birds on Bainbridge Island
Faye Bainbridge Park • Sandy beach, open marine and wooded habitats • Marine birds, Bald Eagle, Osprey • Trails, beach access, views across Puget Sound
Battle Point Park • Ponds, fields, woods • winter ducks, summer passerines
Ft. Ward State Park • Rocky shore, marine and wooded habitats • Marine birds include Surf and White-winged Scoter, Western, Red-necked and Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Duck • Trails, beach access • Views across Rich Passage.
For a detailed list of places to bird in Kitsap County, check out the Audubon Society web site and happy birding: https://www.kitsapaudubon.org/where-to-bird-in-kitsap-county