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Islander awarded grant for avian project

Sunrise at Point No Point, one of 74 Washington sites designated “Important Bird Areas” by Audubon. -
Sunrise at Point No Point, one of 74 Washington sites designated “Important Bird Areas” by Audubon.
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Bainbridge woman creating online resource for conservation.

As the sun rose above Puget Sound on Tuesday morning, flocks of gulls knifed along the shore of Point No Point, carried by a biting wind.

Offshore, ducks and cormorants bobbed in a growing riptide, while just inland from the beach, geese were gathered in an ice-caked wetland.

Because of its varied habitat, the Point No Point County Park and adjoining Nature Conservancy land at the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula are a favorite wintering ground for waterfowl and a popular pitstop for migratory for migratory birds. And because of its prodigious bird populations, the point is considered an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by the Audubon Society, a designation that makes it a priority for conservation by the group.

Soon scientific data and conservation resources for all 74 of Washington’s IBA’s will be made available on an online network, thanks to a project spearheaded by islander Barbara Sacerdote. Sacerdote, who serves as development director for Washington Audubon, was one of 40 people nationwide to be awarded a leadership fellowship and a $10,000 grant under the TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Program, a joint initiative of Audubon and Toyota.

Sacerdote is focusing her efforts on creating a network of Web sites that will serve as clearing houses for habitat information, and interactive tools for citizen collaboration on conservation projects.

“There will be a synergy,” Sacerdote said of the Web sites. “My ultimate goal is that those 74 important bird areas that need conservation plans will be adopted.”

Sacerdote has a ready foundation to build from. Washington Audubon scientists have collected a wealth of information about IBAs, and the group is publishing a “Guide to Bird and Community Conservation,” which outlines steps community groups can follow to identify threats to a bird areas and develop action plans for protecting them.

Sacerdote’s project will make that information easily accessible online for Audubon members and community activists.

A pilot version of the “Guide” is already in action in the Everett area, where the Pilchuck Audubon chapter is developing a conservation plan for Port Susan Bay at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. Like Point No Point, Port Susan is a popular stopover for migratory birds and a wintering ground.

Pilchuck Audubon’s conservation planning effort is being organized by Colleen Weber who said the “Guide” booklet has been a useful tool.

“The booklet is designed so that anyone who wants to do a community conservation project can use it,” Weber said. “It’s a sort of ‘self help’ or ‘how to.’”

The Pilchuck group is working its way through 12 steps outlined in the guide. After forming a team, Weber said her group began surveying bird populations in the Port Susan Bay area. Later in the process the group will identify threats to the bird habitat as well as stakeholders.

Threats often include encroaching development, invasive species, pollution and – on a broader scale – even climate change. Stakeholders are usually government agencies, other non-profit groups, recreational users and surrounding landowners.

With these elements identified, groups can plan how they will work with stakeholders to address the threats.

Sacerdote said conservation plans can include activities as complex as lobbying for tighter regulations in a habitat area, or a simple as bird counting and litter cleanup parties.

“It’s really something any of us can do. It really doesn’t take much time,” Sacerdote said.

And conservation shouldn’t be limited to just listed IBAs, Sacerdote said. The steps listed in the guide, she said, can be applied to bird habitats of all sizes.

“On the island itself, if a group wanted to look at Fort Ward – there is a significant bird population – they could work out of this and figure out what to do,” she said.

Bird conservation efforts benefit from a growing legion of binocular-toting bird watchers, who serve as both amateur data gatherers and habitat proponents.

Sacerdote was drawn into the sport by her father-in-law.

“It was something he and I did alone,” she said. “It was a great way for us to be together.”

Already smitten with birding, Sacerdote jumped at a chance to work for the Audubon when she decided to transition from a career in the arts to a career in conservation earlier this year. After landing the job she applied for the TogetherGreen fellowship to gain more experience in conservation work.

Sacerdote said birders may be the most obvious supporters of bird habitat, but the health of avian neighbors is something everyone should be concerned about. The “canary in the coal mine” adage rings true she said, because the health of birds is often an indication of the health of the environment.

“What happens to the birds, happens to us,” Sacerdote said.

In the hand

Birders will be bundling up and taking to the woods early Saturday morning for the Christmas Bird Count, an annual, nation-wide bird data gathering effort. For information on Kitsap County bird counts, and to contact count leaders, see www.kitsapaudubon.org/christmasbirdcount.htm.

A north Bainbridge count is lead by George Gerdts (842-8138) while Kirk and Lee Robinson (842-0774) head the south island count.

More information about Washington birding and Important Bird Areas is available at www.wa.audubon.org.

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