Rick Taylor looks at birds in the water by the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Rick Taylor looks at birds in the water by the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Annual bird count offers a glimpse of climate change impact

A group centered west of Quil Ceda Village in Marysville will set out to tally species Saturday.

EVERETT — They’ll set out on foot, bike and boat.

This Saturday, citizen scientists from north Snohomish County will keep their eyes and ears peeled for signs of different bird species during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

With 120 years of data from groups all over the Western Hemisphere, the one-day effort can track trends in bird populations and give insight into climate change.

More than 40 counts will happen statewide between mid-December and early January.

The south Snohomish County event took place Dec. 14.

The Everett-Marysville group holds its count Saturday, surveying a 15-mile diameter area west of Quil Ceda Village in Marysville.

It covers all of Marysville, the Tulalip Indian Reservation, Everett north of 32nd Street, Smokey Point, Hat Island, the southern tip of Camano Island and parts of Arlington and Lake Stevens.

Organizer Scott Atkinson said the past two years have seen record volunteer turnout, with more than 120 people showing up last year despite gale-force winds and heavy rain.

Some watch out the windows of their homes. Others like Atkinson set out in the wee hours to listen for owls.

You don’t have to see a bird to count it, he said. If you can identify a bird just based on the call, that counts.

Groups compete against each other to find the most birds. The Everett-Marysville troupe generally identifies around 130 species, Atkinson said.

That’s usually enough to secure runner-up in the state, eclipsed only by the Sequim-Dungeness group on the Olympic Peninsula.

“Think of this as science as sport,” Atkinson said.

Over the years, the counts piece together a snapshot of how land-use and climate changes are reflected in nature. Data from this count, which began in 1976, shows some new birds have appeared while others have dwindled as winters warm and development spreads.

Locally, Atkinson said, they’ve seen ruffed grouse leave the area as development gobbles up the forest-dwelling birds’ habitat.

But Anna’s hummingbirds have shown up in increasing numbers, which Atkinson attributes to more people leaving feeders out throughout the winter.

Comparing national data from decade to decade also shows bigger trends. As the average winter temperature has increased, the California scrub-jay has been spotted farther north. Fifty years ago, it had not been seen north of Portland, Oregon. But they’ve been recorded in Marysville the past five years.

Atkinson is hoping for another record-breaking attendance, human and avian alike, at Saturday’s event. You don’t have to be an avid birder to help out, he said.

The event “brings together absolutely every kind of person you could imagine,” he said. “All you need to have is a desire to keep count.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

Get counting

The event is midnight to noon Saturday. You can join a field crew or count from the comfort of your home. To find out if your house lies within the Everett-Marysville boundary, check the Pilchuck Audubon Society website. To go out with a field group, contact Scott Atkinson at 425-210-2716 or scottatkinson@hotmail.com.

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