Whidbey Audubon Society and the Island County Marine Resources Committee sponsor our on-going study of breeding Pigeon Guillemots on Whidbey Island, Washington. We also receive funding from the Northwest Straits Foundation and the Washington Audubon Society. The research project assesses the population and productivity of the approximately 1,000 guillemots that form breeding colonies around the island.
Whidbey Island, a long snake-like island in north Puget Sound, stretches from about 30 miles north of Seattle nearly to Canadian waters. Tall bluffs, particularly along the island’s west side, offer safe burrow sites that are relatively near rich feeding areas. In all but three of the 25 regularly surveyed colonies, the guillemots burrow into nearly vertical sandy cliffs termed “erosional bluff.” (Two colonies breeds on deserted offshore wooden structure; the other in rocky cliffs at the far northern end of the island.)
During each breeding season over 60 trained volunteers visit assigned colonies once each week from late June through the end of August. The volunteers sit quietly and monitor the birds for one hour. They take population counts, locate nesting burrows, record the birds’ behavior, document adults visiting and carrying food to the burrows and record disturbances.
The summer study also includes more concentrated observation by a paid intern/contractor. The contractor spends five hours per day visiting a single colony and, beginning at dawn, records all behavior of the birds.
The project has continued for several years in order to track the Pigeon Guillemot population, gauge the rate of reproduction and determine their feeding needs. Since this species is near the top of the food chain, its vitality is a good indication of the overall health of Island County’s Marine Stewardship Areas, which include the waters around Whidbey Island.
Naturalist and writer, Frances Wood, M.F.A.,http://www.franceswood.net/ initiated the Whidbey Guillemot Survey in 2002 and has been coordinating the project ever since. A chapter in her book Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West (Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO, 2004) describes her first observations of the Whidbey guillemot colonies and how she fell in love with these playful seabirds, which she continues to study, observe and write about. Frances serves on the Island County Marine Resources Committee and is a former president of the Whidbey Audubon Society.
Prof. Emerita of Microbiology and Immunology and of Genetics at George Washington University Phyllis Kind, Ph. D., joined the group at its inception and is responsible for data archiving and analysis. Phyllis served on the Island County Marine Resources Committee and the Northwest Straits Commission. She is past president of the Whidbey Audubon Society and past board member of the Whidbey-Camano Land trust.
Govinda (Rosling) Holtby, BS, joined the Guillemot Research Group in 2010 as an intern/contractor; and continues on as a co-coordinator. Govinda helped expand the Nisqually IBA to reach the shores of Anderson Island, by specifically recording presence of Pigeon Guillemots. Govinda is a past Whidbey Audubon Society board member, she is a current COASST volunteer, and organizes the South Whidbey Christmas Bird Count. Govinda photographs birds of the northwest and beyond; Some of her other photography can be seen on the tiny house air bnb website. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/37877221?source_impression_id=p3_1566609923_w6tdBIDgGzf7zjsa&fbclid=IwAR1kw-R8tSdYW7IZ1U9H67dLdSv6IVXQWVH3C80otmTzfqs9Vnjjuo182d8
Ann Casey is a retired educator and enthusiastic community scientist and a 2010 Beach Watcher graduate. Since 2010 Ann has served on the Whidbey Audubon Society Board as VP, President. Past President and is currently serving as the Field Trips Chair. Ann is the team leader for the PG survey at Malmo Bluff since 2012 and in 2015 joined the Guillemot Research Group team.
Emily Terao joined the Guillemot Research Group as an intern in 2016, and then stayed on as a member of the coordinating team. A graduate of Earlham College class of 2011, Emily majored in Biology with her main interests being ecology and conservation. She assisted in a research project on Eastern Bluebirds, and led a survey of avian populations in different habitats of rainforest in Peru. Applying her interests in conservation with a passion for food, Emily co-founded Duck Duck Goose Farms http://ddgfarms.com/ with her significant other, where their goal is to farm in harmony with nature. She feels very lucky to live and work on beautiful Whidbey Island, and wants to do her part in supporting the island’s wildlife. Emily is also a current board member of the Whidbey Audubon Society.