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Friends of Luther Burbank Park Volunteers Go To the Birds

A monthly wetland bird survey is important documentation for seeking funding and tracking the health of the wetland.

On the first Friday of every month for the last two and a half years, members of the Friends of Luther Burbank Park have diligently waded through wetland mud and vegetation on the north end of the Mercer Island Park, pausing along the way to listen and watch for feathered friends and other species, and to measure water levels.

The wetland documentation effort has painted a picture of diversity at the park, with about 75 different species catalogued through their various migrations, says Judy Roan, who herself has quite an ear for birds.

On Friday, Aug. 5, she was out on this month's data-collecting expedition with Sue Stewart, who noted Roan’s observations and retrieved cans and dog toys that had either been left intentionally or drifted over from other parts of the park into the wetland, which is currently under restoration and restricted from the public.

One could argue that this is joyful work on a peaceful, if overcast morning. How often do most of us stop to smell the aroma of wild thistle, sample a blackberry, or just to listen to the call of black capped chickadees? On this particular morning, the pair note a number of species, including one of the park’s resident eagles, who scolds them as they approach the edge of the wetland, a great blue heron, a kingfisher, and numerous other bird species.

Though fun, it’s certainly not a frivolous task, however.

Stewart explains that keeping records such as these are key to aiding the group with its restoration and preservation projects.

“Documenting wildlife helps to secure grant money,” for projects, she says, and to help identify the park as a good candidate for use of mitigation money the city receives for other projects. Such funds can be used to address problems such as erosion at Calkins Point, for example, Stewart says. The data is submitted also to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which organizes work parties to help coordinate volunteer efforts at the park, such as a recent mass planting of willow trees to help control invasive grasses that damage the wetland.

Though the water levels are low right now in most of the measuring stations and the birds are relatively quiet on this day, there are still plenty of signs of activity—deer tracks, muddy footprints from either a beaver or a raccoon, an unfortunate a cache of empty beer cans left behind by someone who ventured past the posted sign restricting the public, a mess of band-tailed pigeon feathers that indicate it lost a battle with a predator.

“Well, hawks eat, too,” Roan notes.

Luckily, the Friends of Luther Burbank Park does sometimes offer tours of the wetland, and volunteers are welcome to join the monthly counts, thereby getting a bird’s-ear view with Stewart and Roan. Roan is also a nature photographer, and she often photographs the birds in the park (she has shared a number of her photos from this year with Mercer Island Patch, which you can see in the accompanying photos here)

Roan and Stewart say they hope learning about this resource will inspire people to get involved with its preservation. One such opportunity is coming up, as Mountains to Sound has a work party scheduled for Saturday, August 27th from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. (but half-day volunteers are welcome, too).

Residents who would like to get to know the park better and help with the restoration, you can sign up at Mountainstosound.org. Gloves and tools will be supplied, and Stewart recommends wearing appropriate weather clothing and footwear.

Anyone interested in joining Friends of Luther Burbank Park, is invited by Roan and Stewart to contact president Amanda Clark at 206-236-0517.
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