Pigeon Guillemot Surveys Validate Community Science

pigeon guillemot red feet by Dan Hale

In Two Parts

socializing piegeon guillemot photo by lachlan pope
socializing pigeon guillemots – photo by Lachlan Pope

Part 1, by Lee Badovinus, Whidbey, Class of 2018

It is said that Citizen Science is Community Science. This is true from many perspectives, but for those of us participating in the Pigeon Guillemot surveys on Camano and Whidbey islands (as part of the Salish Sea Guillemot Network), the community of science is almost as alluring as the beguiling birds we survey. To be sure, there IS the science – the well-honed protocol, the prescribed Beach Data Sheet, the two-tiered training online and on the beach, and the follow-up observations for one hour weekly in the early morning from June through August. As the summer unfolds, it is the community of those surveying at each colony that evolves with them.

pigeon guillemot in keystone gearbox - photo by lachlan pope
Pigeon Guillemot parent with chick in keystone gearbox – photo by Lachlan Pope

It starts with the rendezvous in the early morning hours and the softly-spoken greetings that accompany it. It continues with a camaraderie that connects fellow surveyors with each other and with the colony surveyed. Deliberating the characteristics of the survey site, translating past burrow activity to that of the current season, optimal placing of each surveyor during each survey, and determining the start time further this connection. Sharing insights into the guillemots’ behavior and their burrow activity, then translating collaborative observations into viable data bind them all the more. Even the straightforward beginning, middle and end counts of guillemots can become enticing tales.

Our descriptions of splash-landing antics, constant sociability, and whistling communication, our efforts to unravel anomalies like persistent ledge-sitting that occur, and our recollections of dramatic disturbances, such as eagles cruising the shoreline, osprey diving for fish, or red-tail hawks circling the bluff animate these conversations. Morning sightings of deer wading at the waters’ edge, drifting harbor seals surveilling our every move, a coyote loping along the high-tidal line, river otter surreptitiously interlacing the waves weave wonder into these exchanges and further unite each community of surveyors.

Guillemot fledging - by Lachlan Pope
Guillemot fledging – photo by Lachlan Pope

Online guillemot observations accentuate this sense of community beyond individually surveyed colonies. Across islands, these accounts are often accompanied by photographs that further our understanding of island guillemots, their ever-adaptive habits, and the natural world surrounding them. Do the pictures draw you into this community of guillemot scientists, too?

Photos by Lachlan Pope, Class of 2021. Shared here: a close-up, guillemots socializing, a burrow in the gear box at Keystone, a fledgling in fall.

Part 2 by Ellyn Thoreen, Camano, Class of 2020

pigeon guillemot red feet by Dan Hale
Notice the pigeon guillemot’s red feet – photo by Dan Hale

Sitting still as driftwood, the calming effect of Port Susan Bay begins to seep into our bodies and quiet our minds. Our pigeon guillemot team has begun another early morning Wednesday survey.

We are posted apart, nearly equidistant, much as herons are when waiting for their daily catch at water’s edge. This citizen science adventure of surveying the lovable pigeon guillemot brings each of us a rare and new connection to the ecosystem of the Salish Sea. There is nothing quite like it to gather all of one’s senses into the present moment. I like to think this experience of deep immersion gives us a glimpse of what Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, or E O Wilson experienced when first observing, then fully becoming entranced with, their respective creatures.

We are typically greeted with enchanting whistles, playful social exchanges, and aerial acrobats as the pigeon guillemots mesmerize and delight us in the misty quiet mornings. We watch Mt. Baker appear in the changing morning light and shape-shifting fog, listen to kingfisher pronouncements, and anticipate the presence of the mighty eagle when we see our colony suddenly move offshore en masse.

distinguishing white wing patches by Dan Hale
Pigeon Guillemot distinguishing white wing patches – photo by Dan Hale

After our hour-long survey, we drift back together, recount our observations, laugh and share things we have never seen before. The spell of the quiet is broken as we reflect on the wonder of it all and the discoveries we have made. This week Diana found two new burrows with fish deliveries! Louie saw four pigeon guillemots bring two fish to the same burrow simultaneously–what? Bill had his first fish delivery of the season-yay! Jenny spotted several harbor porpoises off in the distance. Barbara, the founder of this team of observers, tries to make sense of it all. I have had no activity this season in the previously busy burrow I have tended for the last three years. Yet, the joy I had in watching Dan experience his first fish deliveries to his burrow, equaled any previous experience of my own. When I queried him about his new role of citizen scientist observing the pigeon guillemot, his simple reply was “I’m totally digging it!” We’re with you, Dan. Most Wednesdays, after the survey, we gather around Michele’s welcoming deck. As we eat morning glory muffins and drink coffee, we look across Port Susan Bay to Mt. Baker, count our good fortune, and share a bit of our lives with each other.

See the characteristic white wing patches, red feet and red mouth interior in these three photos plus a video by Dan Hale, Camano, SWS Class of 2022.

Pigeon Guillemots Singing – photo by Dan Hale
Caught on Film: Pigeon Guillemot Prey Delivery to Chick, by Dan Hale, Camano, Class of 2022

This article is one of many in the July 2022 Beach Log newsletter.

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