2016 Volunteer of the Year

Each year, Nature Conservancy staff members vote on who will receive the distinction of being named "volunteer of the year." With more than 200 volunteers active on a regular basis and more than 1500 volunteers “on call,” a person has to have made an unusually generous contribution of his or her time, talent and energy to receive this honor. 

This year’s volunteer of the year leads the Foulweather Bluff Preserve Committee, helping to coordinate an especially dedicated team of local community members in stewarding, educating and safe-guarding the preserve. He has coordinated and facilitated meetings twice a year, stayed connected with area schools for engagement and education and provided the community (and The Nature Conservancy!) hours of friendly, heart-felt, ecologically grounded service and knowledge.

Congratulations to Dave Allen on being selected as The Nature Conservancy in Washington’s 2016 volunteer of the year!

Dave Allen, in front in a blue jacket

Dave Allen, in front in a blue jacket

Dave was nominated by Stewardship Manager Randi Shaw in this heartfelt essay:

The Foulweather Bluff Committee and Docent teams as a whole do an awe-inspiring job of walking the talk — and talking while walking. They get out weekly, if not daily, during the summer season to make sure of sustainable use by visitors. They do maintenance work to keep the ecosystem of both the coastal forest and nearshore habitats thriving. Dave does this too, on and off the property. However, what makes him a clear choice for this award were his determined efforts to revive an important educational outreach program connected to the preserve.
Dave took a long-standing field trip and science and ecology book-donation program for three area elementary schools that had lapsed and revived it, resulting in six days of field trips in a single summer and the purchasing of $2,000 worth of books for the three schools. This was no easy feat, as school administrators had changed, awareness of the grant has been lost and there was no clear leading entity to collaborate with. Nonetheless, he stuck with it until a schedule of trips was implemented and a suite of worthwhile books had been bought. Not only did he revive the program, Dave hosted the field trips — which can total up to 20-plus youths at a time. He gave generously of his time, knowledge and resources, providing local history and ecological knowledge, purchasing supplies out of his own pocket, such as binoculars and identification cards, and handling the majority of the communication and logistics. He plans to continue supporting the program into the future, and The Nature Conservancy will certainly be there to cheer him on. 
His tenacity and earnestness are a rare gem in a volunteer. He has stuck by the preserve and the potential for it to inspire, educate and rejuvenate the human community, while he and the Foulweather Bluff Committee ensure that it remains ecologically vital for years to come. 

Thank you for your many years of service Dave! We congratulate and thank you — along with our other nominees: Alicia Rhoades, Hannah Letinich, Larry and Becky Scholl, Jeff Osmundson and Rick Skiba — for your outstanding achievements. 

Learn More About Volunteering

Volunteer Photographer Spotlight

Our volunteers help support our mission in many ways. From pulling invasive plants, to overnight camping clean up trips, to sharing our message at local farmers markets and events, our volunteers are doing their part to help protect the places they love most in Washington. A very important way for us to inspire people to get involved in conservation is through stunning photos of nature. Our talented volunteer photographers make our work and our preserves shine!  They are an amazing group of people who are willing to drive all over the state to document our work so we are able to share it with the public right here on our blog, on social media, in The Nature Conservancy magazine, and much more!

Each photographer has played an important role in highlighting our work, so now its our chance to showcase theirs! Check out some of our favorite photos from each photographer in the gallery below! 

Hannah Letinich

Hannah is our Lead Volunteer Photographer. On top of taking on the majority of our volunteer photo assignments, Hannah has developed training guidelines and coordinates the efforts of the Volunteer Photography team, making sure each assignment is paired with the photographer with the right specialty. When she’s not volunteering with us she volunteers with other environmental groups and is an avid kayaker!

Anna Snook

Anna recently moved to Washington from Oregon and has been busy traveling Washington and getting to know our state through her photo assignments. She’s willing to wake up at the crack of dawn or stay up into the late night to get great lighting.

Milo Zorzino

Milo is one of our more active volunteer photographers, he documents volunteer events all over the state, and is also willing to put down his camera and get his hands dirty when we need a little more help with the heavy lifting.

AJ Dent

Before leaving Washington to move to sunny California, AJ was an active member of our volunteer photography team and traveled all over the state to shoot our events.

Cameron Karsten

Cameron was one of our first official volunteer photographers, and has been volunteering with us since 2014. He has traveled all over the world as a photographer, and has done work for TNC in both Washington and in Haiti.

Jacob Hall

Jacob has traveled all over the Puget Sound region this year photographing major conservation projects for us. On top of having a passion for photography and using that talent to support our work, Jacob graduated this spring from Washington State University with a degree in Bio-Engineering.

Marissa Singleton          

Marissa has been volunteering for us for just a few months, and in that time she’s taken on projects photographing special events and conservation leaders in the community. She specializes in landscape, abstract, and macrophotography.

Interested in becoming a volunteer photographer? Learn more here 

November Volunteer Spotlight: Al Frasch

Al (left) holding an exceptionally tenacious scotch broom plant they conquered at our Livingston Bay preserve in 2015. Photo by Joelene Boyd

Al (left) holding an exceptionally tenacious scotch broom plant they conquered at our Livingston Bay preserve in 2015. Photo by Joelene Boyd

When I started in my job as Volunteer Coordinator almost 3 years ago one of my first goals was to meet all of our active volunteers. Many introductions were made by email which took a while for me to actually connect with some of these volunteers in person. For about 2 years I would receive an email every few months from one dedicated volunteer, summarizing the hours he had spent pulling scotch broom at our Ebey’s Landing Preserve on Whidbey Island. I was impressed by his hard work and determination to reduce the amount invasive scotch broom at the preserve. Al Frasch work on at Ebey's Landing was entirely self-motivated as I had not reached out to him or directed him to do participate in this work. He saw an issue, took matters into his own hands and did his part to help protect Ebey's Landing native landscape.

Now Ebey’s Landing is almost free of invasive Scotch Broom, and we have Al Frasch to thank. This is why we are highlighting Al in our November Volunteer Spotlight! Get to know Al in the interview below and read about his experience as a TNC volunteer. 

The Nature Conservancy: What is your volunteer role?  How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?  Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Al Frasch: In 2005, I was on a volunteer scotch broom pulling day up on Ebey’s Bluff on Whidbey Island. We were picking everything we could find from new shoots an inch high to three foot bushes. This was the second of my times doing this, with the volunteer times being two years apart. Well, I foolishly said ‘well to do any good, someone should come out several times a year to make sure that none of the plants ever go to seed again.’ I was looked at by the leader of the Conservancy volunteer group with the ‘well why don’t you do it?’ I was stuck! And since then, I have been out several times a year - monthly at first, three times a year lately. The problem has been reduced to the point where I am able to do the “job” in a couple of hours where it was once much longer. 

I have volunteered for many TNC activities when I can. The most fun has been the many times that I have had the privilege of going out to Yellow Island - such a beautiful place! The limiting factor is that coming from Whidbey Island, it is a bit of a hassle just to get to some of the volunteer locations. I have done the 2 hour each way trip to Livingston Bay on three occasions, and have had a great time!

TNC: Where are you from?  How long have you been living in Washington?

AF: I am a born and bred Washingtonian and have lived here for all but 4 1/2 of my 67 years.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

AF: After graduating as a proud Husky from the UW, I had the pleasure of being a middle school and high school mathematics teacher for 30 years and retired from Cascade High School in the Everett School District.

TNC: What inspired you to start volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

AF: After retiring, I looked for an organization to volunteer for that represented my own views of how to make this world a better place. The first activity was a planting of native flowers on Ebey’s Bluff. I worked very hard and was hooked.

TNC: What gives you the most hope for the future?

AF: Don’t know if it will happen, but I certainly hope that our nation will wake up to the fact that we must confront the role that humans are having in the degradation of our environment and the changing climate. For some of our politicians to act as though global warming does not exist is short-sighted and on the same level as the tobacco companies who denied the effects of tobacco products so as to continue to make profits.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

AF: I am an avid model railroader, with a very large layout in the basement and do volunteering at the local, state and national level to help promote the hobby as a great retirement activity. My train layout is known regionally and nationally, which is quite rewarding.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

AF: Tired. But, seriously, I feel very good to see that pile of scotch broom that was pulled and knowing that I am making a difference. Also, I am asked by many people who are walking the Ebey’s Bluff trail - if you haven’t been there, do it! - what am I doing and what is that strange tool? The weed wrench does look a little weird, but after explaining what I am doing, it is nice to have almost everyone say ‘thank you’ for my efforts.

TNC: What is your favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?

AF: Yellow Island! Anything that I am asked to do, from planting to cutting weeds to stacking wood from the tree cutting once. 

TNC: What do you think the world will be like in 50 years?

AF: Warmer, more crowded, but, hopefully, with both curves past the inflection point and under control. 

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

AF: Al Gore, the 43rd President. . . er, oops . . . anyway, because he has at least helped to highlight the problem we have with mankind’s heating of the world.

TNC: Have you ever convinced someone to do something they didn't want to do?

AF: Besides a hundred to hundred and fifty kids each day to do their homework? No, I try to inform people as to the facts and let them decide. In this post-factual climate, this is getting harder.

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

AF: TNC needs to create more “custodians” of areas like I do on Ebey’s Bluff. I think that my 10+ years have shown the positive effect of having someone local to go out several times a year to work on their own time. Much more flexible for the individual and they can get a better handle on the situation than a group coming out every couple of years. I know very precisely where to look and how far down that darn hillside I need to go. Now if those seeds weren’t viable for so many years!

TNC: Keep up the great work Al! We definitely want to recruit more volunteers like you. And we would love to see that model train setup!

Camping for a Cleaner Forest

Written by Brain Mize, Field Forester
Photographed by Milo Zorzino

Foresters tend to be an introverted lot, spending our days care taking the land in solitude.  So when our volunteer coordinator, Lauren Miheli, suggested an overnight camping excursion in the Central Cascades with a group of volunteers, I was a little apprehensive to say the least.  I provided the idea for a project of cleaning up a couple areas where people had illegally built cabins and left garbage scattered about.  I warned Lauren that this area was isolated, and was at least a 4 to 5 hour drive from Seattle.  This is when Lauren came up with the idea of camping onsite to allow more time for working.

As we convened on Saturday morning, my uneasiness was quickly settled when I realized we had a small, but incredibly dedicated group of volunteers.  We traveled to the project site and quickly set to work cleaning up a jackstrawed mess of rough cut logs, chicken wire, plastic, and scattered trash.  The afternoon temperatures reached into the upper 80’s, and there was no shade at the work site; however, our group of 5 volunteers cleaned up the area and hauled everything 500’ up to the road in about two hours.  We spent the rest of the evening setting up camp and enjoying the scenery.

By the time we split off on Sunday, our small group had exceeded all expectations of how much work we would accomplish.  But more than that, the dedication of our volunteers helped me get over my anxiety, and left me wanting more.  Although we have not planned our next volunteer event in the Central Cascades, I look forward to spending more time with people in a place that I love.

See our upcoming volunteer opportunities.

August Volunteer Spotlight: Brandon Wolther

For our August Volunteer Spotlight, we reached out to a volunteer whose land ethic really inspires us. Brandon’s volunteer story is somewhat unique compared to some of our other volunteers. We appreciate the importance he places on family, the awareness and respect he has for where his food comes from and it’s impact (he hunts and grows most of it himself), and his involvement in the local community.

Here’s what Brandon has to say about his experience volunteering with The Nature Conservancy. Thank you Brandon, for your service and your flattering words in this interview! We agree, it’s lots of people coming together doing small things that makes a big difference!

My name is Brandon Wolther.  I am first and foremost a father.  I am a chiropractor and I have grown to really like The Nature Conservancy.  Unlike many of you who will probably be reading this blog, I did not join up with The Nature Conservancy because I was really impressed with something they did or something they represented.  I am part of the hunter stewardship program. 

I was introduced to them after returning from a two year mission in Nicaragua.  When I returned my dad said that there were going to be some areas where we used to hunt that I couldn’t join them because I hadn’t put in “volunteer hours”.  The following year, even though I was studying out of state, I made it back for a weekend and have been helping out a couple of weekends ever since. It was a real struggle at first. Schooling lasted almost 8 years and considering I had to travel from eastern Idaho and later from Portland, Oregon, it was sometimes a real drag.  We put in a lot of fence, cleaned up garbage, sprayed noxious weeds and that is hard work up in the Moses Coulee rocks.  The first thing I did appreciate was that it brought the family together a couple days beyond the hunting season.  That was a major part of why I came home each year for mule deer hunting, it is our family reunion.  That is when we all get together and enjoy a week together.  That week means the world to me.  Nature Conservancy volunteer time was just something I had to do. 

Now I’ve moved back and live in Quincy, Washington.  I’ve been here for 4 years now and I’ve come to enjoy the time I’ve spent with the Nature Conservancy.  I’ve met some great people, like Chuck, Liz and Lauren, and made some good friends on my outings.  This year I was able to take my 8 year old son along with me.  He learned some valuable lessons, I can’t say he worked hard, but he stuck with it.  He helped out with a seminar in 100 degree heat and searched for pygmy rabbit burrows.  The excitement he has for the outdoors is what gives me the most hope for the future.  You should have seen him light up when he saw the rabbits in the breeding station.  What I have grown to love about the Nature Conservancy is that it truly strives to conserve.  It is a nature group that still allows managed hunting.  It protects vast amounts of ground but does not condescend on neighboring ranchers, even though they may be overgrazing.  Instead they try to help and teach them.  They take advantage of the ground they have to do studies and to help all those who live in the area to learn how they can do things more efficiently.  I could go into depth here but I’ll leave it at I’ve been very impressed. 

In my world time is a very valuable thing.  I am the father of five and the husband of the most amazing woman on the face of the planet.  (She’ll never read this so you know I really mean that.)  I am the Branch President of the Spanish Branch of our church (kind of the equivalent of a pastor or priest for those who may not know what that is).  I sit on several committees here in town for different groups.  I run a chiropractic clinic completely on my own.  And if that isn’t enough we’ve got 10 acres where we grow, raise, freeze, can, dry, etc. more food than most can even imagine.  I’ve learned sleep is overrated, that’s why I’m up late writing up this interview J.  If family wasn’t important to me I never would have learned about the Nature Conservancy.  If the Nature Conservancy hadn’t become important to me I wouldn’t make the time to still be involved with it.

This year I had a couple of unique opportunities.  One was to attend a seminar given up at the falls.  I have seen so much of this desert country, but that seminar brought the country to life.  Every year I spend a week putting the miles behind me traipsing through the sage brush.  I have seen some amazing things.  Just last year I had an experience where we had hunted hard, I’d seen chucker, sage grouse, jack rabbits, cotton tails, and birds galore not to mention deer.  A beauty of a buck came up out of the brush, I pulled up and watched.  I had that buck dead to rights and I let him walk away.  There are some moments that are bigger than we are.  During that seminar my eyes were open in another way to the beauties of what made the land the way it is up there.  It was absolutely amazing.  The place I watched that buck walk away was only a few miles from that seminar.  Before anyone gets any crazy conversion ideas I will also say that the freezer was not empty at the end of the season.

Fifty years from now the world will be whatever we make of it.  Each decision we make affects the future.  If we choose to make it better it will be better.  If we look for the bad we will find it however if we look for the good it is no further away from us.   The media loves to bombard us with all of the bad things that are going on around us.  This is one of the things I like about spending more time doing and less time listening.  While serving we are making a difference.  Our projects may seem small but they make a difference.  Each small difference in a positive direction builds upon the last and betters the world around us.  That is what we do with The Nature Conservancy, small projects with big goals.  It is awesome to see the native vegetation so full and the areas free of trash, or to find endangered bunnies surviving in the wild.  It is inspiring to come out and find other people from all walks of life trying to make a difference too.

I love that we can work together, a group that builds and protects nature, and hunters who help keep the balance so that less is wasted over the winter, freezers are filled, and truly healthy meats are put on the table (there’s the chiropractor in me popping out again).  Some think we have different views.  Originally I was one of those.  Now I see that our views are not so far apart, thanks to Chuck.  So much in life is about balance.  The stewardship program provides beautiful country, some of the most beautiful habitat I’ve seen in a long time.  We put a lot of long hours in to build that.  Good habitat improves the herds and hence the hunting.  Proper management ensures that all species can thrive.  Though it’s true that nature can balance itself we too are a part of this nature.  Maybe we are in part responsible for the decline of the Pygmy Rabbits, maybe we’re not.  What I do know is that if it weren’t for a lot of people’s efforts they would no longer exist now.  It is our duty to care for this world the best we can.  I’m glad to provide another helping hand to a program with the bigger picture in mind.  I hope that we can continue to involve others and provide more opportunities for learning and serving. Maybe then one more person will come and bring their child along, creating the legacy of the next 20 years.  May we continue to work together to create something bigger than we are to make a difference.

Listening in the Night

Photographed by Anna Snook

On a nice summer night, with a sky full of bright stars, it was a wonderful time for our volunteers and for spotted bats! Experience the bat survey fun with the slideshow of photos above.

For over 13 years, The Nature Conservancy has conducted spotted bat surveys on our Moses Coulee preserve with the help of our volunteers. This July, two groups of volunteers gathered at Moses Coulee to listen for the unique calls of the elusive spotted bat. Volunteers of all ages participated in using specialized audio equipment to learn more about the different bat species of Moses Coulee and gather data on the presence and behavior of the spotted bat.  This data is used to help understand how habitat loss and White Nose Syndrome impacts the spotted bat and will aid in species conservation.



Search Party for Pygmy Rabbits

Written & Photographed by Lauren Miheli, Volunteer Coordinator and Anna Snook, Volunteer Photographer

A hike in Washington’s sage brush country will reveal plant, animal, and bird populations distinct from those on the West Side of the state. On a typical day one would be lucky to see mule deer, badgers, meadow larks, mourning doves, small horned lizards and a great many other small mammals, birds and reptiles. Ideally if you saw a rattle snake it would be from a distance. Something you most likely wouldn’t encounter would be a Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit. Although native to this region, the pygmy rabbit is in danger of becoming extinct. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been working on a project to breed these rabbits in semi-captivity and reintroduce populations back into the wild, including on our Beezley Hills Preserve. Bringing a species back from the brink of extinction is challenging work. There is no manual on how it’s done. Wildlife biologists, using their knowledge of the rabbit’s behavior, funding from the federal government, and a lot of intuition, utilize a trial and error approach to breeding and reintroducing them to their native sage brush habitat in central Washington. 

In order to determine if any rabbits released have successfully survived in the wild, Jon Gallie and Shea Gibbs of WDFW invited a crew of about 30 Nature Conservancy volunteers to traverse the land near the release sites and look for signs of pygmy rabbits: burrow holes and scat. Volunteers split into groups of 4, with each group led by a member of WDFW’s staff armed with a GPS unit and collection tools. Each volunteer covered about 7 miles each day, traversing back and forth, and up and down hills, throughout sage brush.

While searching for signs of Pygmy Rabbits I was struck at how familiar I became with signs of other desert species – badger and coyote dens, snake holes, mouse holes, cottontail rabbit scat, prints and scat from deer, coyotes, and the feral horses that were grazing in the area. Upon first site a badger den filled me with excitement. After the 5th or 6th one I became jaded. Throughout two days of hiking and covering sage brush land that could once have been home to dozens of Pygmy Rabbits, with all of the volunteers intently searching on those two days, only one burrow with fresh scat was located.  So this is what it feels like to look for an endangered species - searching and searching, and not finding what you’re looking for. We collected valuable data that the biologists will use to improve their strategy, but we were disappointed that we did not find more signs of pygmy rabbits. Two days of hiking for nearly 6 hours straight and the absence of signs of Pygmy Rabbits was felt in our collective psyches. The lack of discoveries does not mean that Pygmy Rabbit recovery is hopeless. Aside from the literal silver lining (partial cloud cover on both days cooled us down and made the typically unbearable eastern Washington heat a non-issue) the one burrow that we did find gives the project managers something to be excited about. Previous surveys of the area revealed no burrows at all. Samples of the scat were collected that will be sent to the lab at the Oregon Zoo, where DNA from all captive-bred rabbits is kept on record, and we will learn when the rabbit that left the evidence was released, how long it has survived in the wild, and if we’re really lucky we will find out that it has DNA that has not yet been recorded - which would indicate that it was wild born.

The biologists at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are doing amazing work, and are highly dedicated to their task of bringing this species back to healthy population numbers. I believe they are up to the challenge, and I hope that we can continue to improve our land management and conservation practices, so that other species are not pushed this far in the future.


July Volunteer Spotlight: Donna LaCasse

For our July volunteer spotlight, we are featuring a volunteer with a unique story who Has reliably been coming to events all over the state, traveling and camping with her feline companion, and is also a Master Hunter and Master Birder.

Donna LaCasse has been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy since 2014 when her husband passed away suddenly, and she decided to throw herself into service as a way to work through her grief. Since then she’s been highly involved with The Nature Conservancy and many other environmental organizations, and is willing to take trips halfway across the state to help out on our preserves.

The Nature Conservancy: What is your volunteer role?  How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?  Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Donna LaCasse: I volunteer at Port Susan Bay and other Conservancy preserves throughout the state, traveling with my cat Stonewall Jackson. I volunteer at Puget Sound Bird Survey, Coastal Survey, USGS breeding bird survey, Vaux swift migration counts, and with the Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

The Nature Conservancy: Where are you from?  How long have you been living in Washington?

Donna LaCasse: I was born in WA but have lived in other states.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

Donna: Currently retired, college grad and worked in hospital labs in chemistry during my career. 

TNC: What inspired you to start volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

Donna: Been a volunteer throughout my children’s school years...then after my hubby’s sudden death started working more closely with the various groups associated with Audubon and the environment.

TNC: What gives you the most hope for the future?

Donna: What gives me hope for the future is education of children and adults on the situation of our planet.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

Donna: I am avid hiker and gardener and have completed entire PCT, but in many hikes.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

Donna: Volunteering makes me feel like everyone can make a difference if they give of themselves and their time...and hopefully I am making a small difference.

TNC: What is your favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?

Donna: I love helping with pygmy rabbits and this year with the Broads on sage grouse habitat problems.

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Rachel Carson--Silent Spring-- hero. (We agree Donna!) 

Pickleweed in a Pickle at Dabob Bay

Written by Joelene Boyd, Stewardship Coordinator, Puget Sound Program
Photographed by Milo Zorzino, Volunteer Photographer

While visiting the Dabob Bay conservation easement this past month I noticed something I had never seen before. At first I mistook it for a plastic oyster bag that was degrading, then I noticed more and more patches along the spit and it was only present in the pickleweed (Salicornia). Pickleweed is a native saltmarsh succulent plant that can withstand and grow in high salinity conditions.

Pickleweed (Salicornia) at Dabob Bay © Joelene Boyd

A volunteer and I decided to take a break from easement monitoring photos and get a closer look. “It looks like silly string,” we said to each other. Upon further inspection and some prodding we discovered that it was plant-like and when breaking it apart it felt like we were snapping tiny roots. One of the volunteers in our group knew exactly what it was – dodder. Its unimpressive name sells this parasitic plant short of its tenacity and impact. Dodder is a leafless and rootless filamentous plant that gets nutrients and water from host plants (in this case pickleweed) by wrapping itself and becoming intertwined to the host plant. Morning glory is a close relative of dodder which gives an indication of how persistent it can be. Once we realized what it was we noticed there were discrete patches of dodder along the eastern side of the spit. Since dodder is a native to this type of environment there is no plan to control it but it does raise a good and age old question, especially if you are a pickleweed at Dabob Bay – when is a weed a weed?  

Besides discovering a cool new plant at the Long Spit easement in Dabob Bay 8 volunteers along with Melissa Watkinson and Kara Cardinal helped out to remove Scotch broom and pick up garbage along the spit. After we finished representatives from Rock Point Oyster gave us a tour of their oyster production facility. 


Purple Martins: New Residents at Port Susan Bay

Written Joelene Boyd, Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator
Photographed by Julie Morse, Senior Ecologist & Skagit Audubon Group

Thanks to dedicated volunteers we now have new residents at Port Susan Bay – Purple Martins. We are really excited by this because it is the first time (at least in recent history) that Purple Martins have been seen at Port Susan Bay (PSB) and it’s all thanks to volunteers.

In mid-February volunteers came out and installed bird houses then later in May another group of volunteers from the Skagit Audubon installed some more.

I asked Mark Perry, of Skagit Audubon, some questions about Purple Martins and this project.

Why it is important to install purple martin boxes?

Purple Martins while not endangered suffer from habitat loss along the West Coast. They are "cavity nesters"...building nests in holes. Free standing Snags along bodies of water are perfect sites. On the East Coast humans have provided nesting sites since the early colonial days and the birds have adapted, accept living in close proximity and thrive. Along the West Coast the practice of providing replacement man made housing has not been as prevalent. 

Is there a specific conservation target or goal in mind

Our conservation target is simply to expand the number of nesting sites and thereby hoping to attract more nesting pairs. Our friends to the north in British Columbia have a very successful and extensive effort. Their program has grown from just a few boxes, sites and less than 100 birds to more than 50 sites, over a thousand nesting boxes and a survey population of 4500+ birds. 

Why Port Susan Bay?

In Skagit, county there are only two identified Martin nesting sites. PSB offers almost perfect natural habit...wide open marsh land near body of water but lacks tree snags. Nesting boxes were removed when the dikes were removed/relocated. By utilizing the existing left over pilings and providing 3 additional nesting poles (like a snag) we hope to attract a new population of nesting pairs and reestablish a thriving colony. Martin's eat flying insects and are very social curious birds!

Why is the Skagit Audubon focusing efforts around the region to install these boxes?

Like most volunteer projects it takes a few interested and passionate folks to see a need, figure out ways to address the need and take action. Skagit Audubon has over 200 families as members, is focused on local conservation efforts and fortunately have some handy folks willing to get involved. Please check out our website www.skagitaudubon.org for more information about our chapter. 

Where else can folks see these boxes?

36 boxes are up and a thriving colony exists at Ship Harbor near the Anacortes Ferry terminal. The site is easily viewed from the Ship Harbor interpretive trail. 

11 boxes are up just north of the Padilla Bay interpretative center in Bayview. 

9 boxes are up in English Boom. 

We hope to add 30 more boxes by next season at Wiley Slough and yet to be determined sites. 

Are they just birdhouses or do they have special dimensions that make purple martin houses?

A Martin Birdhouse is a bit unique. First the orientation is more horizontal than vertical. The entrance hole must be large enough for Martins but not too large to allow starlings or house sparrows to hijack the box. The box needs to be 12-15' off the ground. And since Martin's are colony nesters you need 5-7 boxes to attract them. 

If someone wanted to help out in purple martin efforts what should they do/who should they contact?

If someone is just a bit handy and would like to build boxes I can share some simple plans via email. Please see the chapter President email found on the Skagit Audubon’s website skagitaudubon.org.

If folks notice Martin's already nesting at a "natural" site please let Skagit Audubon know. Or if you think there is a potential site where we could easily access and add nesting boxes that's good info too. (Using same skagitaudubon.org email). 

If you would like to join our citizen science monitoring team please contact Skagit Audubon. And of course we welcome anyone who would like to join Skagit Audubon and become active members! 

Thank you Mark and all of the volunteers who helped on this project!