Port Susan Bay IBA

The Port Susan Bay area is classified as an Important Bird Area due to large populations of shorebirds. Large numbers of duck, geese, swans, and raptors can also be found here. For more information on IBA's of Washington, click here.


December 2011 - April 2012

Ruth Milner, District Wildlife Biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, recently updated the executive board on her work in Port Susan Bay. She has been working for the past 5 or 6 years on having the area designated as an important bird area by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). These areas are comparable to National Audubon Important Bird Areas except that they focus on shorebirds. With surveying help by PAS volunteers and our financial help for plane surveys, Ruth has the data to submit to WHSRN for listing Port Susan Bay as an area of regional importance - sites that act as staging, nesting or breeding grounds for at least 20,000 shorebirds annually.

Ruth is interested in continuing research in the area. Researchers from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have theorized that the increase in falcons, especially peregrines, has changed how shorebirds are using shoreline habitats. It has been noticed in Boundary Bay, B.C. that shorebirds are using marginal bays and estuaries more than in the past - areas that are not as rich in food as the primary areas. It has also been noticed that dunlin are flying more than formerly during high tides; they are not stopping to rest. The theory is that the threat arising from the increased number of peregrines is causing the shorebirds to avoid primary feeding areas as well as resting during times of high tides. Ruth would like to see if this is happening here as well. She wants to use PAS volunteers this winter during times of high tides to record how much dunlin are flying.

The Pilchuck Board has approved partnering with Ruth to explore this possible change in shorebird behavior. With grant money designated for Port Susan Bay, we have hired Megan Westervelt to coordinate the recruitment, training and scheduling of volunteer surveyors as well as compiling data and educating PAS members with the project results. Megan is an expert birder and has a degree in marine biology. She has worked on a number of research projects so is familiar with research protocols.

This research project allows Pilchuck Audubon to once again engage in citizen science and make valuable contributions with our time and expertise. If you are interested in assisting Megan in her work, please contact her at (401) 662-7545 or megan.pettebone@gmail.com. Unlike past survey work in Port Susan Bay, participants will only be required to identify dunlin, not all shorebirds.

Project Background

Pilchuck has been involved with a project to protect the habitat around the PSB-IBA. Work began in the spring of 2007, forming an Action Team Committee under the guidance of the Conservation Committee. Committee members spent a year critiquing a workbook, Guide to Bird and Community Conservation from WA Audubon. The purpose of the Guide is to bring people together who have an interest in the preservation of the bay.

The Team surveyed for shorebirds around Port Susan Bay beginning at Kayak Point on the eastern shore to Triangle Cove on the west side of the bay. The surveys have continued every spring and fall. A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist has been advising the action team on procedures. We used a scientific protocol for this survey that will have the potential of the results being shared on a national database website. Our surveys of species identification on the ground have been complementing aerial surveys to obtain total counts.

Our dedicated volunteers were fortunate to have Dr. Dennis Paulson as the trainer for the surveys. Participants attended training sessions which were offered in the spring of 2008 and 2009. Some were able to enhance their bird identification skills, while others learned the species of shorebirds that fly into Port Susan Bay during migration along with shorebirds that winter on the bay.