Shorebirds by the tens of thousands wheel across the sky in the flat deltas where the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers pour into Puget Sound. What brings them here?
The short answer: dinner.
Shorebirds—with names like longbilled dowitcher and marbled godwit, and the more familiar dunlin and sandpiper—need to fuel up for epic migrations that take them from the Arctic north to the southern tip of South America. See a video of shorebirds in flight
Shorebirds eat as much as a third of their bodyweight every day, insects and worms and other tiny invertebrates that teem in the muddy delta flats. Thanks to decades of conservation work, the estuaries of the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers still support a thriving food web, even though more than 2 million people live within a 60 mile radius of the site.
The delta’s importance to shorebirds has been recognized now by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), which designated the area as a Site of Regional Importance. That means at least 20,000 shorebirds stop over here every year—although recent years have seen counts higher than 50,000, says Kat Morgan, Port Susan Bay manager for The Nature Conservancy.
Because these birds travel across such vast distances, WHSRN seeks to protect habitat all along the many migratory routes they follow. The Skagit-Stilly delta fills an important gap in that network, between British Columbia’s Fraser River Delta to the north and Grays Harbor to the southwest.
Partners recognized as stewards for the region are Island County Parks Department, The Nature Conservancy, Warm Beach Christian Camps and Conference Center, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Whidbey-Camano Land Trust.
Thanks to your generous support, the Conservancy bought 4,122 acres of estuary to create the Port Susan Bay Preserve in this estuary. Over the years your support has enabled us to do critical research and significant restoration projects to improve habitat for salmon, shorebirds and other wildlife. In the greater delta, the Conservancy’s Farming for Wildlife project piloted the concept of paying farmers to include wetland rotations in their crop management to provide shorebird habitat. Now this program is part of federal conservation programs and farmers are eligible for funding to do this through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together with your support and community partnerships we can continue to make the Greater Skagit-Stillaguamish Delta a place where people and nature can thrive.March 04, 2013