Spencer Island

Written by Ted Peterson
Washington’s first report of a Yellow-throated Vireo brought many birders to Spencer Island from across the northwest. The island is proving to be among the best birding hotspots in the Puget Sound area, with an impressive list of birds for a recently opened park.

With the vireo sighting, the “Patagonia Rest Stop” effect quickly produced some new and unusual county bird records. The potential of the park’s habitat for more rarities promises future excitement see Spencer Island, page 3for birders. Could this become Iona Ponds South?

Spencer Island covers about 413 acres and has more than 3 miles of trails. It was formed in the 1920’s by John Spencer, whose barn still stands near the entrance bridge. For many years, the island was familiar to locals as the Mormon private hunting farm. More recently, cattle were raised there. In 1989, Snohomish County and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) purchased the property for wildlife habitat preservation. The north half of the island is owned by WDFW and the southern half by the county. Hunting is allowed in season, but only on the state-owned side. Hunting doesn’t interfere much with birding the south end.

A wetland restoration project was recently completed. An east-west cross levee was constructed and tidal conditions were restored to about 50 acres south of the levee. The area on the north side will have stable water levels to encourage waterfowl and shorebirds.

Tidal influence comes through Union and Steamboat sloughs, which join the Snohomish River at the southern tip of the island. Excellent habitat for migrating shorebirds is provided by mud bars and shallow water north of the levee and, at low tide, mud flats to the south. The surrounding dikes offer good vantage points for observing the shorebirds.

Trees and other vegetation on the dike edges are good for passerines, owls, and woodpeckers in the appropriate seasons. Shorebirds observed recently include Pacific and American Golden-Plover, Sharp-tailed, Pectoral, Solitary, and Stilt sandpipers, along with the usual migrating peeps, dowitchers, plovers and yellowlegs. Otherrecent sightings include Great Egret, Sandhill Crane, Saw-whet Owl, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Northern Goshawk, Common Snipe, Northern Shrike, Swamp Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Western Meadowlark, and a wide variety of waterfowl.

Combined with the nearby Everett Sewage Treatment Ponds, Spencer Island offers a great day-trip for birders along Puget Sound. Spencer Island maps provided by Fred Bird