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Michael Hobbs: Twenty Years at Marymoor

Michael Hobbs recently completed his twentieth year conducting weekly bird surveys at Marymoor Park in Kirkland. He wrote this recollection for the Tweeters email community, and kindly gave his permission for its use in the Corvid Crier.

By Michael Hobbs

Michael Hobbs, by Ollie OliverTweets – On March 31, 1994, I made my first visit to Marymoor Park for the year. It was the twenty-third time I’d birded Marymoor. Starting in 1990, I’d made a few visits each year in April and May, with a couple of March visits in 1993, a couple of June visits in 1992, and one January visit in 1991.

On that March 31,1994 trip, as with most of those early visits, I was joined by friends from Microsoft — both Geoff Shilling and Pat Brenner were with me that day. We probably only stayed a couple of hours, and we found just 26 species.

Photo: Michael Hobbs, by Ollie Oliver

One Bird Leads to Another

Some of the more exciting sightings of the day included COMMON LOON, RING-BILLED GULL, WILSON’S SNIPE (then called Common Snipe), many good views of Downy Woodpecker, and a good look at a FOX SPARROW. My notes show that it was overcast, and that we were hassled by a mutt all the way to the lake. The loon and the gull were new for my park list, which brought the total number of species I’d seen at Marymoor to 80 species.

We came back the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. It might have been the female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and HERMIT THRUSH on April 14, or the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW on May 5, or the WESTERN KINGBIRD on May 12, but at some point in that spring of 1994, there had been so many great birds that I just decided to KEEP ON COMING TO MARYMOOR every week, so see what might be found if we birded the whole year.

A Mentor Enters

Geoff and Pat weren’t as committed as I was, but they both kept coming along at least occasionally for a while, especially Pat. But there were a lot of weeks that I birded alone, and then emailed Pat and Geoff reports.

Sometime in 1995 I met Brian Bell while walking the boardwalk, and he became (and remains) the most dedicated of the Marymoorons. Hugh Jennings is another long-standing member of our flock.

I believe I started making regular reports to Tweeters in May 2, 1996, though I’d certainly posted Marymoor sightings to Tweeters before that.

A Habit Becomes Science

Sometime, probably in the late 1990s, I began to realize that my compiled bird lists from Marymoor had a value as a whole that was far greater than the sum of the value of the individual reports. That is, the longitudinal tracking of bird occurrence was worthwhile. I began to take my Marymoor visits more seriously, and started to think about them, and refer to them as my weekly SURVEYS of the birds of Marymoor Park. I tried to increase the quality of my efforts, and I submitted my data to the NatureMapping project at the University of Washington.

Throughout all of my time at Marymoor, it has been a phenomenal way to improve my birding skills. Initially, it was spending a few hours every week with Brian Bell, who had decades more experience and who taught me, well, everything.

Then it was having MaryFrances Mathis and later Matt Bartels join us, and needing to learn enough to answer their questions. Brian went through the Seattle Audubon Master Birder program, and then I did, and then MaryFrances and Matt.

More and more prospective and current Master Birder students began showing up at my surveys, so it’s not been uncommon to have three or four or five Master Birders and a few Master Birder students or candidates tromping around together every week.

Rarities in Redmond

Over the years, the great birds have piled up. My first real rarity was a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER that I found on October 21, 1999. At that point, it was only Washington State’s fifth BGGN ever. On June 4th, 2006, David White found a BALTIMORE ORIOLE that stayed around for about a week. That also was a state rarity. And, of course, on August 30, 2006, we found the state’s first-ever SMITH’S LONGSPUR.

But there have been other great birds, including Brown Pelican, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-tailed Jaeger, Burrowing Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Bohemian Waxwing, Snow Bunting, American Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Clay-colored Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Common Redpoll, just to name (many more than) a few. And some of those have been seen in multiple years!

The park list is now more than 220 species. All the data is on eBird now, under the user name "Marymoor Survey". Last year, an average between 11 and 12 people a week went out with me, and more than 70 people in total. Over the years, more than 300 different people have come out at least once, including visitors from out of the state, and even from other continents.

Why Not Twenty More?

So it's been TWENTY YEARS now, and I'm not planning on stopping any time soon. I must give thanks to all of the Marymoorons who come out; we have fun and friendship along with our citizen science.

Special thanks to Brian Bell and Matt Bartels, both for the numerous times they’ve led the surveys while I've been traveling, and for all they've taught me over the years.

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