Iceberg Point is an 80-acre property on the southwest end of Lopez Island, Washington, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In 1990 the BLM classified 56 acres of Iceberg Point as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Currently the BLM is in the process of developing a Resource Management Plan for Iceberg Point, and this project may play a role in making decisions about marine bird conservation. Bird diversity also encompasses one of the key indicators of ecosystem health in the San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area plan of 2003. Due to the substantial local interest in the parcel, a coalition of Lopez Island residents has been working with our Congressman and the BLM on draft legislation to re-classify Iceberg Point as a National Conservation Area,, which will provide more protection to the properties.

Show your support for the NCA classification here!
The land, a composite of coniferous forest, native meadows, and rocky shoreline, supports a wide variety of animal life: charismatic mammals such as northern river otters (Lontra canadensis), American mink (Neovison vison), and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.), sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) and other prey fish, and over 100 species of aquatic birds can be found over the course of a year in addition to diverse invertebrate communities.

The near shore waters at Iceberg Point are part of Middle Channel, and the quick increase in depth of water from the shoreline makes this ideal habitat for many grebes, loons, and alcids, to name a few. The marbled murrlet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), designated as a Threatened species in Washington (1992) in the Endangered Species Act of 1973, has historically been a frequent presence in the Salish Sea. A study published in 2011 documented approximately 4,400 individuals in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound combined in the summer of 2010. Eight juveniles were sighted near the south end of Lopez in July of 2010. Given that this species is threatened and declines of over 7% per year have been estimated, further long-term investigation and observation is necessary to continue to quantify population shifts.

Most importantly, there have been few systematic studies designed to examine long-term trends in abundance of seabirds in the Salish Sea. In the late 1970s the Marine Ecosystems Analysis (MESA) Puget Sound Project collected extensive baseline data on wintering seabirds, with a follow-up study in 1990 by the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP) and data gathered by Western Washington University students and Professor John L. Bower from 2003 to 2005. Consistent use of similar methodology allowed for comparison and demonstrated significant declines in many species, such as the marbled murrelet (-71%) and the pacific loon (Gavia pacifica, -47%), while some showed increases (pigeon guillemot, Cepphus Columba, +108.9%). All bird species combined had decreased by 28.9%.

This data encourages us to collect consistent, continuous data to begin to trace gradual trends in the future to detect population shifts as they happen. This project utilizes the enthusiasm found within the Lopez Island community to form a strong base of volunteers that are willing to continue this survey indefinitely. This will allow us to gather year-round, multiyear data to track not only changes in abundance, but also shifts in migration timing and basic habitat utilization that may be due to large scale ecological changes.


We have selected five sites along the coastline of the Iceberg Point BLM property at which to conduct systematic point counts. Each site represents a spot of good visibility and minor overlap with adjacent sites. The shorelines range from tall bluffs to low, rocky coastline, well exposed to winds during storms and strong currents in Middle Channel. The seafloor depth increases quickly to between 20-200+ meters deep offshore.

Organizing scientist: Kelley Palmer-McCarty

The ideas for this project and, specifically, the marine bird survey were first formulated in early 2011 between Russel Barsh of Kwiaht and Kelley Palmer-McCarty, one of their staff associates. They wanted to develop a project for Iceberg Point that would provide data to the Bureau of Land Management, generate public interest and an opportunity for community members to gain experience with and participate in a scientific framework, and create a year-round, multi-year census that will demonstrate population trends, migration timing, and species composition of the sites.

Kelley graduated from Lopez Island High School in 2007 and attended Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies that fall. She is scheduled to graduate in December of 2011 with the degree, “Ways of Knowing: Ornithology, Art, and the Environment.” This degree has allowed Kelley to develop a strong basis in traditional Western science, including chemistry, biology, ecology, and soil science. But she has also spent considerable time studying the history and cultural development of the Western science framework we know today, and in particular has examined the limitations and rigidity (i.e. the dogma of science) to which the scientific world is vulnerable. In turn her studies have led her to research alternatives to the Western science paradigm, including Native American science, Buddhism, Goethe’s plant morphology and Goethean science, and art as an experience of nature. Throughout all of these explorations she has continued to develop her strong interest in the avian world, through independent study projects on bird biology, bird illustrations, and birds’ place in our culture as well as classes on field ornithology.

The cumulative effect has been a slow but steady pull toward citizen science as a way to make Western science and the scientific world more accessible to the general public. Kelley has worked with Lopez Island community members since 2010, training them in bird identification and data collecting for the Fisherman Bay bird survey and the Iceberg Point survey. The initiation of this project is her senior project, and she will continue training, recruiting, and surveying after she graduates.

Current Total Species List

Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt’s Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
American Wigeon
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Long-tailed Duck
Bald Eagle
Black Oystercatcher
Black Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Heermann’s Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
California Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mew Gull
Bonaparte’s Gull
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Ancient Murrelet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Belted Kingfisher
Great Blue Heron

Land birds (not included in survey)

Northern Flicker
Hairy Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Spotted Towhee
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Oregon Junco
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red Crossbill
American Goldfinch
Western Meadowlark
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk