For as long as he’s lived in Freeland, Carlos Andersen has fostered a special appreciation for Deer Lagoon and the tranquil habitat it provides for the myriad species of birds that visit Whidbey Island.
Andersen plans to share images and stories of this beloved place during the upcoming general meeting of the Whidbey Audubon Society at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island, which is located at 20103 Highway 525 in Freeland. Zoom access is available by visiting the organization’s website, whidbeyaudubonsociety.org.
In addition, Andersen will lead a field trip to Deer Lagoon for a limited number of participants the morning of the next day, Nov. 10. Registration is available online at whidbeyaudubonsociety.org/events-list/field-trip-to-deer-lagoon.
At least 211 different bird species have been documented at the South Whidbey lagoon, and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has designated it as the single most important site on Whidbey Island for year-round waterfowl habitat.
Andersen has been working with the state, Island County and several local environmental organizations on Whidbey to piece together the history of Deer Lagoon, which was purchased in 2004 by the county with the help of a federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He believes more protections should be in place to preserve the lagoon, which serves as a valuable place for wildlife to breed and nest.
“It’s awe-inspiring, how hard these little birds have to work and how important Deer Lagoon is for them to stop and recharge,” Andersen said.
He is currently advocating for the lagoon to have a detailed site-specific management plan, something the county’s comprehensive plan alone does not adequately address. In past documents, the lagoon has been referred to as a confusing and somewhat contradictory mix of a park, a recreation area and conservation areas.
Andersen has concerns about what he considers to be high-impact recreational activities disrupting the birds, from drone usage to electric bicycles to watercraft. Kite surfers have also been known to cause stress to the fowl, which see the kites as predators. Off-leash dogs present another problem.
“Dog waste is a serious environmental health hazard for the water quality,” Andersen said.
With its combination of a wetland area and tidal flats, Deer Lagoon is a unique and highly sought environment for birds to visit. Around this time of year, it’s a popular place for ducks and other waterfowl. Andersen said you can expect to see different species of birds in the morning versus the afternoon.
“That’s the beauty there,” he said. “It’s almost like a treasure hunt.”
In the past he has seen swans, geese, warblers, owls and herons, among many other types of birds. People visiting the lagoon are often interested in seeing the flock of American white pelicans, which is present from around April to early fall. These birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state law, which does not allow them to be disturbed or harassed. Current recreational activities, such as the use of motorboats, will disrupt them.
Andersen said he does not think another 10 years can go by without addressing these issues and getting a good management plan for the lagoon. He has provided extensive comments to the county’s comprehensive plan on the subject.
“In the morning, when it’s so still and beautiful, it’s incredible to have something like this in our own backyard on the island and it really deserves the highest level of preservation that we can give it,” he said.