Summer Lake Shorebird Survey

Project Description

Since 2009, 15 to 20 volunteers have gathered each spring at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Summer Lake Wildlife Area (SLWA) to count breeding waterbirds. Begun as a shorebird survey, it now includes all breeding waterbirds (grebes; gulls and terns; cormorants and pelicans; waders; rails; and Sandhill Cranes). Volunteers are joined by SLWA staff and contribute vital data used to manage the wetlands.

Adopted in 2007, the SLWA Management Plan uses volunteers’ annual survey data to monitor effectiveness of SLWA habitat management actions and to evaluate wetland enhancement activities in their 12,000+ acre refuge.

Why We Do This and What We Have Learned

The annual surveys have recorded an average of nearly 3,200 shorebirds belonging to 20 species. Distribution of shorebirds within the SLWA has varied over the years, often confirming favorable responses to wetland enhancement activities, and guiding future habitat management actions.

What Volunteers Do

The Summer Lake Shorebird Survey takes place on a weekend in late May or early June (not on Memorial Day weekend). Volunteers are assigned portions of the refuge and may conduct counts:

  • from vehicles along road and dikes;
  • dryland hiking or biking along dikes, trails and cross country; or
  • walking and wading through mostly shallow wetlands (ranging from mud flats to channels sometimes up to three feet deep), and occasionally, by canoe or kayak.


  • Planning begins in late March or early April with contact of potential volunteers.
  • Project leader consults with SLWA Manager to determine current year water management plans and extent of wetland flooding.
  • Project leader confirms volunteer participation and assesses habitat conditions and access two weeks prior to survey dates.

Project Focus Areas

  • Population Monitoring
  • Bird Conservation

Would You Like to Volunteer?

New volunteers are encouraged to participate in this survey, providing an educational opportunity for novices to interact with experienced volunteers.

Volunteers donate time, supplies, and mileage for the project. Many volunteers make it a multi-day trip (Friday through Sunday) and camp (free) in undeveloped campgrounds on SLWA. Saturday evening will feature a potluck/group gathering.

Volunteers are encouraged to purchase annual ODFW Wildlife Area Parking Permits ($30), valid for use on any ODFW Wildlife Areas statewide. Revenue generated by parking permits is invested in habitat management and visitor use facilities on SLWA.

Bringing dogs is discouraged and if present, must be on leash at all times. It is the peak of breeding season for ground-nesting birds. Birds chased off their nests will often fail to breed. Even the most well behaved dogs can cause disturbance to birds. Keep in mind that  juggling a clipboard, field guide, pencil, and binoculars on slippery ground is a challenging task. Doing that while holding a dog on a leash can become virtually impossible.

To volunteer for this project, email your contact information to: Marty St. Louis at Please put “Summer Lake Shorebird Survey” in the subject line.