By Michelle Roedell

The Des Moines Birders group had the rare opportunity to tour SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research (SR3) on Saturday, March 18, 2023.

Located in the Des Moines’ marina district near Anthony’s Homeport Restaurant, SR3 operates the Pacific Northwest’s only hospital dedicated to marine wildlife. The hospital, which opened in the spring of 2021, rehabilitates sick and injured marine species. 

While SR3 offers educational and volunteer opportunities to the general population, it is not usually open to the public. Eileen Lambert, founder of the birders group, was thrilled to score a behind-the-scenes look. 

“Our group had a blast touring SR3 on a gorgeous spring-like day,” she posted on the Des Moines Birders’ Facebook page. She considered the tour an opportunity to showcase a partnership between SR3 and the citizen-led group of birders who are looking for ways to invest in wildlife conservation and education.

Lambert has been scouting out organizations for the group to partner with, including SR3, the MaST Center Aquarium in Redondo, the Environmental Learning Center in Seahurst Park, and Kent’s Green River Natural Resources Area. She is also busy alerting members about interesting events like the Bird Fest in Burien, bird lectures, and workshops on how to create wildlife-friendly gardens. Birding field trips offer another benefit of joining up with this merry band of birders.   

The active Facebook group shares photos and videos of birds from their own backyards or on walks and outings. Members range from seasoned experts to birding newbies; help with bird identification or understanding bird behavior is freely shared. Tips, such as how to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing during cold weather, deterring squirrels from eating all the seed in bird feeders, and other helpful advice abounds on the site. Members have learned the whereabouts of a stray pheasant roaming the neighborhood, instructions on making bird ornaments, and even how to apply for a job counting penguins in Antarctica. 

The idea for the Des Moines Birders was hatched during the isolation of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We bought a house in Des Moines, going on four years in July. Most of that time was during Covid,” explains Lambert. She spent much of her time at home looking at birds in her yard. “The house came with a beautiful, established garden that attracts wildlife,” she adds. “My office window looks out into the yard and offers such a good view of the bird life. I was blown away. I became enamored.”

In college, Lambert worked as a naturalist leading interpretive walks showcasing wildflowers and trees, but she never learned much about birds. “The combination of buying a house with a garden that attracts wildlife and being stuck at home… That gave me time to stop and appreciate what I saw outside my window.” Lambert cultivated this interest by studying local bird species, joining birding groups, and connecting with the Audubon Society for help with bird ID. She even hired a naturalist for private birding outings. 

But she went a step further when she decided to create the Des Moines Birders group. Her motivation was to connect with others who share an interest in the birds they observe in the local area. 

One of the people she connected with is Alice Thorell, who has lived in Des Moines for 17 years. “I’ve been interested in birding for a long time,” says Thorell. Her curiosity about birds started while visiting her grandparents in Fort Madison, Iowa. “They had a bird feeder in their big backyard and a porch with a field book. I loved it.” But, like Eileen, her interest really spiked during the pandemic. “I’ve become more interested in the last three years. I started identifying the birds and logging what I’m seeing.” 

Thorell joined the Des Moines Birders group almost a year ago. “I learned about the group through the Des Moines Community Facebook page. When Eileen posted about the Bird Fest in Burien, I wanted to go. She led a bird walk at the event, and I met her there,” says Thorell. “She later contacted me about volunteering with the group.” In her volunteer role, Thorell helps to organize events. “We are planning more activities soon.” She invites others to “keep an eye out. We’d love to have you!” 

Thorell says that the Des Moines Birders group and others she belongs to have increased her knowledge of birds. “That’s all I do on Facebook,” she adds with a chuckle.” I look at pictures of birds.”

Both Lambert and Thorell point to the sense of community that they’ve gained from the birders group. 

“I just finished a graduate program last June and I didn’t have a lot of time as a student,” remarks Thorell. “But I’ve wanted to get more involved in the community and meet people with similar interests. The birders group has been very fulfilling in that way, the sheer joy of having someone to bird with.”

Lambert echoed this sentiment. “Birding became a really mindful activity that protected my sanity during Covid. But connecting with neighbors is the best part. That, and seeing people’s passion and curiosity for birds.” 

The two agree on the benefits of belonging to the Des Moines Birders group: Friendship, community and birdwatching.

Whether you join the group or not, Lambert encourages others, and especially children, to explore the outdoors, to spend more time in nature. “Explore your neighborhood. Be curious. It heightens your senses.”

Focusing on the birders group has cemented Lambert’s love for living in Des Moines. “It’s fascinating that such an urban environment can be so rich in wildlife. We don’t have to go far to experience it.” 

To learn more about the Des Moines Birders, including volunteer opportunities, please email desmoinesbirders@gmail.com.

Photos

Below are photos of the Des Moines Birders and SR3 – click arrows to view slideshow:

Invitation from SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research (SR3)

In addition to operating the hospital, SR3 protects marine wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. With specialty staff and a marine ambulance, SR3 responds to stranded and entangled animals. SR3 also researches the root cause of marine animal health issues with a major focus on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

  • SR3 is excited to host their very first community open house on April 29. This is a special opportunity to view behind the scenes at the hospital while there are no patients on site. Learn about what it takes to rehabilitate sick or injured marine mammals and take a dive into their research. Visit their website where more details will soon be posted: sealifer3.org.

Michelle Roedell is the longtime editor/publisher of Northwest Prime Time, a local publication for people over age 50.