Bird Songs of the Olympic Penninsula

Expedition Briefing


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The Research

Washington State’s region of the Olympic Peninsula is a historically, culturally, and ecologically unique place. From the towering old growth forests to the unimpeded rivers to the rugged mountains, this area provides important landscapes and habitats for a unique diversity of species. No less than 29 species or subspecies of mammal, birds, amphibians, and fish are only found on the Peninsula, and the area is home to multiple species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Eight Native American tribes call the Peninsula home, who maintain strong historical connections with the area and rely on the landscape for subsistence and culture. Additionally, almost one million acres of this woodland is protected as a World Heritage site, the Olympic National Park, which receives more than 3 million visitors every year.

This landscape is undeniably important to a variety of animals, scientists, and cultures, but preserving and maintaining the area is becoming more and more challenging. As humans expand their footprint on earth, managing forests sustainably will continue to be a pressing global problem. Traditional approaches to forest management tend to focus exclusively on ecological or revenue objectives, leaving out an important component: humans and their communities.

Concerns about the sustainable use of the resources within the Olympic Peninsula and the social, cultural, and economic consequences for the communities on the Peninsula have led the managers of the woodland to reevaluate their management strategies .

This project will test sustainable forest management strategies using a more comprehensive approach that includes not only ecological health, but also social and economic well-being of nearby communities. This ambitious long-term watershed-scale management experiment aims to identify strategies that lift the well-being of both human communities and forest ecosystems above current levels. Three forest management strategies and a no-action control will be implemented across watersheds in the Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF), which is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WADNR) and is located adjacent to the Olympic National Park.

Social and community well-being indicators are being determined through a collaborative process, and will be used in conjunction with ecological outcomes to compare management strategies. The results will help WADNR and other land managers improve their forest management practices.

Research Aims

The primary research question addressed by this project is: How does habitat quality, diversity, and function, as indicated by the occupancy rate of key bird species, change in response to different forest management practices?

To answer this question, this project will use sound recordings of indicator bird species to evaluate the habitat quality, function, and overall ecosystem integrity resulting from different approaches to active management of forests. The experiment will take place in 16 watersheds, spanning 32 square miles, within the Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF), a state- managed land designated for the study of integrating timber harvesting and habitat conservation. The 16 watersheds are grouped into four blocks based on similarities in elevation, size, and forest age. Within each block, each watershed was assigned one of four management strategies: (1) “Plan” under which timber harvest is modeled under habitat conservation strategies, (2) “Zoned” where the land is zoned as an ecological reserve or harvest, (3) “Accelerated” in which innovative approaches aimed at a higher level of integration of ecological values and revenue will be implemented, and (4) “No-action control” under which there will be no management activities.

As birds are an integral part of the forest ecosystem, and excellent indicators of its change, studying which birds live where will give researchers key insights into the health and sustainability of different types of managed forests. Bird occupancy will be determined by collecting recordings of bird calls, known as passive acoustic monitoring (PAM). To capture these calls, volunteers will install sound recording devices in different locations within the experimental watersheds.

The recordings from these devices will then be run through an automated recognition software that can recognize calls from target species. Paired with habitat surveys, in which volunteers record tree species, measure tree diameters, and assess the understory vegetation, researchers will be able to determine how many of each species are living in each type of forest and how species are responding to different management styles. The ultimate goal of this study is to inform managers of the OESF and other state and federal lands how different forest management strategies impact both environmental and community wellbeing.

The project aims to answer the following questions:

  • What are the differences in forest composition and stand structure among “ecosystem types” representing four stand developmental stages?
  • What are the differences in forest composition and stand structure before and after treatment in each ecosystem?
  • What are the differences in habitat function (as determined by occupancy rate of bird species) among “ecosystem types” representing different stand developmental stages?
  • What are the differences in habitat function (as determined by occupancy rate of bird species) before and after treatment in each ecosystem?

The volunteers on this project will be participating in one of the first studies to use PAM in a large-scale experimental framework to test changes in response to different forest management strategies.

How You Will Help

Volunteers will travel to a remote and wild area of the Pacific Northwest to delve into the important consequences forest management has for the wildlife within it and the community around it. With your help, scientists will collect data that fill important gaps in knowledge on the intersections of conservation and forest management. Volunteers will spend most of their time in the field, experiencing the rich biodiversity of the Olympic Peninsula. As part of this team you will:

  • Service Sound Recording Units: A main focus of this project will be to deploy the acoustic monitoring units. You will aid in installing, programming, launching, downloading data from, and deinstalling the acoustic monitoring recording units in different habitat types in multiple watersheds across the OESF.
  • Conducting Habitat Surveys: While in the field, you will conduct habitat surveys at each site you install an acoustic monitoring device. In a 1000 m2 plot (centered on the recording unit) you will identify tree species, measure down wood, photograph the canopy, and estimate the cover of understory plants.
  • Manage and Process Data: The entire team will work together to organize data and do basic quality control. The acoustic recordings will be run through an automated recognition software that can recognize target species. Volunteers will help process this data and confirm the results. All acoustic and habitat survey data will be compiled into master databases that each team will contribute to.

Life in the Field

The field sites and the field station are located on the Western Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA. The area is full of lush temperate rain forest in steep, hilly terrain and the climate is very wet. You will be housed in comfortable accommodations about an hour from the field sites. Each day you will travel to the Olympic Experimental State Forest from the station and hike to your field sites setting up acoustic monitoring equipment and doing habitat surveys. In the evenings we’ll have time for data analysis, lectures or rest.

On one of the days and possibly some afternoons we will plan for a few recreational activities where you can explore the rich cultural and natural history of the Olympic Peninsula. These may include a trip to the Hoh rainforest, Makah Museum and Cultural Center, beach hikes, or hikes around the accommodations. We can also regularly make trips into the town of Forks when needed.


Weather and research needs can lead to changes in the daily schedule. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

  • Day 1: Arrival in the late afternoon, dinner at the field station and project orientation.
  • Day 2: Introduction to training, species identification and methodologies training in the field.
  • Days 3–6:
    • Data collection, fieldwork of paired acoustic monitoring and habitat surveys
    • Data management and analysis
  • Day 7: Recreation day
  • Day 8: Team wrap-up and review of achievements, completion of outstanding data entry and departure.


Accommodations and Food

The project home base is a field education and research station called the Olympic Natural Resources Center operated by the University of Washington. It is located in the town of Forks, WA on Washington’s scenic Olympic Peninsula. The facility, surrounded by an abundant and lush temperate forest, offers modern meeting and lodging facilities in a rustic, peaceful setting.

* Please note that not every expedition has couples’ or single's accommodations available. Please call or email Earthwatch to check for availability prior to reserving your space(s) on the team.


All bedding is provided and beds are either full or bunk beds. Towels are also provided. Each room for 2 to 4 people includes desk, chair, and dresser. Bathrooms with flush toilets and showers are conveniently located next to the dorms. Single gender rooms are assigned with 2 to 4 volunteers per room. Depending on the available space at the research station, single or couple room requests can be accommodated at an additional cost. Please make note on your participation form if you would like to have single room accommodations and every effort will be made to accommodate this but it is not guaranteed.

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity, respectfully and without judgement. For both teen and adult teams, where logistics dictate single-sex accommodations or other facilities, participant placements will be made in accordance with the gender identity the participant specified on their Earthwatch Participant form and/or preferences indicated in discussions with Earthwatch.


There are 2 shared bathrooms, male and female, for the 4 shared bedrooms. Each bathroom is equipped with 3 toilets, sinks, and 3 shower cabins. Showers and hot water are available. These bathrooms are shared with 9 other dormitory rooms in the research station, which may be occupied by university students, field technicians, and scientists. The bathrooms are located in a separate building to the dorm rooms which are linked by covered pathways but you will have to go outside to use them. However in the field we will not have access to a bathroom for several hours. Participants must be comfortable using the woods as their bathroom.


You are welcome to bring electrical equipment. There is electricity 24/7. All lodging facilities have standard US electrical outlets.


Wireless Internet access is available in common rooms. You may bring your own laptop or tablet for free-time use. Most of the field sites have no cell phone coverage.

PIs and staff can be reached via telephone, cell phone, and email for both emergencies and casual communication.

Please note that personal communication with outsiders is not always possible while participating in an expedition. Earthwatch encourages volunteers to minimize outgoing calls and immerse themselves in the experience; likewise, family and friends should restrict calls to urgent messages only.


There is a communal kitchen with adjacent large lunch room, laundry room with coin operated washers and dryers (detergent will be provided), labs, classroom and meeting space, and dormitory-style living accommodations to support researchers and students. These may also be in use by other groups when your Earthwatch team is present.

The nearby town of Forks, Washington has some stores and restaurants which we may visit on occasion but if there is something that you like to have every day, we recommend that you bring it with you. The grocery and convenience store is within 15-20 minutes walking distance from the field station. The closest restaurant is within 15 minutes walking distance from the field station.

Smoking is not allowed inside any ONRC building including apartments and dormitories. Pets are not allowed inside any building.


The field sites are located within 1 hour driving from the field station. Most of the driving is on unpaved forest roads. The typical daily hike from the vehicles to the monitoring forest plots will be about 20 minutes but can range from 5 minutes to 1 hour. The hikes are off trails, may include very steep and brushy terrain with slippery logs and stream crossings. The field equipment carried by the participants will be of low weight: log calipers, diameter tapes, measuring tapes, and sound recording units.


The participants will prepare their own breakfasts or can take turns preparing breakfast for the team when possible. The participants will also prepare their own bag lunches to take to the field. Cooked dinners will be ordered from the one of the town cafes or restaurants. The field station will hire temporary staff for 2-3 hours per day to deliver dinner to the field station, set up and clean after dinner and to buy products for breakfast and bag lunches. Tap water is readily available at the field station.

The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Variety depends on availability. We appreciate your flexibility.

  • Breakfast: Eggs, toast, cereal, pancakes, fresh fruit, coffee, juice
  • Lunch: Sandwich bagged lunch with peanut butter & jelly, or lunch meat and cheese options plus snacks
  • Dinner: Pasta, pizza, chicken, salad
  • Dessert: Cakes, and other pastries, fruit, cookies
  • Beverages: Juice, water, coffee, tea, sodas

Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut or other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your volunteer forms.

Vegetarians can be accommodated on this project, but vegans might be more difficult. If they are prepared to be flexible, meat and dairy can just be avoided, and beans can be good protein substitutes, but processed vegetarian meat substitutes are not readily available. People with specific diets can be taken to the local grocery store to prepare their own meals if necessary. Lactose intolerance, gluten-free and nut free diets should be easily accommodated.

Project Conditions

The field sites are located in the Olympic Experimental State Forest. The climate is maritime with high precipitation, particularly in the winter, spring and fall. The summers are cool and breezy because of the nearby Pacific Ocean. The area is dominated by steep terrain and coniferous temperate rain forest with some of the largest trees on the planet. Substantial parts of the peninsula, particularly the Olympic National Park, is covered with old-growth forest. Most of the land at lower elevation is managed for timber. Dense networks of streams and undammed rivers provide for some of the healthiest salmon runs in the continental US. The forest wildlife include protected bird species such as northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. The terrestrial mammal fauna include black bears, cougars, fishers, elk, and endemic species such as the Olympic marmots. The marine fauna includes puffins, seals, whales, sea otters. The peninsula is home to 8 Indian Tribes, four of which are in the immediate vicinity of the field sites: Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, and Makah. The nearby town of Forks used to be predominantly logging town. Recently, the tourism (fishing, hiking, surfing, etc.) is becoming a significant part of the economy.


For weather and region-specific information, please visit and search for your project location.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to:

  • Take an active role in your own safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures at all times.
  • Be able to effectively communicate to the staff if you are experiencing distress or need assistance.
  • Be comfortable being surrounded by a language and/or culture that is different from your own.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, often in close proximity, for the duration of your team.
  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Be physically fit enough to hike in steep and uneven terrain with dense vegetation for the field work.
  • Enjoy being outdoors all day in all types of weather and be willing to work if it’s raining.
  • Walk up to 3 miles (1 hr hike) in steep terrain with a backpack carrying personal equipment (food, water, various layers of clothing), as well as a small amount of research equipment, totaling a maximum of 15 pounds.
  • Walk off-trail on slippery vegetation, over logs and rocks in uneven steep terrain.
  • Be able to wade through small streams to get to field sites.
  • Be able to complete all walking requirements without the support of a walking aid.
  • Comfortable in the field for several hours without access to bathroom facilities.
  • Be able to kneel and bend repeatedly for extended periods of time.
  • With training provided, be prepared for likely encounters with wild animals, including deer and elk. Less likely to encounter black bears, cougars and mountain goats.
  • Tolerate the presence of insects such as mosquitoes, biting flies, bees and ticks.
  • Sit or kneel on the ground to eat lunch or record data; designated rest places (e.g., benches) are not available.
  • Get oneself up into and down out of a vehicle and ride, seated, with seatbelt fastened.
  • Be comfortable with and be able to get into a top bunk for sleeping at the research center.
  • Endure long days with up to eight hours of fieldwork and keep focus during afternoon lab work.
  • Remain respectful of the wildlife we’re studying, as well as their habitat. This includes not approaching any wildlife we see, such as bears, deer, or elk.
  • If allergic to bees, carry medication and be able to apply it.

Health and Safety


Earthwatch has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency hotline number. Someone is always on call to respond to messages that come into our live answering service.


Please be sure your routine immunizations are up-to-date (for example: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) and you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and his or her doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

If traveling from countries or region where yellow fever is endemic, you must have a certificate of vaccination.

Project Risks and Precautions


The team will travel on some forest roads which can be unsealed, poorly maintained and muddy. The weather conditions and traffic from large logging trucks could increase the likelihood of an accident. Only project field staff will drive when transporting participants in project vehicles. Seat belts must be worn at all times. Volunteers are not permitted to drive. Drivers will avoid driving at night or while tired. Cell phone, radio, first aid kit and water will be in the vehicle in case of accident/break down on road. No operation of cell phone is permitted while driving. Project staff carries handheld radio to notify state lands dispatch of any accidents in areas without cell coverage. Participants susceptible to motion sickness should consider taking medication as appropriate.


Uneven terrain, steep slopes, slippery logs and rocks, strong winds, crossing wadeable streams, standing dead trees (snags), woody debris, sharp branches and twigs could cause strains, sprains, twisted ankles, blisters, damage to eyes, etc. Participants must be physically fit for this project. If you have any pre-existing conditions such as knee injuries please discuss with your program coordinator about the suitability of this project. You may require a doctor’s signature to participate. Participants will be advised to walk carefully, wear heavy-duty hiking boots (suitable for backpacking) with ankle support and be informed of the danger of unstable logs and advised to not stand near or climb above or below. Staff will encourage participants to inform a staff member immediately if feeling tired or ill, and to take regular breaks, and to avoid overexertion. Participants should wear long pants and sleeves to avoid cuts and scratches and will be provided with protective eyewear. Participants will be given a hard hat to wear while hiking to the field sites to avoid falling branches landing on their heads. Participants will be given an orange vest to be visible by potential logging operators and hunters. Project staff carries handheld radio to notify state lands dispatch of any injuries in areas without cell coverage.


The weather is unpredictable, with frequent abrupt changes that include snow, rain, and hail even in May, June, July, and August. Hypothermia is a hazard on this project primarily in spring and September. This could disrupt travel and field work on a daily basis. All project staff are First Aid certified. Participants should bring multiple layers with them to adapt to the changing conditions. Both dehydration and sun exposure are risks during the summer months. Participants will be instructed (and reminded frequently) to drink plenty of water throughout the day and to bring at least two liters of water into the field each day; to wear high- factor sunscreen and appropriate clothing; to not overwork when jet lagged or tired, and to inform a staff member when feeling tired or ill—especially during the month of August when temperatures are at their highest. Team will take regular breaks as needed, and monitor participants for general health at all times.


Participants will not carry more than 15 pounds to avoid back pain or strain. Participants are encouraged to condition themselves before arrival on-expedition and to start slowly to ensure muscle groups are given adequate time to warm up and stretch before starting. Loads should be lifted with the legs to avoid back injuries.

Forest Fires

Warn participants of the risk of forest fires, particularly later in the season during dry conditions. Advise participants that smoke from fires can make breathing more difficult and can cause a minor burning sensation in the eyes, throat and lungs. Instruct participants in the current fire status and compliance with orders to prevent forest fires.


Earthquakes and Tsunamis are possible in the Pacific Northwest. Participants will be instructed what to do and where to go in case of an earthquake and evacuation routes will be posted.


Project staff will explain protocols and safety measures during orientation for addressing any encounters with wildlife, such as black bears, cougars, deer, elk, mountain goats. No flash photography is allowed in the field when encountering wildlife. Participants are encouraged to carry binoculars to help spot wildlife hazards (e.g., bears) at a safe distance.


Participants will be instructed on identification and avoidance of barbed vegetation. Participants with allergies to common Western US plants should bring appropriate medications (antihistamines, etc.). Participants are encouraged to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce scratches from shrubbery. Participants will be provided with gardening gloves to move dense vegetation out of the way.


Mosquitoes, bees and biting flies are common in the region. Participants are encouraged to wear protective clothing (light-colored long pants and fitted shirts with long sleeves). Encountering and stepping on bee/wasp nests hidden under fallen logs or in the ground is possible. When staff identify a nest they will try to avoid the area and move all participants away as best as possible as well as mark it to avoid going near it on future hikes. Participants with allergies to biting and/or stinging insects must bring medications (antihistamines, at least two EpiPens, etc.) as appropriate and may need doctor’s sign off if their allergies are severe. Benadryll will be in all first aid kits to help with any stings. Participants will be instructed to check carefully for ticks after they’ve been outside, checking places such as the back of the neck and the backs of legs and clothing where ticks might hide. Everyone will use insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin in order to prevent insect bites.

From July–Sept mosquitoes can be particularly bad but it is also unpredictable. A headnet might be useful during those months.

Distance from Medical Care

Forks hospital is within a 10-minute drive from the field station but can be a 2 hour hike + drive from the research sites. Trauma cases may get evacuated and airlifted to HarborView Hospital in Seattle. If you have a chronic condition, which could require immediate urgent medical care (e.g. heart conditions, kidney problems, severe asthma, etc.) or if you are pregnant, please discuss your participation on this expedition with your physician.

Travel Planning


Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, WA

Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please do not book travel arrangements such as flights until you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination prior to departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can go a long way to ensuring smooth travel. The U.S. Department of State's Traveler’s Checklist and Destination Guides are helpful resources. For LGBTI travelers, the U.S. Department of State's LGBTI Travelers page contains many useful tips and links.


Entry visa requirements differ by country of origin, layover, and destination, and do change unexpectedly. For this reason, please confirm your visa requirements at the time of booking and, again, 90 days prior to travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting 6 months prior to the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers cancelling due to not obtaining their visa in time to meet the team at the rendezvous. You can find up to date visa requirements at the following website:

If a visa is required, participants should apply for a TOURIST visa. Please note that obtaining a visa can take weeks or even months. We strongly recommend using a visa agency, which can both expedite and simplify the process.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a return ticket is required.


  • Rempel, R. S., Naylor, B. J., Elkie, P. C., Baker, J., Churcher, J., Gluck, M. J. 2016. An indicator system to assess ecological integrity of managed forests. Ecological indicators, 60, 860-869.
  • MacKenzie, D. I., Nichols, J. D., Lachman, G. B., Droege, S., Royle, J. A., Langtimm, C. A. 2002. Estimating site occupancy rates when detection probabilities are less than one. Ecology, 83 (8): 2248-2255.
  • Shonfield, J. and E. Bayne. 2017. Autonomous recording units in avian ecological research: current use and future applications. Avian Conservation and Ecology, 12(1).
  • The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest by William Dietrich
  • People, Forests, and Change: Lessons from the Pacific Northwest. Eds. B. Van Horne and D. Olson. Island Press.
  • Ecological Forest Management by Jerry F. Franklin, K. Norman Johnson, Debora L. Johnson.

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