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EAST SAND ISLAND, Oregon—Alexa Piggott is crawling through a dark, dusty, narrow tunnel on this 62-acre island at the mouth of the Columbia River. On the ground above her head sit thousands of seabirds. Piggott, a crew leader with Bird Research Northwest, is headed for an observation blind from which she'll be able to count them.
It's September, and the low-lying island is relatively quiet. Most of the fledglings and their parents have left, and only a few thousand pelicans and cormorants remain. But in the spring, 60,000 birds come here to nest. East Sand Island is home to the largest breeding colony of Caspian terns in the world and the largest colony of double-crested cormorants