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April 2004 Issue (vol 35, number 4)
      (Previous Issue March 2004) - (Next Issue May 2004)



APRIL General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, April 27, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Cruising Southeast Alaska

Join us for an exciting evening with Captain Vic Cano as we cruise southeast Alaska’s wild and scenic waters aboard his converted trawler, the Galaxy. Vic spent 12 years plying these waters amidst the majestic beauty of some of Alaska’s most awesome landscapes and splendid examples of Alaskan wildlife.

This slide-illustrated program will be a fascinating look at some of the continent’s finest marine waterways, most of which are still unspoiled by the hand (prop?) of man. Since Vic is a rich source of information on where to go, what to see, and how to get there, the program will also be informative for anyone who might be planning their own Alaskan adventure.

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Cherry Point Marine Resources Win Further Protection

by David M. Schmalz

On March 15, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a long awaited decision which stands to provide key additional protection to critical marine resources at Cherry Point in Whatcom County .

A coalition of environmental advocates including North Cascades Audubon has been seeking redress in the courts since 2000 related to the issuance of a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to the former Arco refinery (subsequently purchased, and now owned and operated by British Petroleum) for the construction of an additional berthing wing at their Cherry Point refinery just outside Ferndale on the Strait of Georgia.

During the ACOE review of the initial application, state natural resource agencies, local tribes, and environmental groups expressed concerns that increased ship traffic and expanded refinery operations posed additional risks to critical Cherry Point marine resources. Cherry Point provides key habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon including Chinook, recently afforded protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition, Cherry Point is the site of spawning beds for what has been until recently Washington’s state’s largest stock of herring. Herring are the cornerstone of the regional marine food chain and the Cherry Point stock has suffered a catastrophic and unexplained collapse over the last decade.

Despite these concerns, ACOE issued the permit without requiring adequate environmental review, concluding that the project would likely have “no significant impact” on the environment. In response, North Cascades Audubon joined with Re Sources, Ocean Advocates, Fuel Safe Washington, and Dan Crawford, a local fisherman, in an appeal to federal court seeking redress for the ACOE decision.

Included in the coalition’s request for remedy was the requirement for a full environmental impact statement related to the effects of the pier expansion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and a review of whether or not the construction of the pier violated a federal law that bars construction or modification of new piers that could increase the volume of crude oil shipped in Puget Sound unless needed to supply the needs of the state. The appeal cited a provision of federal law championed by the late U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson (D - Wa), which set standards intended to balance the economic benefits of Puget Sound refineries with all other benefits of the Sound - both economic and ecological.

In 2002, a federal judge ruled in agreement with the Corps and BP. Stunned by a seemingly arbitrary and capricious ruling, the coalition opted to appeal that decision to the 9th Circuit Appellant Court. Surviving numerous legal attempts and strategies by BP to bar further action by the coalition, arguments were heard by the Appellant Court in 2003, and on March 15, 2004 the court issued it’s decision reversing and/or remanding key components of the lower court’s decision.

The Federal Appeals court ruled that the pier expansion was indeed built without necessary environmental studies and evaluation, concluding that ACOE did not take “an obligatory hard look” at the project and BP’s arguments about its impacts. The court stated that, “Increased tanker traffic elevates the risk of oil spills - an undeniable and patently apparent risk of harm to Puget Sound,” and that “... an oil spill could destroy and disrupt ecosystems and kill or injure critical numbers of threatened and endangered species that live and thrive in the Cherry Point region.” In a particularly stinging criticism of ACOE rationale and lower court findings, the appellant court stated that “ A patently inaccurate factual contention can never support an agency’s determination that a project will have `no significant impact’ on the environment.”

The environmental coalition is not seeking dismantling or removal of the completed dock. Rather, the court agreed with appellants that a full NEPA analysis must be completed including an environmental impact statement that will address among other issues: vessel traffic safety in relation to the facility itself and other nearby piers, oil spill prevention and preparedness plans, and a comprehensive analysis of potential adverse effects to herring and endangered Chinook salmon.

The appellant court decision is now remanded to a U.S. District Court judge who will determine if BP’s tanker traffic is currently greater than the level it was in 2000, when the coalition first filed their appeal. If tanker traffic has increased, the court will require traffic to decline to 2000 levels until the full impacts of greater ship traffic and the pier on the environment is evaluated under NEPA guidelines.

The court, in its upholding of the Magnuson language has given the first judiciary support to the concept of limiting the amount of crude oil which may be allowed into Puget Sound with the intent of balancing that activity, along with its inherent risks, with the other economic and ecological values of Puget Sound and northern inland waters.

The ruling will likely spark long overdue dialogue and debate related to establishing limits on the amount and risk of industrial activities which threaten other economic and ecological interests associated with the marine resources of the Puget Sound region.

ACOE and BP have three options in responding to the latest court ruling. They can appeal the latest decision to the full eleven member 9th circuit judiciary, or appeal directly to the U. S. Supreme Court. The third option is to await the district judge’s decisions and begin compliance with the orders associated with his findings.

Special recognition and thanks to Fred Felleman, executive director of Ocean Advocates, which acted as lead for the environmental coalition in these proceedings. Ocean Advocates is a Seattle based non-profit organization and long time advocate for protection of Washington state marine resources. In response to the latest ruling Felleman said, “ In Alaska, crude oil tankers only got safer after the massive tanker spill from the Exxon Valdez in 1989.” Short of Puget Sound suffering that level of disaster, Felleman contends that, “The only chance we’re going to have to approach a level of safety of success is in a lawsuit like this.”

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NCAS on the Road: Bonefishing as the Entrée — Birding as the Dessert

by Andrea Warner

The title isn’t to suggest that we ever ate any bonefish, or had any birds for dessert. The reason we travel to Christmas Island (C.I.) is to flyfish for bonefish, not for the birding. The wonderful birding is just something that happens around you as you fish.

Christmas Island was discovered by Captain James Cook on Christmas Eve in 1777. It is located 119 miles north of the equator, and has the largest land area of any coral atoll in the world at 140 square miles. The highest point on the island, in a line of dunes on an exposed shore, is about 35 feet. With its extreme isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is surprising to find that several species of waders regularly winter on the island. C.I. is also used as a staging post for birds flying farther south.

It is three jet hours south of Honolulu and Aloha Airlines makes a round trip every Monday. Therefore, you don’t want to miss your flight! That is why we always get to Honolulu two days before leaving for C.I.

In Honolulu we always stay in a hotel near the Aquarium and Kapiolani Park. This location gives me an opportunity to breeze around or through the park a couple of times to see what birds I can spot. Except for the Pacific Golden Plovers which are easily spotted in the park, and three Fairy Terns in flight, all others were those common alien urban species; Java Sparrow, Brazilian Cardinal, Red-crested Cardinal, Common Myna, Zebra Dove, House Sparrow, House Finch, and Red-vented Bulbul. I also saw Yellow-Fronted Canaries which are not as abundant or as easy to see as other aliens. The only bird I didn’t see this trip that I usually do was the Japanese White-eye.

On to Christmas Island, arriving Monday morning, January 19, we were ready to go fishing after lunch. This year was interesting in that birding-wise, I saw something new and/or different every day. Fishing was much better than it has been for the past few years also. (I forgot to mention that this was our 18th year of fishing there).

Day 1 — Okay, first afternoon sightings were Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden Plover, Black Noddy, three Boobies (Brown, Masked, and Red-footed), Crested Tern, Sooty Terns (they nest on the island this time of the year in the thousands), and Greater and Lesser Frigate Birds. Many of the birds I saw were from the bed of a pick-up truck as we traveled to different fishing spots on very bumpy roads so you can’t really get a good binocular view of them. However, I usually get a good look at them when I’m fishing and in a stationary position. The curlew is always a delight to see and to marvel at its long migration from Alaska where it breeds to C.I. This is the same situation for the Pacific Golden Plover except they are more numerous than the curlews. That evening as we were having our happy hour on our porch of our bungalow overlooking the ocean, our yearly occurring bird, the tattler came wandering by along the shore. The tattler also makes the long flight from the arctic.

Day 2 — Traveling again by truck to our fishing spots, I was pleased to spot the Christmas Island Warbler on the ground amongst the Messerschmidia bushes. This is the only indigenous land bird on the island and it is related to the old world warblers. They are quite small — about five inches long — and pretty tame and approachable. A few years ago we had one very close to our bungalow and I was able to observe it on several different occasions and photograph it. The other good sighting for the day was the Red-Tailed Tropicbird. Binoculars are a must for viewing this bird as it is usually seen soaring quite high, out of 20/20 range, but with its silky white plumage and long central tail feathers, it is very visible with the binoculars and a delight to watch.

Day 3 — We reached this day’s fishing areas by skiff which allowed us to travel across the lagoon and fish some of the flats that are unreachable by vehicle. This also exposes some different bird habitat. Another migrant and Arctic breeder is the Ruddy Turnstone. This bird loves to poke around on the flats that are uncovered with the lower tide — tide difference on C.I. varies between 2 & 3 feet — but you have to be in the right place at the right time. So spotting them was very satisfying. I also spotted Sanderlings on the same flat with the turnstones. The Sanderlings were special because I’d never seen them there before, and they are only occasional migrants. Phoenix Petrels were also visible on this day and it’s always a delight to watch their gliding flight close to the water.

Day 4 — Our transportation was again the 40 ft. skiff, across the lagoon to fish the flats amongst many small islets and an-other good sighting even if it was brief — a Christmas Shearwater. It nests on islets under cover of bushes in December and January and is the most diurnal of the shearwaters. We have only seen this bird a couple of other times.

Day 5 — We took another skiff day to the far end of the lagoon. As soon as I got out of the skiff and waded over to some small islets, where I was going to start fishing, two beautiful, delicate Blue-Grey Noddies flew up from a tiny islet to greet me. I was beginning to think I was not going to see any this year. I also saw several Fairy Terns, another of my favorites. It appeared they were nesting on the islets, as were the noddies. Another brief observation was an Audubon’s Shearwater, which is not seen that often. Since we were moving in the skiff, I was not able to follow and watch it like I would have liked to. This is the smallest and most rarely seen of the shearwaters nesting on CI. The additional sightings were Black or White-capped Noddies and the Brown or Common Noddies. These two species are both widespread in the tropical and sub-tropical oceans.

Day 6 — This turned out to be one of my best days ever on C.I. We were skiffing again in the back of the lagoon amongst miles and miles of flats, plus many islets. So birding was really good, as was the fishing. While fishing I spotted a fledgling under a bush on this little tiny islet. I went over to see it and it was a C.I. Shearwater, just sitting under this sparse bush waiting for a parent to return later that evening with food. The tide was outgoing and we stayed too long in the back of the lagoon; thus, as the old saying goes, we missed the tide. This meant we had to wait about 3 hours for enough water to cover the flats so we could get back across the flats to the lagoon. But, hey, as long as I have my binoculars and birds to watch I’m happy. In addition to watching frigates and boobies I could watch plovers, turnstones, Sanderlings, and tattlers as they probed and fed on the exposed flats. We also watched our guide and the boatman “catching” Manta Shrimp, which are delicious. By 6 p.m. there was enough water to get across the flats and we headed across the lagoon just at sunset. My husband and our fishing friend even saw the “green flash”. It was a spectacular evening. One of my best days fishing also with 17 bonefish, all released, as this is a catch & release fishery.

Day 7 - Our last day’s transportation was by truck to some of the inner flats and islets. In one area where I fished I was continuously harassed by young Brown Boobies. They appear to be so dumb! I even hooked one in the wing casting they were so thick. Luckily I had the guide with me and he was able to capture the bird and unhook the fly. They also kept diving and trying to bite the end of my rod. There had to be close to a hundred flying around. The other highlight of the day was watching two tropicbirds for a considerable amount of time.

There were only two of the 18 species of nesting seabirds that we did not see and we saw all of the winter migrants plus the Sanderlings, one of the winter vagrants. As an incidental birding trip it was very successful.

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NCAS Officer Nominations:

CORRECTION!!

In last month’s Avalanche, the editor incorrectly stated that elections for chapter officers will be held in the fall. The elections will, in fact, be held at the General Membership Meeting on May 25.

The nominating committee, comprised of Debbie Craig, Tom Pratum, and Joe Meche, still welcomes your nominations of individuals who you think might serve the chapter well in the coming Audubon year.

Feel free to contact any of the committee members with your nominations. Their phone numbers can be found in the left column on this page. You can also find their respective e-mail addresses by visiting the fantastic website of NCAS at www.northcascadesaudubon.org.

Vote early....and often!

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Spring Celebration at Scudder Pond

Saturday, April 24,10 AM-Noon
by Jeanie Johnson
Scudder Pond Stewardship Chair

Join us at Scudder Pond on Saturday, April 24, from 10 AM to noon, where NCAS board member Paul Woodcock will lead a nature walk to explore the spring birds and habitat. After the nature walk, you and your family can build Violet-green Swallow nesting boxes from professionally-made kits by our own Joe Meche. You will have the opportunity to help put up swallow boxes at the pond as well as to take one home.

Colorful “Wetlands” and “Streams” posters will be available as well as the swallow boxes and donations will be welcomed.

For more information, call the Scudder Pond Coordinator, Jeanie Johnson, at 752-2876.

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NCAS Brant Festival Viewing Stations

NCAS will once again be responsible for providing the personnel to be on hand at the five viewing stations at this year’s Brant festival. If you’re interested in spending time on either Saturday or Sunday, please call Joe Meche at 738-0641 or e-mail him at joemeche@aol.com.

It’s really a fun way to be a part of the festival and help the few birders who can’t tell a Brant from a cormorant. As we found out last year, it’s good to have a tripod-mounted scope and some sort of shelter that you can erect on the spot. NCAS has two that can be borrowed on a first-come/first-served basis, so be the first on your block to call.

It’s also a great excuse to spend the day outside looking at birds and talking about birds. Make that call now!

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Volunteers Wanted

Hi everyone. My name is Jerry Swann. I have lived in Bellingham for over 20 years and have been fascinated with birds most of my life. I’m a new member of North Cascades Audubon and I’m seeking short-term volunteer help with a birding video that I’m currently working on. The video will feature interviews with local birders, show some local bird habitat, and discuss some of the environmental issues related to birds in our area.

I could use additional help with writing, research, and especially conducting interviews. Experience is not required, but enthusiasm is! I’d love to hear from local birders willing to be interviewed for this video. It would also be great to incorporate video of “birds in action” that other people have taped.

We are additionally seeking funding for this project, if anyone has ideas in this department. So, if this sounds like a fun and exciting project and you’d like to participate, send me an e-mail at dancingdogmedia@hotmail.com.

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Birdathon 2004

Mark Your Calendars!
by Debbie Craig
NCAS President

Spring is here, and our annual fundraiser — Birdathon — is just around the corner. This year, however, in hopes of attracting more participants than ever before, we are changing the look of our Birdathon just a bit. Instead of sending you out on your own, which can be daunting, we have recruited some of our regular field trip leaders to lead groups of up to four people on an all-day field trip where you can count as many bird species as possible.

To participate, all you need are your binoculars and at least $25 (this is a fundraiser — remember?). You can spring for the $25 yourself, or you can take pledges from friends, family, and co-workers.

This will be no ordinary field trip. In the next newsletter, Birdathon team leaders will provide a description of the route they plan to take. You will have the opportunity to read each one and choose the trip that suits you. Some will be intense, all-day trips, starting on the east side of the mountains and working westward, while others will focus on the Puget Sound corridor.

So please, stay tuned. We are really excited about Birdathon this year, and hope that you will be, too.

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What’s in a Gallon of Gas?

from Discover magazine
April 2004

Everyone knows that fossil fuels come from long-dead plants, but Jeffrey Dukes wanted real numbers: How much plant matter does it take to make a gallon of gasoline? Dukes, a biologist, ecologist, and dabbler in biogeochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, discovered that such statistics are hard to find. So he decided to figure them out for himself and was surprised by the answers.

A gallon of gas represents roughly 100 tons of plant matter, the amount that exists in 40 acres of wheat. Burning that gallon puts 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. The annual consumption of gasoline in the United States, about 131 billion gallons, is equivalent to 25 quadrillion pounds of prehistoric biomass and releases some 2.6 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide. The numbers are even more sobering when you consider all the fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, and oil — that people consume. Since 1751, roughly the start of the Industrial Revolution, humans have burned the amount of fossil fuel that would have come from all the plants on Earth for 13,300 years. “We know that fossil-fuel use is not sustainable in the long run,” Duke says. “This study will, I hope, encourage people to face up to the energy problem now.” Susan Kruglinski

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Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival

April 30-May 2

Take a trip to the Washington coast to witness the annual spectacle of the spring shorebird migration and the variety of events and activities at the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival. Events include field trips, lectures, exhibits, vendors, authors, kids’ fun fair, poster contest, run/walk, and a banquet. Come and join in the celebration. For more info, call 800-303-8498, or visit the website at www.shorebirdfestival.com.

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Native Plant Identification Course

April 10, 17, 24

The Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department is offering an introductory Native Plant Identification Course on three Saturdays in April — April 10, 17, & 24. Each day will begin with a three-hour classroom session, followed by a three-hour, local field trip after lunch. The cost is $24 for the three-week course. Join the course and learn to identify what those birds are eating!

As a follow-up to the course, on May 2, there will be a day-long field trip to a nearby flower hot spot, the Deception Pass State Park. The cost for this trip will be $17 and transportation will be provided. For more info or to register, call Bellingham Parks and Recreation at 676-6985.

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