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September 2004 Issue (vol 35, number 6)
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SEPTEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, September 28, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM Christmas Bird Count with Terry Wahl
Past, Present, and Future
Note that our speaker had to unexpectedly cancel, please see our meetings page for an update.

The first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held in 1900, and a total of 27 observers participated from New Brunswick to California. Today, more than 50,000 people in over 1,800 counts are involved in this citizen-science effort to track populations of winter birds. The end results have provided us with the longest-running ornithological data base in history.

In Bellingham, the first CBC was held in 1967 and continues to this day under the tutelage of Terry Wahl, co-founder of the Bellingham CBC and a long-time authority on local and state birds. At this month’s general membership meeting, Terry will present a program that focuses on the importance of the CBC in monitoring bird populations across the country, and specifically here in Whatcom County.

Terry, a lifelong resident of Bellingham, is the author of Birds of Whatcom County and co-author of A Guide to Bird Finding in Washington. While he might shy away from the title of Guru, he has been just that to numerous Whatcom County and Washington state birdwatchers. Terry also started the Westport Seabirds pelagic birding tours in 1966 and began a systematic census of birds off the Washington coast in 1971. This census has produced the world’s longest-running count of birds at sea. From this experience, he authored numerous papers on the status of seabirds of the northeast Pacific. It should be pointed out that he also has an unlimited supply of anecdotes and, if we’re lucky, he might share a few.

As always, the meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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September Song/Second Verse

We promised to return and here we are. With this issue of The Avalanche, we begin another Audubon year. The Board of Directors has been meeting throughout the summer and there have been a few changes in the NCAS lineup.

At the May general membership meeting, the new NCAS officers were elected (see details on page 5), and the Board of Directors welcomed two new members at its monthly meeting in June. If you look at the masthead in the left column, you’ll see the new lineup. Ellen Kramer is our new Programs Chair and Ann Delvin will take over the duties of Membership. We’re excited to have these two enthusiastic individuals join our merry band.

Our annual fundraiser, the NCAS Birdathon, met with overwhelming response and 2.5 teams participated in the effort (sarcasm is the finest form of humor). We will strive throughout the year to make this fundraiser more inviting to the membership and we welcome your input on how we might improve. See related stories on page 3.

Stay tuned to these pages for another full season of exciting events, programs, field trips, and a plethora of fun things to do. Bring along a friend or three and add to the EQ.

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NCAS on the Road

Editor’s note: This month’s installment of NCAS on the Road follows the path of all three of our intrepid NCAS Birdathon teams.

Birdathon 2004...x 3

Team Killdeer....
...going for the record!
by Joe Meche

Cindy and I left town and headed east to get to our starting point in the hills above Winthrop, where we would begin our Birdathon for 2004. We took along our quick tent, which we use occasionally when time is of the essence and we need to grab a few winks before proceeding with whatever it is that makes time become an essence in our lives. The crux of the matter is that the quick tent is our shelter from the storm &#; it goes up and comes down...quickly. Hence, the quick tent!

Our plan was to find at least 120 species and set a new standard for future efforts. We also did a variation on the Birdathon theme, in that we decided to start our 24-hour period whenever we saw the first bird of significance. It was 5 PM on Saturday evening when we saw a Say’s Phoebe in the Pearrygin Lake campground, thus beginning our own run for the roses.

While this seems to be an unlikely starting time, it actually worked out well for us, especially with the longer daylight hours and the fact that the evening-into-night brings out an interesting variety of birds. Best of all, we could see the potential for a good night’s sleep prior to the big push the following day. As it turned out, we had 50+ species on our list before nightfall.

I rolled out of the tent at 4 AM and immediately checked-off Great Horned Owl as I heard a pair in chorus across the lake from the campground. Shortly before sunrise, I heard and located a Bullock’s Oriole and a Western Meadowlark. We had found most of the species we expected on the east side, so we grabbed breakfast burritos and lattes and proceeded west with 61 species &#; knowing that we’d at least double our total in the bird-rich environs of the Cascade Crest and the western lowlands.

Much to our surprise, we had to work diligently to surpass 100 species. Many of the marine species that we counted on had flown the coop. We missed common species such as Steller’s Jay and Chestnut-backed Chickadee! Luckily, we had the scope and were able to turn the black dots out on the water into real birds. Our species total of 101 fell short of our prediction so the NCAS record of 117 will stand, at least for another year.

All things considered, we had a great time and felt a lot less road weary this year, especially after giving ourselves an opportunity to catch a few more winks than in previous attempts. We recommend that you give Birdathon a shot in the years to come. It’s a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors and participate in a great fundraiser for NCAS.

Team Gavia immer...
...from the armchair, no less!
by Debbie Craig

Last May, Andrew and I, a.k.a. Team Gavia immer (Common Loon), pledged to participate in the renowned Birdathon. We prepared by planning our route and collected pledges from dedicated and generous Auduboners like you. We were excited as our Birdathon day approached. Unfortunately, the day before the big day, my counting partner came down with a nasty head cold. There was no way he could get up at the crack of dawn and trek out the entire day counting bird species. We were a bit disappointed.

We decided to start our morning with some coffee in the hot tub. We sat quietly, listening to the birds around us. Then, it dawned on us. We didn’t really have to drop out of the Birdathon at all. We simply needed to modify our plan. So we listened and watched and kept tally of the birds we heard and saw while sipping coffee that morning.

Later, after Andrew had a short nap, we made our way to the front yard and counted some more. As the evening approached, Andrew’s energy level rose a bit, and he decided that he could venture out for a short walk. We decided on the dike trail along the Nooksack River. We packed our binoculars and off we went.

We spent about an hour on the dike trail and by the end of the day, our tally came to 41 species. Not anywhere near the number we would have counted had our Birdathon unfolded as planned, but not bad for a day of armchair birding!

Team Timberdoodle
(All the President’s Men?)
by Paul Woodcock

One hundred species was the goal on May 14 of this year when Team Timberdoodle took on the Birdathon challenge. The dawn chorus of American Robins was already underway and a noisy flight of Violet-green Swallows was chattering overhead as I drank my coffee and headed out the door at roughly 4:30 AM. The list kept growing &#; White-crowned Sparrow, American Crow &#; as I crawled into Victor Burgett’s vehicle and the two of us hit the road to birding adventure.

Our first stop was Scudder Pond where we hoped to spot Sora and Virginia Rails. We added twenty species at the pond, including Swainson’s Thrush, Bullock’s Oriole, Wood Duck, and Rufous Hummingbird, but the coveted rails elude us. Whatcom Falls Park gave us a few more species &#; Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Brown Creeper &#; before we headed south to Skagit County.

After a quick and uneventful stop on Bow Hill, we headed east on Prairie Road. The destination was the wooded slopes of Butler Hill, but an unexpected bonus brought us up short. In a plowed field along the Samish River, a flock of about 40 Whimbrels provided some thrilling moments of viewing. On Butler Hill itself, we found many expected migrants &#; Olive-sided and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Western Wood Pewee, Western Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Warbling Vireo &#; but not the Cassin’s Vireo we had hoped to find.

As we crossed the South Fork of the Skagit River on our way to Fir Island, a Green Heron presented itself, perched on the wires above the water. At the Skagit Wildlife Area, we added 14 species to our list, highlighted by Cinnamon Teal and American Bittern. After a few hours of intense birding, we headed for Anacortes. Crossing the North Fork of the Skagit, a Turkey Vulture was tipping lazily in the air above the river.

Washington Park in Anacortes provided species that cannot be found anywhere else in our area. Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and several warbler species were added to the list. We then made the decision to dash farther south to Bowman Bay, where we located eight more species, including Black Oystercatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and the day’s only Steller’s Jay. It was already afternoon and our total stood at 79 species.

On our trip north, Victor was able to spot a Peregrine flying high above Samish Flats. A stop along Chuckanut brought us Varied Thrush and Red-breasted Sapsucker. But as time slipped by, we began to realize that our goal might not be reached. By the time we arrived at Marine Park in Blaine, we had already seen many of the species present and fatigue was setting in. Blaine delivered four species of gull, Surf Scoter, Common Loon, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, and more Whimbrels. The day’s total of over 50 Whimbrels was outstanding.

We made our way around Drayton Harbor to Semiahmoo and on through Birch Bay to the state park, adding Red-breasted Merganser, Harlequin Duck, White-winged Scoter, and Western Grebe as the afternoon gave way to evening. The sun was sinking in the west as we counted Ring-necked Duck and Northern Pintail at Lake Terrell.

We and our count were finished at a total of 98 species. Common species, such as American Coot, Downy Woodpecker, and American Kestrel, somehow eluded us. Victor and I were short of our goal but it was a near-perfect day of birding and a fulfilling experience, even if we were bested by Team Killdeer. We raised some money for the chapter and we look forward to next year. We will do better.

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Birdathon 2005
Sign up now!

After reading these three incredible stories of birding adventures, from the backyard and the slopes to the marine habitats of Whatcom and Skagit Counties, how can you NOT consider being a part of next year’s Birdathon. You’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a better excuse to spend a 24-hour stretch of doing nothing but looking for birds. Refreshments and sleep are optional!

The Birdathon Committee will work diligently over the winter to come up with an exciting variation on the theme. You can sign up to participate by e-mailing me at joemeche@aol.com anytime. From the sounds of it, there will be no resting on our Laurels, and Hardy times are coming.

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NCAS Officers Elected

At the May general membership meeting, four outstanding individuals were unanimously elected to serve as NCAS officers for the 2004-2005 Audubon year. Those individuals and the offices they will hold for the coming year are as follows:

Paul Woodcock

Dave Schmalz
Vice President

Debbie Craig

Michele Bodtke

•Contact information for NCAS officers and all committee heads can be found on page 2 of this newsletter. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them accordingly. We will respond in a timely manner to any and all queries that pertain to the goals of this organization and its members.

Now, let’s get busy!

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Christmas Bird Count
It’s all in the numbers

With the September program focusing on the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), let us follow the lead of an article in the Rainier Audubon Society’s Heron Herald. Here is a sample of a few selected species to compare the numbers from the first Bellingham count in 1967 with those of the most recent in 2003. Some of the numbers might be surprising and even difficult to comprehend.

Pacific Loon1102
Western Grebe6,689103
Great Blue Heron1381
Trumpeter Swan01,209
Canada Goose01,231
Ring-necked Duck4570
Rock Dove (Pigeon)0841
Black-capped Chickadee1651,393
European Starling1,0064,972
Spotted Towhee29257
“Oregon” Junco3212,293
Brown-headed Cowbird0487
House Sparrow361,190
Total Species103123

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Merlin Falcon Foundation Annual Fundraising Celebration

Saturday, September 25

Join Team Merlin at the Boundary Bay Brewery from 11AM to 2 PM to enjoy mid-day entertainment and music with Allegro Ziffle; view the Coastal Forest Merlin educational exhibit; and bid at the silent auction on a variety of items.

From 7-10 PM, exciting prizes will be raffled; a volunteer appreciation event will be held; and you can dance to the music of Maggie’s Fury.

The mid-day event is FREE; the evening’s festivities will be $10 for adults; $7 for students; $25 for families; and FREE for those under 12.

Join us for an exciting day at the Boundary Bay. Your participation in this event will help the Merlin Falcon Foundation to grow and further the understanding of the Merlin, a sleek and dashing member of the family of falcons.

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September Ponderable

We have no right to expect birds to tell one human from another, so long as we, with all our boasted intelligence, cannot tell one crow or magpie from another.

Oliver Thorne Miller
A Bird-Lover in the West

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Bellingham Traverse 2004

by Debbie Craig
NCAS Secretary/B’ham Traverser

Hello Auduboners. We hope you’ve enjoyed the summer as much as we have. Last year, you might remember, Andrew Craig (fearless NCAS field trip leader) and I (past president/ current secretary) physically challenged ourselves in an effort to raise funds for NCAS by participating in the Bellingham Traverse. The Traverse is a locally-brewed multi-sport race which encourages people to get in shape, raise money for local non-profit conservation groups and, most importantly, have fun. The six legs of the race are designed to loosely follow the migration route of salmon in an effort to raise awareness to the perils these fish might face.

Last year, Andrew and I successfully completed the race, raising close to our goal of $500 for the chapter. This year, we will increase the size of our team to torture...I mean include...more of the board members. Again, our goal is to raise $500 for the chapter, and we just cannot do it without your help. If you can support the NCAS team with a donation, please contact us at 671-8427, or you can even send us an e-mail at dnacraig@fidalgo.net. You may also simply send a check made out to NCAS &#; please write “Traverse” in the memo field &#; to the chapter at PO Box 5805, Bellingham, WA 98227.

Race day this year is Saturday, September 18. In addition to the race, which begins and ends near the Boundary Bay Brewery, you will find other dedicated NCAS volunteers at the NCAS information table as part of the Eco-Expo on Railroad Avenue from 10 AM to 4 PM. The Eco-Expo is a place where you can learn more about the many devoted local and regional conservation groups.

So, come on down to Railroad Avenue on Saturday, September 18 to cheer on the NCAS team and check out some of the great non-profits who are working hard to maintain the quality of life we all love in Whatcom County. Don’t forget to send in your pledge today and thanks so much for your support.

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Passport to Birding

A Focus on Local Birds
Thursday, September 23, 7-9 PM
Lincoln Theater, Mt. Vernon

Join us for an informative evening to learn about both migratory and native birds of Skagit and Whatcom Counties!

We’ll be screening a birding documentary created by Joe Meche, and learning from local conservation groups about everything from upcoming birding field trips, counts, and restoration projects. Admission is “pay what you can.”

On display in the gallery space will be work by Thais Armstrong depicting birds from Skagit and Whatcom Counties and around the world; and still photographs of birds by Joe Meche.

For more information, contact Britta Eschete at People for Puget Sound at 360-336-1931 or the Lincoln Theater at 360-336-8955.

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Spotted Owl Update

by Tim Cullinan
Science and Bird Conservation Director
Audubon Washington

The federal agencies have opened a website with the latest information from the ongoing demographic analysis of Spotted Owls in the Northwest. The primary objectives of the analysis were to estimate the number-of-young-produced per female, apparent survival, and annual rate of population change, and to determine if there were any trends in the population from 1985 to 2003.

Fourteen separate studies were analyzed, and the news doesn’t look good. Among the preliminary findings:
•Survival rates are declining on five study areas and stable on the remaining nine areas.
•Populations are declining on nine of 13 study areas and are stationary on four areas. One study did not have sufficient data to analyze population trends. The average decline across all study areas was 4.1 percent per year.
•For the subset of the eight areas under the federal monitoring program, number-of-young-produced per female rates are declining on four areas, survival is declining on three areas, and five of the eight areas show evidence of a declining population. The average decline for the monitoring program study area is 2.5 percent per year.
•Declines in population were found across the range of the Northern Spotted Owl. The highest decline is in Washington. Overall in Oregon and California, the decline was at a lower rate. Some study areas in Oregon and California are stable.
•In Washington, the number-of-young-produced per female declined on one of four study areas, and survival and rate of population change declined on all four study areas. The number-of-young-produced per female was highest for the mixed-conifer region of Washington. Populations on the demographic areas under study have declined 40-50 percent over the last decade.

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Swan Survey 2004

by Tom Pratum
NCAS Swan Survey Coordinator

For the past three years, our chapter has been involved in the effort to find the source of lead that is poisoning the Trumpeter and Tundra Swans that winter in our area. These efforts have involved helping to perform twice-weekly overall population surveys of swans in Whatcom County, and have been documented on our website at http://www.northcascadesaudu-bon.org/php/index.php?chapter,projects,swansurvey.

This year we have again been called upon to help in this effort. We will be conducting roadside surveys of wintering swans in Whatcom County from the start of November through January. If you would like to be involved in the swan survey effort this year, or have an interest in helping to solve this tragic problem, please contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org.

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Birch Point and Point Whitehorn Preserved

by Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

On July 27, the Whatcom County Council voted to remove areas of Birch Point and Point Whitehorn from the Birch Bay Urban Growth Area (UGA) as part of their consideration of the Birch Bay Community Plan. Removal from the UGA ensures that these areas will be developed at densities far lower than the four homes per acre, as specified in the UGA zoning. This was the culmination of a long effort of several citizen and environmental groups to remove these areas from high-density development in order to protect sensitive shoreline and nearshore habitat areas important to migrating and wintering birds.

Our chapter was joined in these efforts by 1000 Friends of Washington, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Pro-Whatcom, Neighbors for Birch Point, and Partnership for Responsible Development. These organizations, along with many individual citizens, lobbied the council for these environmental protections.

We extend our thanks to council members Caskey-Schreiber, Roy, Fleetwood, and McShane &#; all of whom voted to remove both points from the UGA. We also thank councilmember Brenner for her vote to remove the Point Whitehorn area.

The Birch Bay Community Plan is part of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan update and will be followed by important updates to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), due in December 2004, and the Shoreline Master Program (SMP), due in December 2005. If you have information and/or concerns regarding any of these issues, please contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org.

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Conservation Thoughts

In Japan, it is said that when traveling artisans see an eagle, they take out their sketching tablets and record its beautiful shape and attitudes. The barbarians of this part of the world try to shoot it, a fate they have often meted out to every large or unusual bird they came across, even if it were of no value to them, and they left it to rot where it fell. Fortunately, times are changing and the people are gradually awakening to the idea that money value in food and plumage, or even in work done for man, is not the only thing for which birds should be protected. We are also beginning to realize that the interest which finds pleasure in the sport of bird destruction is a very limited and a very selfish one, and that the claims of sportsmen are not paramount to those of the nature student or even the lover of natural beauty.

Charles Wendell Townsend
Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes

To my mind, many “professionals” shoot a score of birds where they ought to shoot but one. The long record of slaughtered birds is sickening...even our most scientific journals print many of these bloody annals. It is true, a reasonable number of specimens must be collected for scientific purposes, but surely no adequate excuse can be given for shooting hundreds of the same species merely to have the honor of saying that an astounding number of specimens were “taken.” If the cause of natural history cannot be promoted without destroying the humane instincts of the naturalist himself, the price is too great; it were better left unpaid. A bird in the bush is worth forty in the hand, especially if the forty are dead; worth more, too, I venture to add, to the cause of science itself.

Leander S. Keyser
In Bird Land

I was more than a bit disturbed while reading the outdoors column in today’s newspaper to find that the “daily bag” of waterfowl hunters can include Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks. For the life of me, I’ve never been able to comprehend the concept of blasting these beautiful birds out of the sky and calling it sport. Am I missing something here?

Joe Meche
The Avalanche
September 2004

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