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November/December 2004 Issue (vol 35, number 8)
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NOVEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, November 23, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room

PROGRAM: Christmas Bird Count with Terry Wahl
Past, Present, and Future

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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NCAS Annual Christmas Potluck

Come one, come all...to the annual NCAS Christmas Potluck! We’ll celebrate the season and enjoy an evening of good food and joie de vivre, as well as visual delights in the form of another slide presentation by our own Joe Meche. For a change of pace this year, however, we’d like to invite anyone and everyone to bring their own slides to the potluck and we’ll have a show-and-tell session prior to the main feature.

We will meet in the Fireplace Room of the Fairhaven Public Library, on Monday, December 6. The celebration is planned to run from 6 to 9 PM. Along with your potluck dish or dishes, pack your own silverware and beverage.

If you decide to share some of your slides, try to keep them within the context of wild things and wild places. We’ll have a slide projector so try to have your slides in a Carousel tray, ready to go

We’ll look forward to seeing you there. Ho, Ho, Ho........!

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NCAS on the Road

Two of the Great Lakes
Lake Ann

by Joe Meche
Local Hiker

Great day hikes in the North Cascades are plentiful, to say the least. It goes without saying that certain times of the year are better than others, especially when you consider the weather and/or the annoying, biting insects that might add to your enjoyment. If you put together one of the finest hikes with the perfect time of year, you have an early-October hike to Lake Ann.

Unlike the weather on our September Sojourn to Glacier NP (the Avalanche, October 2004), the best of the Pacific Northwest greeted us on this first in a series of fall hikes. The bluest of blue skies, combined with a veritable palette of fall colors, intensified as we drove into the mountains from Bellingham.

The slight chill of mountain air greeted us at the trailhead parking lot, which was already filled with the vehicles of fellow adventurers. From the parking lot, the trail drops at first, about 800 feet, and meanders into a lovely meadow at the low point of the hike. The lack of bugs, the crisp air, and the whistling of marmots and pikas lends itself well to a peaceful, easy feeling. And then you begin the 900 foot climb up to the lake.

The trail leads across several rockslides and even though the labor can be rigorous, the increasingly spectacular views of Mounts Baker and Shuksan offer pleasant interludes and excuses to snap a photo or ten. Every turn in the trail is breathtaking, in more ways than one. The fall colors of heather and huckleberry are outrageous.

When you reach the saddle above Lake Ann, you’re treated to some of the most spectacular scenery in the North Cascades. It might be noted that the west wall of the Shuksan Arm is very reminiscent of the rugged Dolomites in northern Italy.

A beautiful mountain lake, surrounded by spectacular, precipitous ridges and the hanging glaciers of Mount Shuksan tend to leave you a bit speechless. So, you just sit and enjoy, and even allow yourself to fall into a blissful nap.

Of course, all good naps must end, and then there’s the matter of getting back to the trailhead. We spent a good bit of time in the area around the lake while the sun tracked across the sky and the temperature warmed significantly. Our timing was perfect, however, as we reached the lower meadow and started trekking upward to the trailhead, since the valley was in total shadow and much cooler.

Birds were scarce, except for a few juncos, Gray Jays, ravens and crows, and a lone Red-breasted Sapsucker. But no matter, we hiked to Lake Ann for other reasons. From the Appalachians and the Rockies, to the Sierras and the North Cascades, fall has always been my favorite time of year in the mountains. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear winter coming.

Soap Lake

by Joe Meche
Road Warrior

Another conference means another excuse to take a road trip to eastern Washington, at a time when rare birds are being reported on a regular basis. Maynard and I participated in a 2-day session of the Watchable Wildlife Coalition in Soap Lake and did our usual grind of a drive to get there and back.

On our first stop, Maynard did a bit of cowpunching in Thorp while I observed an impressive number of Red-tailed Hawks riding the thermals in the bright sunshine, which was in contrast to the gray skies that we left on the west side. California Quail were numerous and quite vocal in the fields above the dairy farm and starlings and House Sparrows were as plentiful as you might expect, considering all the open feed bins.

We continued our journey on I-90, crossed the Columbia at Vantage, and immediately turned onto the first of several back roads that would take us to Othello....and beyond. We found one American Kestrel, Common Loons, Common Mergansers, and Horned Grebes above the Wanapum Dam, while more than 50 American White Pelicans roosted on the rocks below the dam with a handful of Double-crested Cormorants.

At the community of Beverly, we turned onto Lower Crab Creek Road and headed east. Numerous stops for LBJs (most of which turned out to be either White-crowned Sparrows or Ruby-crowned Kinglets) were punctuated by the occasional crossing of a Ring-necked Pheasant. Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and kestrels were active along the roadside and in the adjacent fields. This area has a lot of promise for spring birds and was noted as such for future reference.

It should also be noted that we searched diligently for Maynard’s first-ever Burrowing Owl on all the back roads between here and there, to no avail. For some reason, he holds me personally responsible for delivering his first sighting!

The next morning allowed us a little time to bird the south end of Soap Lake, where we were treated to good views of THE rare bird of the week in eastern Washington. Among a small flock of Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Black-bellied Plovers was a lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Impressive numbers of Eared Grebes and Ruddy Ducks covered the lake in places.

Before dark, on the way home and at several spots along the Wenatchee River, we enjoyed viewing numbers of spawning Chinook salmon, as well as Common Mergansers and Dippers. We crested Stevens Pass in the darkness, returning to reality by way of another lame presidential debate. Oh well....life on the road!

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3rd Annual Washington Brant Festival

April 2-3, 2005

by Joe Meche
Board of Directors
Washington Brant Foundation

The Festival Committee of the Washington Brant Foundation has begun organizing for next year’s festival in Blaine. The second festival was more successful than the first and our plan is to make the third more successful that the first two combined.

We have decided to hold the festival closer to the first of April, rather than later in the month, as we have in the past. It seems that there are more birds of many species then, and more birds can almost guarantee more birders and a successful festival.

At this early stage in the process, we are interested in talking with anyone who has any ideas on how we might improve the product or would like to participate in any way.

We took part in a two-day Watchable Wildlife Coalition conference in Soap Lake last month and have come to understand that one key to a festival’s success is to involve children. With that in mind, we would be happy to have a few teachers step forward to lend a hand in the effort or give us ideas on how we might create a kid-friendly atmosphere at the festival.

We’re still trying to get our festival legs under us so we will appreciate your feedback and/or insights. Stay tuned to these pages for updates on the festival. The economic benefits of birdwatching and birding festivals are well documented and it is our hope to bring this point to the fore in our neck of the woods. Jump on the bandwagon and join in our efforts.

Call me at 738-0641 or e-mail me at joemeche@aol.com if you’d like more info or if you want to participate in any way.

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Conservation Page

Editor’s note: The following excerpts were taken from the October 2004 issue of Birder’s World, and are offered as updates on conservation and research.

Whooping Cranes nesting at Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park produced a record 66 chicks this summer. Twenty pairs of adults were raising two birds each, a rare sight in this species.

In an attempt to prevent federal listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act, western governors say their states are already working to protect the grouse. The Western Governors Association issued a 96-page white paper that says 64 local working groups consisting of ranchers, environmentalists, and others are collecting data about the grouse and setting conservation priorities.

The Cozumel Thrasher, not seen since 1995, was found in June on the Mexican island of Cozumel. As many as 10,000 thrashers once lived on the island, but hurricanes in 1988 and 1995 apparently drove the species close to extinction. The rediscovery of a single thrasher makes it the most endangered bird in Mexico.

Nearly 28,000 American White Pelicans abandoned their nests at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota this spring, leaving their eggs and chicks behind and biologists baffled. Chase Lake is the site of the largest pelican breeding colony anywhere. Refuge officials do not know why the birds left or where they went.

Noel Cutright, president of the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, raised more than $37,000 for Wisconsin’s Important Bird Areas program when he conducted 33 Breeding Bird Survey routes from May 30 through July 1. In all, Cutright counted 24,111 birds of 179 species on routes in Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Food....for Thought

by Joe Meche
Caterer

On a recent visit to my favorite periodontal office, I arrived a bit early and went through the usual routine of perusing the plethora of out-of-date magazines that frequently end up in medical waiting rooms everywhere.

One that really caught my eye and gave me pause was an issue of Field and Stream, that venerable publication that I used to read faithfully when I was growing up. My attention became riveted to the ad on the back cover of the magazine. I was so taken aback by the language of the ad that I asked the receptionist to copy it for me. I knew that I had to make note of the ad in the next newsletter.

While I certainly understand the audience that this ad was geared toward, I still found myself stunned by what I read. The ad was for the Columbia Sportswear Company and here is the headline that was printed above the product:

HUNTERS ARE A LOT LIKE BIRDWATCHERS. ONLY AFTER WATCHING FOR AWHILE, WE START SHOOTING.

Below the product photo and a brief description of the item, there was a quote from Columbia’s chairman, Gert Boyle, and it read: “A bird in the hand means dinner’s all taken care of.”

Again, I realize that in this particular periodical, the focus is on hunters and pursuits that involve guns and the end result of their use. I am now in pursuit of an ad by this company in a different kind of magazine to see if they indeed adjust their ads to fit the readership. The language in this ad, however, was mostly offensive and almost absurd, especially to an antigun creature such as yours truly.

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Christmas Bird Count Page

Editor’s note: One look at the hands on the calendar and you know that CBC time is right around the corner. While some of us might venture a little farther from home to participate in counts, NCAS is involved primarily in two local counts.

Bellingham CBC

by Joe Meche
NCAS Birding Programs Coordinator

The Bellingham CBC is one of Washington state’s oldest CBCs. The count first took place in 1967 and was begun by Terry Wahl and Jim Duemmel. Terry has guided many a counter since then and still rules the roost today.

This year’s count will take place on December 19. The traditional post-count potluck will take place at the Wahl residence at 3041 Eldridge Avenue. The potluck usually serves to defrost or dry out the counters, depending on the conditions du jour.

While many of the 25 territories are passed down through generations and/or spoken for early on, the CBC Committee is always looking for new eyes.

If you’re interested in being added to the list of participants, call me at 738-0641 or 739-5383. You can also e-mail me at joemeche@aol.com.

Anacortes to Sidney CBC

by RB Porter

A week ago, I received my October edition of the Avalanche. It reminded me that I am behind in organizing the CBC aboard the Anacortes to Sidney, BC, ferry. Just like the other CBCs sponsored by NCAS, it takes planning and foresight.

This year’s count will take place on Friday, December 17. We usually leave Bellingham around 6 AM and return about 5 PM.

NCAS typically pays the cost of the ferry for the first 8 counters. All you need to do is pay the $5 participation fee. We encourage those who can pay their own way to do so, but it is not mandatory. CBCs are one of the fun activities we use to raise money for the National Audubon Society in our continuing effort to build our body of knowledge of birds locally, nationally, and internationally.

Last year’s count was one of the lowest in recent years. The birds just weren’t there, or we were just too inexperienced. It was my second year organizing this event. Most of the participants were hardy and ready to count. We could use a couple of birders with excellent seabird skills to complement those who are eager and without seabird ID skills.

Please give me a call at 332-6799, or you can e-mail me at rbdemo2@att.net. It’s never too early to begin organizing for the CBC.

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Random CBC Thoughts

In 1970, on the last day of the year, in Park County, Montana, eight observers braved a four-hour blizzard to total 95 miles, on foot, by car, and on horseback, ending that day with 34 species, including 245 Bohemian Waxwings (which must have made it worthwhile).

December 16, 1972, dawned on a 24-inch snow cover in Fairbanks, Alaska. The temperature during the day dropped from 1 to 7° below zero with a northeast wind blowing at 22 to 40 miles per hour. Twenty-seven observers scurried about by car, on foot, and on skis.

Six days later another CBC took place aboard a ferry between Bar Harbor, Maine, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, during which six observers spent six hours in temperatures from 14 to 20° in what is described as a “fairly calm sea with some swell.”

Also in 1972, ten observers in Sackville, New Brunswick, birded in temperatures ranging from 0 to 20° and in crested snow ranging from six to eight inches. A snowmobile was used to maneuver 12 obviously rugged miles. The group totaled out at 34 species but, alas, missed out on a Snowy Owl on count day!

There are, I suppose, a few one-man CBCs. In 1979, I understand there were ten. It has recently been suggested that we eliminate counts not attended by at least eight participants, or some “reasonable” number, on the grounds the territory is not being properly/adequately covered. Having done considerable birding alone, I have great empathy for the loners.

This Christmas season, go out and participate in your local CBC. And in the tradition of Frank Chapman and Clara Weedmark, share a part of your Christmas with the birds.

Chuck Bernstein
The Joy of Birding
Capra Press, 1984

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The Trumpeter Swan Society Special Presentation Nov. 14

from Jerry Swann

The Trumpeter Swan Society is hosting a presentation on why our local swans are dying and how you can help. The public is invited to an informational and interactive benefit to help save Whatcom County’s Trumpeter Swans. These magnificent birds are dying from ingesting lead shot in the fields and wetlands of the area. Over 1,400 swans have died of lead poisoning in Whatcom County in the past five years, despite efforts of wildlife agencies to locate the source.

The society is presenting this event to educate and inspire the community to become more involved in the efforts to help save the swans. Martha Jordan, a biologist with the Trumpeter Swan Society and long-time swan advocate, will give a presentation on the current situation. The society will be launching their Adopt-a- Swan program, a fund-raising effort to support research work and to purchase equipment for volunteer monitors.

Members of the local Audubon chapter will also discuss their roles in helping the swans. There will be time for questions at the end of the program. Volunteers will be able to sign up at this meeting.

Snacks, desserts, and natural beverages will be on hand. Parents, young people, and teachers are encouraged to attend. Great door prizes will be awarded to lucky winners! This event is FREE, but donations will be gladly accepted at the door. Or, better yet, Adopt-a-Swan at the event!

The event will be held at the Garden Street Family Center (basement level), 1231 N. Garden Street, in Bellingham, on Sunday, November 14, from 3-5 PM.

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Important Updates to Critical Areas Ordinance and Shoreline Management Program

by Tom Pratum
Conservation Chair

As part of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan update, updates are in process for the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO - due December 2004) and the Shoreline Master Plan (SMP — due December 2005). Each of these is extremely important to maintaining our quality of life, as well as that of the wildlife with which we share this special place.

The last update to the CAO in the mid-1990s was usurped by the local property rights movement — who created an absurd and laughable document that was tied up in court for years and ultimately thrown out by the Growth Management Hearings Board. The current CAO — which dates from 1997 — is a compromise document that could greatly improve with regard to its protective measures.

Anyone who has been following the recent CAO process in King County is aware that very reasonable restrictions proposed for that area have attracted local as well as national opposition from property rights activists. While the CAO must be based on best available science, opponents to these regulations wish to throw out anything they don’t agree with, and replace it with unsupported, anecdotal claims.

In actual fact, the CAO, as well as the SMP, are intended to protect our property values for future generations against exploitation for short-term financial gain. Protection of wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, wildlife habitat, and shorelines will make this area more valuable as a place to live for ourselves, and for those who follow us into the future.

The CAO is expected to pass out of a citizen advisory committee near the end of this year. From there, it moves on to the planning committee and ultimately to the county council(obviously, the update will not actually be complete by the end of 2004). We will keep you updated on this process and will keep you informed on important public hearings.

If you have information and/or concerns regarding these issues, please contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org.

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