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January 2005 Issue (vol 36, number 1)
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JANUARY General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, January 25, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Marine Bird Abundance in Northern Puget Sound

John Bower, associate professor at Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College, will present an update on the two-year study that he is conducting on marine bird populations in our local waters. This study was proposed as a follow-up to the Marine Ecosystems Analysis (MESA) and Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP) studies. This study repeats key components of the MESA study of the 1970s. At this point the study has reached the 1.5-year mark and has covered approximately 150 land-based sites and three ferry runs. Preliminary results indicate a 41% decrease in marine birds since the 1970s, including decreases of greater than 20% in 25 of the 35 species most common in the late 1970s. These results signal some concern over northwest Washington marine bird abundance. The results of the study will be used as environmental indicators for specific bodies of water and to suggest critical sites for conservation work. Join us for an enlightening evening that should be of utmost importance to everyone who calls this place home and values the beauty and abundance of the wildlife around us. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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Varied Thrush Economics

by Kelly Cassidy
Pullman, WA

A Varied Thrush has been hanging around the yard for the last week or two, and possibly has been here for at least three weeks. It appears to be a male. I check for him every morning and spend a few minutes watching him if I have time before I go to work. Watching birds in winter always gets me thinking about the physics of winter survival. The Varied Thrush is almost always hanging around a small cluster of trees and tall shrubs. The cluster includes a Ponderosa pine; several junipers; a tall, dense mock orange bush; a dying crabapple; several Chinese elms; and a healthy Macintosh-type apple tree. This last year was a good one for apples. The Macintosh produced a heavy crop and most of its apples are now on the ground. I have branches and other debris in a few places under the trees to create brush piles. The thrush appears to have a regular routine. When I see him, he is usually under the shadows of the trees and shrubs. He pecks away at a selected apple for five or ten minutes; spends a few minutes kicking leaves around, presumably looking for bugs; perhaps pecks at the apple a little longer and then disappears for a few minutes, presumably to digest food. If I wait, he shows up again to eat more apple, kick around a few more leaves, etc. Today, after one of his eating episodes, I saw him sitting motionless on the ground among the fallen leaves, under a low-hanging juniper branch. When he is not moving, he is difficult to see in the shadows among the mix of gray, brown, and orangey leaves and red and yellow apples. Apples seem to be the “bread” in his diet and the bugs the “butter.” He bulks up on apples, searches for a few bugs, and then naps. Then repeats. He conducts all these activities within an area of a few square feet. He forages mostly on the ground, but scurries under the brush piles or flies up into the junipers when something startles him. His cozy little thrush haven has on big drawback - it’s on the Palouse. So far this winter, temperatures have climbed above freezing on most days and lately, they’ve even been above freezing or barely below freezing at night. So, the apples next to the ground, especially those with an insulating blanket of leaves around them, are unfrozen for at least part of the day. Water has an unusually high latent heat of melting (remember that phrase from the high school physics class you napped through?). It takes 80 calories to convert one gram of ice at 0 C (32F) to water at 0C. It takes 1cal/gram to raise the temperature of water one degree Celsius. To raise the temperature of water to thrush body temperature of approximately 40 C thus takes about 40 calories. To raise the temperature of ice at 0 C to thrush body temperature takes 80 calories (to melt the ice) plus 40 calories (to heat the water to body temperature0, or a total of about 120 calories/gram. So, it takes about three times as much energy to warm ice to body temperature as cold water. I got to wondering whether the caloric value of apple tissue would be enough to pay the cost of heating the water in the apple if the apple were frozen. I didn’t do a real experiment with a real apple and a bomb calorimeter. I did a little lazy web research and a few back-of-the-envelope calculations. According to my brief web search, a typical apple has about 116 grams of water and about 8,100 calories. Note to those gasping in disbelief: The &#;calories’ on a typical human diet chart are really kilo-calories, or calories times 100. Apples are usually listed as having 80 or so &#;calories,’ which means that they have about 8,000 &#;real’ calories. Anyway, that means that for every piece of apple that contains a gram of water, there are about 67 calories. If the apple is very cold, but not yet frozen, the bird will spend about 40 of the calories in the apple warming the apple bite to body temperature. He will still have a net caloric gain. In contrast, if the bird eats a bite of frozen apple, it would take 120 calories to melt the water in the apple and heat it to body temperature. That’s a losing proposition - it would take nearly twice as many calories to process a frozen apple bite as the bird gets from the apple. Now, of course, things aren’t so simple. The sugar in the apple lowers the freezing temperature, so the apple will not freeze until the temperature drops a few degrees below 0 C. Also, as the cells in the apple rupture from freezing and thawing, water leaks out. Dry conditions might also cause sublimation of water from the apple. The apples lying on the ground for a while likely have a higher sugar content and lower water content than my imaginary fresh apple. Still, there has to come a temperature when the caloric economics of eating apples, or any fruit with a substantial amount of frozen water, don’t pencil out for the thrush. On average, the coldest temperatures on the Palouse come during the last week of January and the first week of February. So, my thrush still has six weeks to go before the temperatures turn around and begin rising again. There will be time on the Palouse when the apples on the ground will likely be frozen for days on end or the ground will be covered by too much snow for the thrush to easily clear away. The thrush will have to find enough seeds — which usually have little water and a high fat content — or bugs, or it might try to huddle in the junipers and tough it out on stored fat. Birds can’t store much fat because of the rigid weight restrictions of flight, so my thrush probably can’t live many days without food. His last option is to move down into the warmer canyons or into the warmer part of the basin, where he will face more competition and more predators. What prompts him, I wonder, to pack up and move? Does he leave at the first deep snow? Does he wait until he has suffered several days without much food, at which point he will be in a poor condition to travel? There’s a lot about birds that we don’t know.

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NCAS Winter Field Trips

by Dave Schmalz
Field Trip Chair

It’s time to pile on the layers, pack a hot thermos, and join like-minded enthusiasts during what many consider to be Whatcom County’s finest season for birdwatching. Collectively, thousands upon thousands of waterfowl, seabirds, and raptors winter in our marine waters and adjacent lowlands. NCAS field trips are suitable for all levels of experience and are FREE and open to members and non-members alike. All trips are led by experienced leaders and require registration. Outings emphasize discovery, wonder, education, and fun! For information and/or registration, contact the individual trip leader or NCAS at 671-1537.

Saturday, January 22. Marine Park-Blaine. This is a half-day, mostly walking trip (approximately one mile) viewing a veritable outdoor classroom for waterfowl, seabirds, and shorebirds. Shallow, mid-depth and deep water habitats are often patrolled by Bald Eagles and falcons. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356. Saturday, January 29. Nooksack River Delta. This half-day walking trip tours the bird-rich mouth of the Nooksack River and lower Silver Creek. From overlooks and wooded trails, explore for waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, and wintering songbirds. 9 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427. Saturday, February 5. Semiahmoo Spit. This four-six hour trip will also cover portions of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay. See shorebirds, seabirds, water-fowl, and birds of prey amidst spectacular scenery. 9 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427. Sunday, February 13. Skagit River Flats. Enjoy a full-day trip (half-day option) to the Magic Skagit. Swans, Snow Geese, and possible owls highlight the usual spectacle of waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Jeanie Johnson, 671-8886. Sunday, February 27. Deception Pass State Park. This six-hour trip explores the diverse habitats and the spec-tacular shoreline of Deception Pass State Park. Seabirds, wa-terfowl, eagles, and wintering songbirds highlight this trip. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537. Saturday, March 19. Drayton Harbor. This 4-6 hour trip tours the tidal flats, estuaries, and sandy and rocky shorelines of Drayton Harbor — wintering habitat for dazzling numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds, and seabirds. 9 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427.

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Field Trips X 3

Editor’s note: If you don’t think the NCAS field trips are fun, read on&#;&#;...

Birch Bay/November 7
by Dave Schmalz
NCAS Field Trip Chair

Under thick clouds and occasional sprinkles, our tour began at the southern boundary of Birch Bay State Park, where a dozen Harlequin Ducks were feeding in congregation within 20 feet of the shore. Farther out, a widely-distributed sprinkling of Buffleheads swan and dived for small aquatic animals. As we scanned south toward Point Whitehorn, 60 or so Common Loons were scattered about, many with heads down and eyes submerged (a phenomenon referred to as snorkeling), searching for prey fish before diving in pursuit. All were in winter plumage except for one, which still held significant remnants of the black and white checkered back of summer plumage. Still farther offshore, Double-crested Cormorants flew low across the water, and beyond, several expansive rafts of indeterminate ducks were likely at rest and/or awaiting a change in tidal conditions to feed. A brief listen near the hedgerow bordering the largest marsh east of the bay, yielded Black-capped Chickadees, the tinkling of kinglets, the unmistakable chattering of an invisible Bald Eagle, Song Sparrows, and a Bewick’s Wren. As we moved northward along the shoreline, the density of waterfowl increased significantly. Surf and White-winged Scoters in small groups of 10-15 loafed and fed offshore, interspersed by 4-5 fishing Red-breasted Mergansers. In deeper water, large numbers of Greater Scaup were segregated in tightly-packed, inactive rafts. In a sudden rush, a group of shorebirds took off from the beach and flew low along the sand, calling with a wistful rattle. An element of exciting and somewhat delicious uncertainty accompanied us as we followed up the beach for another look. Aloft again, the striking black and white patterns across the wings, down the back, and across the upper tail signified the Black Turnstone, a winter visitor from its breeding range throughout coastal Alaska. At the far north end of our tour near Birch Bay Village, we noted that the usual mass of dabbling ducks was far offshore — hundreds and hundreds of tiny dots, biding their time between conducive tidal conditions for the necessary depth of water in which to feed. There’s always so much to see and learn on each outing. When the time came for the trip to conclude, ten sets of binoculars were yet trained on our various surroundings, with wonder and appreciation still running high.

Boundary Bay/November 21
by Dave Schmalz
NCAS Field Trip Chair

What luck! A trip to Boundary Bay with no rain! Yes, it was chilly, even raw at times in the wind, but precious dry. Our fullday tour covered portions of the eastern and northern shorelines of the bay and associated uplands. The Crescent Beach area was as full of avian life as I have witnessed in some time. The ambitious shoreline restoration effort, spanning several years, is finally paying off. The mixed sandy and rocky shoreline hosted several flocks of restless Dunlin. Eight Greater Yellowlegs probed the soft sand in the shallow water of a quiet pool. Mallards, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Red-breasted Mergansers fed along the shore while Common Loons, White-winged and Surf Scoters, Bufflehead, and Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes were loafing and diving in deeper water. At Blackie’s Spit, a careful scanning of tightly-flocked dappling ducks resting on the shore revealed a Long-billed Curlew and three Marbled Godwits. What a wonder it is that just a few of these large waders — sometimes accompanied by Whimbrels and Willets — annually spend their winters at this precise location, far to the north of the bulk of their wintering populations, which are found from coastal California south to Baja and beyond. Several Eurasian Wigeons were spotted, and Northern Pintails in great numbers lounged and fed in the small, marshy bays and sloughs. Another dozen Greater Yellowlegs were joined by several Long-billed Dowitchers, exploring and feeding in the shallow slough. From the dike at 72nd Street and along the northern shore of the bay, we searched for Snowy Owls — reported there regularly this winter — as Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks competed for our attention. An American Kestrel was hunting nearby, using several perches from which to dive to the ground for prey. No Snowy Owls appeared, but in our suspension of mild disappointment, an unusually dark Peregrine Falcon flew overhead at very close range. Noteworthy was its almost-casual flight speed and its marked disinterest as it passed over the enormous spread of waterfowl along the shore. For quite some time, we observed large flocks of birds from a great distance, which provided a quite different perspective on numbers and sense of scale. Two to three miles distant, thousands upon thousands of waterfowl were up — portions of the mass flying together with some sense of order — while great numbers flew chaotically throughout the flock. Airborne, too, in the same vicinity, were immense flocks of Dun-lin —now together, now apart — at times balling into a tight mass, and then streaming and stretching out in tremendous length; appearing as a plume of smoke on the horizon. Sometimes, it’s difficult to end a trip, and after six hours in the field, three hearty souls continued on into dusk in search of the elusive Snowy Owls. While not finding them, the trio witnessed Common Snipes — such superb flyers — and Black-bellied Plovers, streaking across the darkening sky.

Reifel Sanctuary/December 4
by Paul Woodcock
NCAS President

On December 4, 10 intrepid Auduboners headed north across the border to the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, BC. It was not an inviting day for any outdoor activity. Temperatures were in the mid-40s and a light rain was falling as we began our journey up I-5. Rain and wind only increased as the day advanced, yet this exceptional group of birders never faltered. The Reifel sanctuary offers closeup viewing of many wintering bird species, particularly the numerous waterfowl. It also features a wood-fired warming hut, which certainly helped to get us through this day. We arrived at 9:15 AM to find steady rain and 5-10 mph winds. These continued as we made our first round of the trails. At noon, we gathered by the fire to dry out. Shared food and camaraderie also helped to warm us. The facility’s ample windows offered great fireside birding. It would have been possible to log 35-40 species without even venturing out into the weather. After lunch, it was back out to search for the birds we had missed in the morning. The wind and rain had slackened to more tolerable levels as we searched the fir trees for owls. Sawwhets winter regularly at Reifel and a Boreal Owl had been seen there during the previous week, but we were unable to find either, despite our efforts. The same held true for Common Redpolls, which had also been reported recently. We did find a total of 59 species for the trip. The highlight was finding 3 Snowy Owls along the southern shore of Westham Island, just before our 3:30 PM departure. Other memorable sightings included 3 Mountain Chickadees; a Northern Shrike: and several thousand Lesser Snow Geese. Good views of Lesser and Greater Scaup provided a lesson in identification, as did an opportunity to examine first-year White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows, side-by-side. I wish to thank my 9 participants for being so independent, capable, and determined. We all had a great time in spite of — or maybe even because of — the hardship caused by the weather. The birding was excellent and I believe that everyone learned something. I know that I did. This trip was certainly a memorable birding experience.

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WA State Ferry CBC

by RB Porter
Compiler

The morning was not unlike any of the mornings of the previous two weeks. This morning, though, would be the start of the Christmas Bird Count season. We were onboard the ferry, Elwha, leaving Anacortes at 7:45 AM. The sun had not yet come up and it would be a day that the cloud-shrouded islands of the San Juan Archipelago would have a tough time greeting the sun. There were six hearty souls willing to brave the clouds, fog, and chilly temperatures. Our crew consisted of two fairly-capable birders and one who knew ducks, and that would prove helpful throughout the day. There were three who had never birded but were eager to learn. That combination made for a day of great birding and blossoming friendships. Being the fourth year of compiling for me, it served to renew my belief that people of diverse backgrounds can come together in a common purpose and accomplish great things and learn from one another. Our day of birding proved that out. There were only a few remarkable sightings on the day. The first was the return of the Mew Gulls. Their count number had fallen precipitously last year. We were delighted to see nearly 600 on this day. Brandt’s Cormorant numbers were also up considerably from last year. I didn’t think there were going to be many this year, but as we neared the dock in Sidney, we spotted several rafts and their numbers shot up to 331. The most spectacular sighting of the day was 234 Long-tailed Ducks scurrying every which way; all of which were counted at the spit near Sidney, along with the cormorants. The shore near Vancouver Island has always held surprises for the counters in the years that I’ve been the compiler. I offer my thanks to our local Audubon chapter (you) for financially supporting this important effort, and also to the people who braved the cold, wind, and rain on this really tough day of birding — for a really important study.

Pacific Loon 100Mew Gull 572
Common Loon 22Glaucous-wing. Gull 125
Loon species 3Thayer’s Gull 11
Horned Grebe 3gull species 62
Red-necked Grebe 2Common Murre 69
Western Grebe 10Pigeon Guillemot 2
Dbl.-crested Corm. 60Marbled Murrelet 22
Brandt’s Cormorant 331Ancient Murrelet 29
Cormorant Species 11alcid species 16
Great Blue Heron 4Rock Pigeon 39
Mallard 2Belted Kingfisher 2
Long-tailed Duck 234tern species 2
Surf Scoter 18European Starling 82
Bufflehead 41crow species 12
Hooded Merganser 27
Common Merganser 1
Bald Eagle 16

Total individual birds 1,930, Total species 29

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Conservation Column

Two from Tom Pratum
Conservation Chair
Citizens’ Environmental Lobby Day: February 17

Join concerned citizens and activists from Audubon Washington, People for Puget Sound, the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council, 1000 Friends of Washington, and other groups lobbying our legislators in Olympia to pass environmentally-friendly legislation in the 2005 leg-islative session. This year, our legislative priorities include: • Cleaning up Hood Canal and Puget Sound. • Requiring cars sold in the state to meet California’s clean air standards. • Requiring green building standards in our public buildings. • Eliminating the use of toxic flame retardants. During Lobby Day, you will hear from legislators who are championing our environmental priorities, receive training on how to lobby from top environmental lobbyists, and have a chance to meet face-to-face with our elected officials. Lobby Day this year takes place in Olympia on February 17. It is very likely that transportation from Bellingham will be provided, as it has in the past. We will have more information about this in the next issue of the Avalanche. For more info at this time, contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org or http://www.pugetsound.org/calendar/calendar.php?op=view&id=257.

Whatcom County CAO Workshop

As we have mentioned in the past two issues of the Avalanche, the Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) is nearing completion. While few details of the draft ordinance are available as of this writing, a workshop for environmental activists is planned for Saturday, February 5, in Bellingham. This workshop will help to wade through and analyze the ordinance and its potential effects on our local environment. The exact location and other details of the workshop will be posted on our website when they are available. Please contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org if you have any questions or concerns.

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