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May 2005 Issue (vol 36, number 5)
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MAY General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, May 24, 7:30 PM Kulshan Middle School Auditorium
PROGRAM: Birds in Motion III

Join us for an entertaining evening of what is certain to become as much of a spring tradition as migration, and possibly rival Rocky in the number of sequels. At press time, NCAS’s own Joe Meche is piecing together video clips for Birds in Motion III. The video segments in this program showcase a variety of species in a wide range of locations. Every picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps, but Joe will try to keep it down to a minimum. Joe has been watching birds for more than 55 years (!) and capturing their beauty on film and video tape for over 20 years. Joe is a member of the Board of Directors of NCAS and also serves the chapter as Birding Programs Coordinator and Editor of the Avalanche. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Brant Foundation and will be more than happy to discuss the Pacific Black Brant video project that’s in its early stages of development. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

To get to Kulshan Middle School, drive east on Lakeway Drive and turn right at the light on Kenoyer Drive. The school is up the hill from Lakeway at 1250 Kenoyer Drive. From the parking lot, follow the stairs up to the auditorium.

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From the President

Membership Changes Coming

The North Cascades Audubon Society (NCAS), like all Audubon chapters, has traditionally been dependent on a share of your membership funds passed down to us by the National Audubon Society (NAS). When you joined NAS, you became a local chapter member and you were correct in assuming that money you sent to NAS also funded activities on the local level. Over a year ago, NAS informed its chapters that financial support from NAS to their local affiliates would be cut back and eventually eliminated. In the future, NCAS and all other chapters would need to fund their own activities.

A little budget information might be helpful to illustrate the problems this creates. Last year, NCAS spent nearly $9,000. With the cutback of national funding, we ran a $3,000 deficit, which we were able to cover from savings. Our projected budget for 2005 cut that deficit in half, but not without limiting our activities. The chapter’s largest expenditure is $4,000 for this newsletter, which is mailed to all NAS members in Whatcom County. It is our vital link with you and the community. Our next biggest expenditure in 2004 was approximately $1,600 for Audubon Adventures, an environmental education curriculum we provide to public school classrooms. This money comes from your donations for that purpose and is simply passed through our budget. Our third largest, annual expense was $1,200 for liability insurance, an increasingly costly necessity for an organization that provides programs and field trips.

Faced with the reality of the loss of funds from NAS, we have been putting more effort into fund raising, but have not been able to make up the thousands of dollars of member support that we are losing. Following the lead of most other Audubon chapters, our board has decided to ask all our members to join the local chapter for $20 annually. This will cover the costs of this newsletter, insurance, and other services we provide to members. We have also established a series of membership categories for those who might wish to contribute at a higher level.

All NCAS programs and field trips will continue to be provided to members and the community, free of charge. That is a large part of our mission. The Avalanche will be available to all on our website at http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org. Beginning in the fall, the newsletter will be mailed only to those who are chapter members. Members who wish to access the newsletter online and not receive the hard-copy version should let us know and we will begin to conserve resources.

You do not need to be a member of NAS to be a member of NCAS. That being said, I hope that you will continue to support National Audubon. I first became an Audubon member about 50 years ago when it was the premiere birdwatching organization in the country. The National Audubon Society is the reason many of us are involved and why this Audubon chapter exists. National Audubon is on a journey back to its roots, concentrating on education and habitat preservation, sanctuaries and nature centers. It is still providing its chapters with clerical, legal, and educational support and money in the form of grants for specific purposes in the areas of conservation and education.

Our sincere hope is that those of you are NAS members believe that the work our chapter does in this community will warrant your support. Thanks to all for your support in the past and for sticking with us through this difficult change. As we all are experiencing, some changes cannot be stopped, but by working together, we can attempt to make those changes happen in a positive manner.

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Birdathon 2005

We’re really down to it now! May is upon us and it’s time for the major fundraiser for NCAS, the annual Birdathon! I tend to think of the Birdathon as more as a FUNraiser, because it’s a great opportunity not only to raise $$ for the chapter but also to spend a day searching for birds. You don’t have to be an expert to have fun and anyone can participate. You can participate as a solo act or you can put together a team.

The key component of this fundraiser is to collect pledges from family, friends, coworkers, or even people on the street to support your efforts. Pledges can be made in the form of a flat rate or a fixed amount per species. However you work out the finer details is OK. The bottom line is to raise funds to support chapter projects and help defray the operating costs needed to run the chapter.

You can choose any 24-hour period during the month of May to participate. That’s from May 1 to May 31. The NCAS Birdathon record to aim for is 117 species, and you can bet that the record-setting team will be out there again this year. If you’d like to participate or need more information, contact the Birdathon coordinator, Joe Meche, at 738-0641, or by e-mail at joemeche@aol.com.

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If ever you wanted to be part of a dynamic team and participate in the NCAS efforts in the community, we are still in need of a new Membership Chair.

The primary responsibilities of the Membership Chair require monthly updating of the chapter membership in coordination with National Audubon and preparation of labels for newsletter mailing. The position requires 2-3 hours of time each month.

The Membership Chair is also eligible to be voting member of the NCAS Board of Directors.

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The Language of Birds

European literature gives the impression that either the lark or the nightingale was the principal singing bird. So, from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: “Hark! Hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings,” or from Romeo and Juliet:

It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc’d the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.

In North America, some would argue, the songs of the Hermit Thrush or the Wood Thrush are superior to those of these Old World birds. Apart from what we hear as inspiringly musical, of course, lies a wide range of vocalization, including sounds that vary from the high, rasping scream of a Red-tailed Hawk hovering in the air to the sharp-edged kip of a Sanderling hurrying along the tide line. Bird voices can sound like a flute or, as with a bittern, a pile-driver in a swamp. The Bell Bird at the edge of a clearing in the rainforest clangs like a metal pipe hit with a hammer. Singing during courtship or territorial displays represents an intensification of feeling. A few species, like the famous skylark, engage in flight singing, performed as they rise high in the air above the ground.

Just as there are many distinct species, there are many different calls that birds make. Sometimes their calls signal new sources of food; sometimes they warn of outside aggression; or, they may relate to courtship behavior or simply reflect “family talk” at the nest.

The voices of the gulls cry out above the wind, conveying their thousands of years of association with the shores of the globe. The song of the waterthrush complements the streams and waterfalls it inhabits. The flute-like notes of the Hermit Thrush roll down the aisles formed by forest trees. The intonations and echoes of bird calls vary according to the terrain they fly through. They reflect the subtle interactions of the worlds they inhabit. The Earth speaks through the birds not with the rigidity and literalism through which we are inclined to judge them, but out of its endless fund of spontaneous expression.

In order to distinguish human speech from the calls of birds, we refer to their “vocalizing,” and their “communication.” But what are they communicating? Messages, for one thing, expressing basic needs and intentions. Birds are emotional creatures, and so they signal sudden feelings of alarm or aggression. In what we hear as a kind of abbreviated dialogue, their calls indicate inner pressures and necessities which follow out of their lives. Completely engaged in the business of living, birds do not and cannot spend time on consciously thinking about the alternatives to what they do.

John D. Hay
The Great House of Birds

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One More NCAS Spring Field Trip

Saturday, May 14. Hovander Park, Tennant Lake, and Nooksack River Dike. This strenuous six-mile hike will travel through a diversity of habitat and scenic wonderland in search of early neotropical migrants that have arrived for the breeding season. You will explore open meadows, wetlands, and forests to observe warblers, sparrows, wrens, woodpeckers, and birds of prey. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

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Procession of the Species

Flocks of birds, schools of salmon, butterflies, frogs, trees, flowers, and fungi will soon be making their way through the streets of Bellingham in the 2nd Annual Procession of the Species. This celebration of art and nature is the end result of weeks of preparation. Beginning now, school outreach programs are available to work with teachers and classes to learn about natural history.

In mid-March, the Community Arts Studio will open to help people create their costumes from donated recycled materials. A mask-making booth at the Bellingham Farmers Market will run through May. North Cascades Institute, whose mission is to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education, is coordinating this year’s event. Other sponsors include the City of Bellingham, Port of Bellingham, the Power of Hope, and Allied Arts Education Project.

An event of this size takes many volunteers. Help is needed at the Community Arts Studio, Farmers Market booth, and the day of the procession. To find out how to volunteer or for more info about the event, call the hotline at 738-7308, or visit the North Cascades Institute website at www.ncascades.org.

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NCAS Summer Solstice Picnic

Tuesday, June 21, 6-8 PM

In an effort to keep the fires burning into the summer hiatus, NCAS is offering chapter members an opportunity to get together for an evening in Fairhaven Park to celebrate the summer solstice.

Details are sketchy at press time, but feel free to contact Paul Woodcock for more information. You can contact Paul by telephone at 380-3356 or you can e-mail him at paulwoodcock@earthlink.net.

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The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Lives!!

I grew up in south Louisiana, and my hometown sits on the transition zone that separates the state’s southwestern prairies from the bottomland hardwood forests of the greater Mississippi floodway. I spent a lot of time paddling and poling the cypresslined bayous and innumerable waterways that were my backyard. While I always enjoyed the birds that I observed on my rambles, I also knew the stories about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and just knew that one day, an Ivory-bill would find me.

I have always believed in my heart that the Ivory-bill was not extinct, but merely in hiding. Parts of Louisiana contain some of the most impenetrable, unexplored wilderness in America. My own theory has always been that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker developed a noted dislike/distrust of humans and simply decided to “disappear.” I think of this whenever I visit my home state and know that there are still places where this bird could exist in its own peaceful place.

So, with this brief bit of personal history behind us, I've received some exciting news via the modern-day marvel of the Internet. As I sat here finishing this latest newsletter, I picked up a link to a sighting of an Ivory-bill in northeastern Arkansas. As of this writing, there is to be a formal announcement/press conference in Washington tomorrow morning (April 28) by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, along with officials of the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The extensive bottomland forests along the Mississippi River still have the potential to shelter Ivory-bills and I for one, would go just a little bit nuts if this story pans out. Apparently, the observer, Mary Scott, knew that immediate posting of this sighting would lead to a veritable stampede of listers, so she has worked for two years to keep the news quiet until proper precautions were taken to ensure the birds’ privacy. Go to www.birdingamerica.com to read her story. It’s too late for an April Fool’s joke, so I will wait to see if my lifelong dream has become a reality.

Now, if the listers can just cool their jets, sit back, and not trample Arkansas..!

This story was first reported by the Cox News Service at 7:15 PM, on April 27.

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Birding Festivals and other stuff!

10th Annual Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival
May 6-8

Celebrate the spring migration of shorebirds on the bird-rich beaches and estuaries of Grays Harbor County. Witness one of nature’s true spectacles and take part in a variety of events and activities, including field trips, lectures, exhibits, vendors, authors, a run/walk, and auction. The Saturday night banquet features Dr. Dennis Paulson, author of the recently published, Shorebirds of North America.

For more info, call 800-303-8498, or visit the festival web-site at http://www.shorebirdfestival.com.

Leavenworth Spring BirdFest May 6-8

North Central Washington Audubon hosts the Third Annual Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest on May 6-8. The area features spectacular habitats, ranging from snow-capped mountains to sunny Ponderosa pine forests. Search for Calliope Humming-birds, White-headed Woodpeckers, Harlequin Ducks, Ospreys, Western Tanagers, and a variety of warblers.

Even though birding is at the heart of the festival weekend, activities will also include seminars on geology, wildflowers, and conservation. Guided trips range from leisurely strolls to active hikes, and most events are FREE.

For details and information packets, visit the festival website at http://www.leavenworthspringbirdfest.org.

Get Intimate With the Shrub-Steppe! May 7

The Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) and the Yakima Environmental Learning Foundation (Y-ELF) are pleased to be cosponsoring this year’s Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe! Event on May 7. This annual celebration of arid ecosystems offers educational activities and field trips for all ages.

Activities include bird watching, photography, geology, beavers, homesteads, prehistory, and native plants. One of the most popular attractions has been the snake-sneaking field trip in which a Central Washington University professor leads a trip into Umtanum Canyon to find rattlesnakes and other native reptiles.

Children’s activities will include storytelling and educational booths. A full schedule of activities and events can be found online at http://www.KittitasEE.net. The event is FREE and open to everyone.

Puget Sound Bird Fest May 14

Get out and enjoy International Migratory Bird Day at the first Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds. There will be guided walks and bird-viewing stations, presentations and workshops, exhibits and activities for adults and for kids.

Search for birds in the waterfront parks and in the Edmonds Marsh, and enjoy discounts and a reception in downtown restaurants and shops. Admission to the festival is FREE and everyone is welcome.

For more information go to http://www.ci.edmonds.wa.us and click on the “Events” link.

Kettle Valley Songbird Festival May 20-22

Travel to Republic, in the remote, northeastern corner of Washington state for the 3-day Kettle Valley Songbird Festival. Activities and events, as well as more than 127 species of birds await you. Highlight species from last year include Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black Swift, Black Tern, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. The keynote speaker will be Andy Stepniewski, author of Birding in the Okanogan Highlands.

Registration opens at 5 PM on Friday, May 20, at the Republic Elementary School’s Multi-Purpose Room. For more information or to register for guided tours in the area, call 509-775-0441 or e-mail loosebluemoose@hotmail.com.

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Birds of Washington

Make room on those bookshelves because there’s a new book in town. The latest volume of interest to birders in Washington state, Birds of Washington, is not a field guide, but a veritable tome filled with comprehensive species accounts, including population status and distribution, habitat preferences, seasonal activities, changes in occurrence or abundance, and management and conservation issues. This first complete reference work on Washington’s birds in 50 years includes individual accounts of the 483 species recorded in the state. This volume was authored by a team of nearly 50 Washington ornithologists and edited by Terry Wahl, Bill Tweit, and Steve Mlodinow.

The individual species accounts draw on a wide range of sources, including scientific journals, wildlife agency reports, field observations, and surveys such as the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Surveys. Notable is the relation of changes in avian populations to the effects of human population, habitat modification, and natural events. Threats to avian populations, such as forest practices, farming, fishing, irrigation, and waste management are also identified.

Birds of Washington is an indispensable source of information on avian life in the state, and it will appeal to a broad audience of birdwatchers, biologists, conservationists, and general wildlife enthusiasts. This book is published by the Oregon State University Press, of Corvallis, Oregon and retails for $65 at your local bookseller. Village Books in Fairhaven is taking special orders for the book at this time.

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Volunteer Opportunity

Todd Smith, of Washington State Parks, is arranging a beach docent program on Midway Beach, near Grayland, for July 1-4. If you take part and you donate at least one 4-hour shift, day or evening, you can camp for free. The emphasis is entirely educational, NOT enforcement.Your duties will be to walk the beach and talk with visitors, telling them of the presence of the nesting Snowy Plovers and pointing out the areas to avoid. A brief training session will be provided.

If you want to sign up or need more info, please contact Todd by telephone and leave a message at 360-267-4301 or by e-mail at grayland.beach@parks.wa.gov.

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Washington’s State Bird

The American Goldfinch

Take a flash of golden sunshine, offset against a black-and-white background, sprinkle liberally with music of the merriest sort imaginable, and you have the male (American) goldfinch in the spring and summer. The gold covers all except his cap, which is black, and his wings and tail, which are a mixture of black and white. The female’s garb is much more subdued, for she lacks the black cap and the bright golden body. In the winter he is colored much like his mate. Their bills, being short and conical, are clearly built for seed eating, although they do feed partly on insects in the summer. Goldfinches are about five inches in length, somewhat smaller than most sparrows.

They are known in some places as “wild canaries.” They may be easily distinguished from other birds by their notes and calls. Perhaps the most noticeable call is the one they make with their roller-coaster flight. It sounds something like “Per-chick-oree” or “Just look at me,” and it is generally delivered starting about at the bottom of one of the swings in his roller-coaster flight and ending roughly at the top of that swing, almost as if he were lifting himself toward heaven with his song. To further gladden his surroundings, he often lands near the top of a tree and pours forth a long canary-like statement about how the world is really a very good place in which to live. He also has a short and sweet call note, sounding like “zwee-zee,” rising in tone at the end. While some of the love-liest bird songs are thoughtful and even sad, like those of the hermit thrush and the white-throated sparrow, the goldfinch is L’Allegro himself.

It is hard to know just what to say about the migratory behavior of the goldfinch. Certainly he is more in evidence in spring and summer, partly because at these times the male dons his brightest colors and he is singing more. He is, however, frequently seen here during the winter, often at bird feeders.

The nesting habits of the goldfinches are rather unusual, in that they nest somewhat later than other birds. This may be because they depend so much on thistledown in construction of their nests, and thistles do not mature until July or August, well after most other birds have had at least their first brood of the season.

Richard Wood
Wood Notes

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A Tidbit From the Editor

As I rapidly approach ten years in the saddle as editor of this newsletter, I feel compelled, once again, to remind you the readers that this is YOUR newsletter. It is stated on the address page that “The editor welcomes articles, black and white artwork and photographs, and letters.” With this reminder thoroughly lodged in your brain, I encourage you all to take part in the newsletter and even become quasifamous in your own time. I know there are people out there who might have something to offer and these pages will swing wide to welcome your efforts with your own nifty byline.

Of course, whatever you submit will come under the usual close scrutiny that applies to everything that’s presented here. The subject matter is limited only by your own imagination and some of the things to consider are anything to do with the common threads that bind us all. Where do you like to go to watch birds? Do you have a favorite bird or group of birds? Do you have any funny stories relating to wildlife? Do you have an idea for a new column for the Avalanche?

Another summer is ahead of us and you’ll have plenty time to think it over and prepare for your debut. I’ll look forward to hearing from you by August 20. That’s the deadline for the September issue.

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An Additional Tidbit From the NCAS Board of Directors

The NCAS Board of Directors would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful summer, filled with exciting adventures and time enough to enjoy this place we call home. We live in a very special part of the world and it’s up to all of us to pay close attention to things that are going on around us; not only locally but globally as well. This is not the time to become complacent because, believe it or not, there are forces that run counter to our ideals of conservation and preservation of habitat and the species that depend on them for their very survival. Enjoy life but keep an eye out for the bad guys! Don’t let them get the upper hand.

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