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October 2005 Issue (vol 36, number 7)
      (Previous Issue September 2005) - (Next Issue November/December 2005)



OCTOBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, October 25, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: The Long-billed Hawk Syndrome

Bud Anderson, of the Falcon Research Group, will present a program about a new and growing problem among West Coast hawks. The long-billed syndrome is characterized by an excessive and often grotesque growth of keratin in the beaks of affected birds. First discovered in Red-tails on the Skagit in 1997, there are now 60 records of the long-billed hawks and the list keeps growing. The record now includes 55 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 Rough-legged Hawks, and 1 Ferruginous Hawk. The cause of the syndrome is unknown. It could be an environmental contaminant, a virus, a disease, a fungus, or something new. Results suggest that this is becoming a major problem and could be the most serious threat to our local raptors since DDT. Join us for this informative presentation and consider supporting the Falcon Research Group, a non-profit organization based in Bow, WA, and dedicated to field research, public education, and the conservation of birds of prey. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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NCAS Fall Field Trips

by Dave Schmalz
Field Trip Chair

NCAS field trips are conducted by experienced leaders and are designed for all levels of birdwatching proficiency. All trips are FREE and OPEN to members and non-members alike. Contact the individual trip leaders for information and/or to reserve a spot, especially since the group sizes are limited. You may also call NCAS Field Trip Information at 671-1537.

Saturday, October 29. Beginning Birdwatching Field Trip. Learn about the basics of birdwatching from binoculars and spotting scopes through field guides, identification techniques, and birdwatching etiquette. Then, enjoy 2-3 hours practicing your new skills in a spectacular setting of diverse habitats on Chuckanut Bay. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Sunday, November 6. Reifel Island Refuge, British Columbia. Spend a full day (half-day option) touring a truly world-class birdwatching site winter home for thousands of waterfowl of numerous species. On walking trails, explore a variety of habitats in search of shorebirds, seabirds, Snow Geese, owls, herons, and raptor species. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, November 19. Marine Park, Semiahmoo Bay, Blaine. Enjoy this 4-6 hour, mostly walking tour (approximately one mile total), featuring close-up observation of numerous species of waterfowl, seabirds, and shorebirds. Shallow, mid-depth, and deep-water habitats are often patrolled by Bald Eagles and falcons. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Editors note: Remember to carry proof of citizenship - preferably a passport - when crossing into Canada. Getting in is easy enough, while getting back is another story altogether.

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Meeting the Song Sparrow Lady

by Paul Woodcock

Whenever I get the chance, I like to hunt through bookstores, especially the used or bargain sections, hoping to find something of interest. One day last year while searching the shelves at Village Books I stumbled upon a 1979 edition, in brand-new condition, entitled Research is a Passion With Me. The book is the autobiography of ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice who became known as the Song Sparrow Lady.

I had first heard of Margaret Nice and her studies of Song Sparrows in a book called Birds in the Garden and How to Attract Them, given to me as a Christmas gift in 1959. This was one Christmas book which I actually read and in it the author, Margaret KcKenny, acknowledged Margaret Nice for her outstanding contribution to our knowledge of bird behavior achieved through her detailed observation of one of our most common garden birds. Often in the years that followed I encountered references to her groundbreaking study and publication, Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow, but I had never before encountered anything she had written.

I bought the autobiography and read it within a few days. In it Margaret Nice tells her life story in a very straightforward and honest fashion, yet with a keen sense for the important facts and details that the reader would expect from a dedicated scientist. She communicates her intense curiosity and her need to understand the creatures that share her world without pretension or self-absorption.

Margaret Morse grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, living close to the land, raising chickens and other animals, studying and watching birds. Though she went to Mount Holyoke College intending to study science, she found classroom nature study, especially the dissection of dead specimens, of little interest. She graduated in 1905 with a general degree and an emphasis on foreign languages. In 1909, while studying Bobwhite for a graduate degree, she met and married fellow graduate student, Blaine Nice, and dropped out of school to be a housewife and mother. For most people, this would have marked the end of their scientific career but for Margaret this was just the beginning.

By 1918 Margaret and Blaine Nice had four daughters and Margaret had written her masters thesis on the vocabulary development of her children. For 13 years she produced a paper a year researching the speech and language development of her own and other children. Research subjects were never hard to find, especially when she got back into birding. Listing and studying the ranges and habits of the birds of their new home state of Oklahoma became a family project with Margaret taking the lead. This effort resulted in the publication of Birds of Oklahoma in 1926.

In 1927 the Nice family moved to Columbus, Ohio. The following year Margaret began her unprecedented eight-year study of Song Sparrows on a wooded river bottom near their home. Her innovation was to use colored bands to identify individual birds so she could study their territories, mating behavior, and other interactions. Three books, which resulted from this research, became classics in the field of ornithology and a foundation for the new field of ethology, which is the study of an animals behavior in its natural environment. Her friend and colleague, Konrad Lorenz, a more famous ethologist, contributed the forward to this autobiography.

Margaret Nice authored over 70 publications in her career including four books and many translations of scientific papers published in Europe. She could read and do research for her studies in seven languages. Her experiences read like a history of ornithology in America and beyond in the first half of the twentieth century. Her active membership in eight different ornithological organizations and her translations of foreign research made her a unifying factor in the discipline.

Housewife, mother, and birder, Margaret Morse Nice raised her daughters while helping to found a new discipline and change the course of an existing one. She is considered by many to be the most important woman in the history of ornithology. Margaret lived what could have been an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner because she never stopped studying the world around her and she never stopped communicating what she learned and the joy she found in that learning. She was the epitome of the citizen-scientist and, as such, an example to us all.

I also discovered a personal connection in the book. While I was growing up and getting started as a birder in east-central Wisconsin, Mrs. Nice was living out her later years less than 200 miles away in the Chicago area. She counted among her friends two Wisconsin ornithologists whom I also knew and who influenced me during my formative years. Somehow, after reading Margaret Nices story, I felt like I had met an old friend.

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Attention National Audubon Members:

As we informed you in the September issue of The Avalanche, chapters are no longer receiving sufficient funding from National Audubon to support the cost of providing this newsletter to all National Audubon members. We realize that chapter membership has always been a privilege of National Audubon membership; regrettably, we are forced to follow the lead of many other chapters and change our policy regarding the FREE local membership.

We hope you will continue to support North Cascades Audubon by joining the chapter locally. Your commitment to Audubon is important to us. We will continue to provide you with information regarding local chapter activities through our website and all activities will remain FREE and open to the public. A link to peruse the newsletter electronically is available to you at http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org. The newsletter is published monthly between September and May, including a double issue for November/December. We encourage you to check the website each month. If you are a chapter member who would rather access this newsletter online, please contact us and we will stop mailing the hard copy version. If you are interested in receiving a paper copy of the newsletter, you can join the local chapter for one year at any of the following levels:

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___$20 Kestrel

___$35 Merlin

___$50 Prairie Falcon

___$75 Peregrine Falcon

___$100 Gyrfalcon

Name__________________________________

Address________________________________

City______________State_______Zip________

Email__________________________________

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Audubon Opposes House Extinction Bill

New York, NewYork, September 23, 2005
John Flicker, National Audubon Society President, today issued the following statement regarding the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act:

Today, the House Resources Committee passed the Extinction Bill, proposed by committee chair Richard Pombo, to replace the Endangered Species Act (ESA). For 30 years, the ESA has successfully protected many species, including the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Whooping Crane.

The only test that matters have listed species survived or gone extinct leaves no doubt that the ESA works. Since the act was passed in 1973, only nine of the 1,800 species listed as threatened or endangered have gone extinct.

Endangered species are Americas weakest and most vulnerable wildlife. Through no fault of their own, they cannot survive without help. For 30 years the federal government successfully provided a safety net for them. The Extinction Bill cuts holes in the safety net, and instead, authorizes federal payments to landowners and developers who profit when the safety net is shredded. Our priorities are upside down.

The Extinction Bill does not totally repeal the ESA. Instead, it adds numerous complicated amendments to make it ineffective. One of the more perverse amendments would allow a species to be listed as endangered, but then prohibits the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from protecting the habitat it needs to survive. Another provision prohibits the USFWS from using any scientific information about an endangered species that is learned after a conservation plan is completed. This is like prohibiting a doctor from using any medical information that is learned after the patient is admitted to the hospital.

When government compromises its safety net for the weak and vulnerable, in favor of the rich and powerful, the weak and vulnerable eventually die.

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Volunteers Needed

by Chris Smith
Conservation Committee,Wildlife Chair

Volunteers are needed for a work party at the Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Come join others who enjoy helping wildlife on Saturday, October 22. Volunteers are needed to help install new cages and flights for injured wildlife as well as for other light-duty projects. The work party starts at 9 AM and runs until 4 PM. Come for the whole day or for just part of the day. Lunch is included!

For more information and/or directions, call Christine Smith at 360-201-8184.

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Swan Survey 2005-06 Volunteers Needed

Martha Jordan of Trumpeter Swan Society is seeking volunteers for this years effort to monitor our wintering swan population. The primary goal is to determine where the swans are ingesting the lead shot that is killing so many of these magnificent birds. Since 1999, almost 2,000 swans have died from lead poisoning in Whatcom County and in southern British Columbia.

This latest effort will run continuously from November 1 thru January 31. Participants will be required to use their own vehicles and will be compensated for mileage. You should also have access to sufficient optics to view the birds and the ability to differentiate between Trumpeter and Tundra Swans. A training session will precede the beginning of the project.

If youd like to participate in any way, please contact Martha at swanlady@drizzle.com.

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Whatcom County CAO Update Passes Council

by Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

On September 13, the Whatcom County Council passed (5-2) an updated Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) as part of its ten-year comprehensive plan update. This is a lengthy and complex document, and it is the result of a large amount of work by citizens and technical advisory committees, the Planning Commission, as well as the council itself we very much appreciate all of the hard work that went into it.

Critical areas are those parts of our world that most of us hold near and dear: wildlife habitats, wetlands, shorelines, and other environmentally important areas. Unfortunately, the protection of these areas by the ordinance passed is far from assured.

The strongest protection for critical areas would come from definite, quantitative, prescriptive language in the ordinance. The CAO as passed contains little of that; instead it allows the technical administrator a county employee designated by the director of Planning and Development to determine, in all too many cases, what should and should not be preserved. This might be OK under some political scenarios, but we can all envision others in which it would not be. Such a system is also highly susceptible to staff overload in which county staff might be inclined to approve some projects in order to get them off their desks.

Our chapter tried to get stronger prescriptive language inserted in the CAO in several places, and have other language deleted that watered down the document. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. In the end, we could only hope for passage of an imperfect document that needs much improvement. Still, for that we are grateful.

Next up is the update of the Shoreline Management Program (SMP). This will likely come to a vote in 2006, and we will keep you updated as to its progress.

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The Real Story About Bats

Editors note: The Bellingham Herald recently ran a story about bats that was filled with overtones that might have caused some folks to be afraid to leave their homes. Perhaps this piece will set the record straight.

by Cindy Hansen

Feared and persecuted since the legends of vampires began, bats are one of the most misunderstood yet beneficial animals in the world. How many of you have seen a bat and instantly feared contracting rabies? It is always intelligent to be cautious when dealing with any wild mammal. In Washington State we have been very lucky compared to other states. We dont have rabies in skunks, raccoons, or coyotes. The only rabies in our state so far exists in bats. So it is very wise to be careful when finding a sick bat to contact people who will know how to handle it safely. The reality, however, is that 90 to 95% of sick bats are not rabid. On average, only one person per year dies from bat rabies in the United States. Bee stings are responsible for more human deaths.

On the flip side, bats are extremely helpful in a number of ways. There are about 15 different species of bats in Washington state, all of which are insectivorous. The ones you are most likely to see flying around at dusk or later near a river are Little Brown, Big Brown, or Silverhaired Bats. Little Brown Bats, the smallest of these, are capable of catching up to 1,200 mosquitoes per individual per hour. No citronella candle can match that.

And why use dangerous chemicals that can harm the entire food chain when bats will do the work for you? Big Brown Bats eat cucumber beetles, protecting farmers crops from millions of larvae every summer. Of these two species, only the Big Brown has been known to pass rabies to a human in this country only 3 in U.S. History.

Moving farther south, fruit and nectar eating bats in the tropics are crucial to the survival of the rainforests by dispersing pollen. Three hundred plant species rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. Ninety-five percent of forest regrowth on cleared land in the tropics can be attributed to bats dropping seeds. Think about some of your favorite fruits and nuts wild varieties of bananas, avocados, dates, figs, peaches, mangos, and cashews all rely on bats for their survival. If that doesnt convince you that bats are good to have around, think about this: without bats there would be no tequila. Agave plants, from which tequila is produced, would drop seed production to 1/3000th of normal without bats.

So, now that we know that bats are not actually evil monsters, lets learn a few interesting facts about our friends, the only true flying mammal.

Bats are not rodents, as many people believe. In fact they are more closely related to us than they are to rats and mice.

Bats are not blind. Some of them possess excellent eyesight.

The echolocation abilities of bats is so evolved that in total darkness they can detect an object as fine as a human hair, dispelling the myth that they frequently get tangled up in peoples hair.

Bats range widely in size. The Bumblebee bat of Thailand, the worlds smallest mammal, weighs less than a penny while the Giant Flying Foxes of Indonesia have a wingspan of almost 6 feet.

Female bats give birth to a hairless, helpless infant that weighs 1/3 their weight. This would be equivalent to a human mother giving birth to a 40 pound baby.

Even in a colony of thousands of bats, moms and babies recognize each other by smell and by distinct calls.

For their size, bats are the longest-lived of all mammals. The little brown bat can live longer than 32 years. Bats have backward knees. They are rotated around 180 degrees to assist with flying and hanging. They have special tendons that hold their toes in place, so there is no energy expended when hanging upside down. When they want to take off to fly, all they have to do is let go of their roost, and away they go.

Knowing now how fascinating, helpful and downright cute bats are, it might be disturbing to you to know that they are in danger. Half of the bat species in the United States are in severe decline or listed as endangered. They could really use a few allies out there to spread the word and lend a helping hand or two. To find out more about bats, or if you would like to build a bat box on your property to attract these amazing insectivores, visit the Bat Conservation International website at www.batcon.org.

If you happen to see a bat that needs help, contact the Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. We have trained volunteers who are happy to assist.

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From the Editor

Im writing this on Sunday morning, just before adding the finishing touches to another issue of the Avalanche. Im often pressed for the need to juggle the little copy I receive with all the open space that I see before me; but I always enjoy the challenge. Often, however, something comes in after the deadline that has to be included, and then comes more juggling and squeezing and utilizing whatever other tricks I can with todays available technology. The latest message from Audubon President John Flicker is a perfect example (see page 4).

Another illustration of this process is the documentary that Cindy and I watched Friday evening. Since Im writing this on Sunday morning, I feel to some extent like the stereotypical priest/preacher/rabbi/minister/pastor (choose one) presenting a homily to the previously converted; however, here goes:

The human race with Americans leading the pack is depleting natural resources at a frightening pace and rarely does a film come along that puts todays state of resource consumption in such a coherent and well expressed perspective.

The End of Suburbia Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream chronicles the time in America after World War II, and especially the birth of suburbia and whats come to be known as the American way of life. Presented here are the harsh realities of the consumption-oriented society that weve become and the even harsher consequences that await future generations as our inevitable fate approaches.

Paramount in this documentary is not only what weve done but also what we havent done to head off the looming crisis. The current administration is not helping to alleviate any of the problems that we face as a global community. There has never been a greater sense of apathy and denial as there is now in Washington, D.C. That feeling also permeates the populace to a great degree, since many feel a sense of entitlement with no regard for common sense. Contrary to what some pundits have offered to the gullible among us, the planet Earth is not continually producing fossil fuels and we will run out. Its not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Even though it sends a depressing message, everyone needs to see this documentary and pass it along to as many friends/foes as you can. To this end, I will provide copies to all who request one. The producers of this film promote copying and sharing to get the word out to more and more people, so theres no need to be concerned about copyright infringements and such. Please contact me by phone at 739-5383 or by e-mail at joemeche@aol.com if youd like a copy. Ill ask only that you reimburse me for the cost of the tape. Theres no profit motive here, and its important to spread the word. After you see this film, take a long look inside. We all live in glass houses.

You might also visit the website http://www.endofsuburbia.com for a detailed preview and a plethora of valuable links.

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While Were At It

Editors note: Just before he died in 1989, Edward Abbey did an interview with his old friend, Jack Loeffler. The following is an excerpt from that interview that fits well into the general theme of the previous article.

JACK LOEFFLER: Could you define the way you regard reality in this latter part of the twentieth century, the way the United States of America is functioning? EDWARD ABBEY: I think the human race has become a plague upon this Earth. There are far too many of us making too many demands on one defenseless little planet. Human beings have as much right to be here as any other animal, but we have abused that right by allowing our numbers to grow so great and our appetites to become so gross that we are plundering the Earth and destroying most other forms of life, threatening our own survival by greed and stupidity and this insane mania for quantitative growth, for perpetual expansion, the desire for domination over nature and our fellow humans.

The wilderness is vanishing. Next to go will be the last primitive tribes, the traditional cultures that still survive in places like the Far North and the African and South American tropics. And if the whole planet becomes industrialized, technologized, and urbanized, that would be almost the worst disaster that can befall the planet and human beings. I think it would lead to the ultimate techno-tyranny that some of our better science fiction writers have prophesied.

I think by virtue of reason, common sense, the evidence of our five good bodily senses, and daily experience, we can imagine a better way to live, with fairly simple solutions. Not easy but simple. Beginning here in America, we should set the example. We have set the example for pillaging the planet and we should set the example for preserving life, including human life. Reduce the human population to a reasonable number, a self-sustaining number for the United States something like 100 million, or even 50 million should be plenty. And then, simplify our needs and demands so that were not preying to excess on other forms of life plant and animal life by developing new attitudes, a natural reverence for all forms of life.

Our European-American-Japanese industrial culture is now about 200 years old, and its supporting huge populations, but it seems doubtful that it can survive for more than another century or two unless theres a drastic change in our way of life.


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