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November/December 2005 Issue (vol 36, number 8)
      (Previous Issue October 2005) - (Next Issue January 2006)

NOVEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, November 22, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Protecting Puget Sound Shorelines

Why protect shorelines? Come and join in the discussion of why and when local governments are updating their shoreline programs, what is involved, and who is involved in the update; key issues of concern and the next steps in the process. Facilitating the discussion will be Britta Eschete, Outreach Coordinator for People for Puget Sound (Mt. Vernon office), and Cecily Smith, an intern in the Mt. Vernon office. People for Puget Sound is a non-profit citizens’ group working to protect and restore the health of Puget Sound and the Northwest straits through education and action. Their vision is a clean and healthy sound, teeming with fish and wildlife, and cared for by people who live here. Puget Sound is home to thousands of species of plants and animals. Its scenic beauty is unparalleled and its health is key to our region’s vitality. But Puget Sound is in trouble. Many of its plants and animals are struggling to survive, and some face possible extinction due to pollution, the loss of habitat, and the ever-present threat of oil spills.

As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public. Come early to get a good seat and stay late to meet your chapter officers and fellow chapter members.

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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.

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.

Editor’s 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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Making a Difference

by Paul Woodcock

This personal experience of extinction is excerpted from the first chapter of Strictly for the Chickens, the autobiography of Dr. Frances Hamerstrom.

I vividly remember the first time in my life when my courage failed me: May 12, 1916. The wind blew hot and dry. It roared through the treetops near the tennis courts at West Chop on Martha ’s Vineyard Island.

It was the day of the junior tennis tournaments. Older children were playing on one court and the little ones, in-cluding me, were playing on the other. The roaring wind was my friend; it threw the boy I was playing against off his game and I was winning.

The wind roared strong and dry that day. A few miles away a fire raged over some twenty square miles of the last stronghold of the heath hen, the prairie chicken of the East. The wind rose to gale proportions. Several hundred men and women, and I suppose even children, rallied to fight the fire. According to the Vineyard Gazette, May 18, 1916, “The buildings on the state heath hen reservation were saved by desperate work of the fire fighters. Some of the heath hens were burned—perhaps a tenth of the number of old birds—and all the eggs for this year’s crop of young were destroyed.” There were roughly 2,000 heath hens in 1916 and the next year the population was down to about 175. It never recovered. In 1928 only three birds were reported and in 1932 the heath hen was declared extinct. I remember the wind roaring over the tennis courts. And I remember a truck that veered off the road and drove right across the lawn to where we were. It was so sudden and peculiar that we all gathered around and the driver, an old fisherman shouted, “Fire! The Great Plain’s afire!” He pointed at the empty back of the truck, “We need help.”

We—the city kids—stood perfectly still, gathered around the truck. I looked at the big boys, but nobody said a word. I tried to speak—to say I’d help—but no words came. And when the truck drove away empty, I was ashamed. The wind swept hot crackling fire over the nests and eggs of an endangered race; it roared in the treetops by the courts. We played tennis.

Perhaps the shame of that episode left its mark on my life. At any rate I learned so young about the impending doom of a species and later when I had grown up I helped to avert another doom. By a strange quirk of fate I have spent most of my life working with Frederick—my husband—to understand and preserve the greater prairie chicken whose ancestral home is in the prairies of the West.

Fran Hamerstrom and her husband Frederick gave up a life of wealth and privilege in Boston, Massachusetts, to study wildlife management under “The Professor”, Aldo Leopold, at the University of Wisconsin. Living in a series of abandoned farm houses on the sand plains of central Wisconsin during the Great Depression, the Hamerstroms helped to found wildlife refuges while doing ground-breaking research on the Greater Prairie Chicken. While Fran was becoming the only woman to earn a masters degree under the legendary Leopold, she helped to bring the Greater Prairie Chickens of Wisconsin back from the brink of extinction.

But Fran Hamerstrom’s life was not strictly for the chickens, she also had a passion for raptors. Later in her life she followed that passion. Fran and her volunteer support crew traveled over much of North America capturing and banding owls, hawks and eagles. Her research led to breakthroughs in raptor rehabilitation and successful captive breeding.

Throughout Fran’s 50-year career, and the Hamerstrom home, marched a constant stream of thousands of youthful volunteers who were inspired by this free-spirited lover of wild things. Many of them are ornithologists and wildlife biologists making a difference in our world today. If anything good came from the loss of the Heath Hen it may have been the mark it left on the life of that young tennis player on Martha’s Vineyard nearly 90 years ago when she gained the courage to make a difference in our world.

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Tidbits of Avian Trivia

From the Editor’s desk

• Horizontal-flying Peregrine Falcons reach speeds of 60 miles per hour, while a stooping peregrine can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. • Each year, Arctic Terns travel nearly 22,000 miles round trip between their wintering grounds on Antarctica’s ice floes and their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. • One hummingbird, the Amethyst Woodstar, flaps its wings an incredible 5,400 times per minute. • Bar-headed Geese routinely fly at nearly 20,000 feet as the species migrates over the Himalayas to its breeding grounds in China. • Bristle-thighed Curlews fly 4,500 miles nonstop over the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands. • Emus walk more than 600 miles during migration. • Many albatrosses can fly for hours and sometimes days without flapping their wings.

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Birding Seminars

The North Cascades Institute is offering a variety of winter birding seminars, beginning in January 2006. Led by experienced naturalists, most seminars are one-day outings with transportation provided. The three-day Naturalists Retreat not only addresses birds but also looks at Skagit Delta winter ecology, land use, and habitat conservation by landowners.

For more information or to register, call 360-856-5700, ext. 209. You can also log on to http://www.ncascades.org.

Winter 2006 Seminar Schedule

January 7. Bald Eagles and Salmon of the Skagit River with Libby Mills. $65.
January 14-16. Skagit Delta Naturalists Retreat: Lowlands, Rich Lands, with David Drummond, Libby Mills, and Brenda Cunningham. Spend the weekend with biologists and conservationists who have long studied this place between the high ground and the sea. $295.
January 21. Winter Birds of the Skagit and Samish Deltas with David Drummond. $65.

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Annual NCAS Christmas Potluck

By the time you read this newsletter, you might check your calendar and reserve a spot for the evening of December 12, from 6 to 9 PM, for the annual NCAS potluck gathering at the Fireplace Room of the Fairhaven Public Library. Take your favorite dish and a non-alcoholic beverage of your liking, along with silverware. We’ll dine and chat and someone (?) just might entertain you with a program, to be announced when you get there. Join us!

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Swan Survey 2005-06 Volunteers Needed

Martha Jordan of Trumpeter Swan Society is seeking volunteers for this year’s 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 you’d like to participate in any way, please contact Martha at swanlady@drizzle.com.

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2005 Bellingham Christmas Bird Count

On Sunday, December 18, an intrepid crew will sally forth over Whatcom County hill and dale to count birds as part of the National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — the longest such effort in the history of wildlife monitoring. The CBC originated in 1900 and has contributed significant data over that time of the wintering populations of birds across the continent.

The Bellingham CBC began in 1967 and is still going strong, with last year’s count attracting 58 observers in the field and 13 at feeders within the count circle. The species total was 128, with 100,002 individual birds counted. The count always proceeds, regardless of weather conditions, and it’s those very conditions that often make for memorable counts. And then there’s the post-count potluck! Good food and rosy cheeks are a given after a tough day in the field.

If you would like to lend a hand this year, either in the field or by counting the birds at your backyard feeder from the comfort of your living room, we’d like to have you. To participate in the field, please call Joe Meche at 739-5383, or you can e-mail him at joemeche@aol.com. If you’d prefer to stay warm and become a part of the growing list of feeder counters, e-mail Joan Bird at jbird202@hotmail.com.

Participate and become part of history!

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WA State Ferry CBC

Floaters and Flyers
A Christmas Bird Count
by RB Porter Compiler

You’re a floater on a round trip ferry ride from Anacortes to Sidney, BC, our area of observation for this year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC); the birds are both floaters and flyers. It takes a crew of about eight to be efficient. We need spotters with good identification skills, counters, and recorders. Beginning birders are encouraged to come along. Like any of the counts sponsored by the North Cascades Audubon Society, it takes planning and foresight.

This year’s count will be held on Saturday, December 17. We will try to leave Bellingham around 6 AM and return about 5 PM. In the past, the count was held on Friday; this year we are encouraging more participation and it is our hope that Saturday will be more convenient for participants.

North Cascades Audubon typically pays the cost of the ferry for the first eight counters. All you will need to pay is the $5 participation fee. We encourage those who can do so to pay their own fare, but it is not mandatory. CBCs are one of the fun activities we use to raise funds for Audubon and our continuing effort to build our body of knowledge of birds locally, nationally, and around the world.

If you’re interested in participating in a unique CBC, give me a call at 360-332-6799 or e-mail me at rbdemo@att.net.

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Birding Larrabee State Park and Lake Padden

by George Heleker

In the April 2005 issue of The Avalanche, I wrote a brief description of my two favorite places to bird near my home in the spring and early summer. One location was the area around the Clayton Beach parking lot at Larrabee State Park, and the viewpoint found 2.5 miles above the Clayton Beach lot in Skagit County on the “South View Road”. The other was at Lake Padden in Bellingham.

This past songbird season was my tenth at Larrabee. It was my 2nd year birding at Lake Padden. One thing that I find interesting is that the same species can almost always be found in the same nesting areas year after year. There is a certain comfort and excitement welcoming my favorites back to their customary breeding grounds each year. For example, I know where to expect singing Golden-crowned Kinglets next spring from the Clayton Beach parking area, up past the viewpoint, and all the way to the top of the Chuckanuts. Why those kinglets choose the areas that they do every year is a mystery to me because I can find nothing in particular that is different from so many other areas in those hills. Family tradition?

Most species are easy to figure, however. At Lake Padden, there were five singing Yellow-rumped Warblers clockwise from the tennis courts to near the dog swim area, just as there were last year. It was clear that the habitat where they nested was different from anywhere else at the park where I did not find them. Many bird species’ sounds during the breeding season would give away the habitat to one who was walking with a blindfold. When walking in the woods, one would know that an area with many deciduous trees is nearby when they hear the June songs of Warbling Vireos and Swainson’s Thrushes. Singing Townsend’s Warblers are found in areas of mostly conifers while Black-throated Gray Warblers prefer more deciduous trees. While birding with a friend at Lake Padden on the 27th of May, we counted 34 singing Townsend’s as we walked many of the trails through the dense woods.

The ridge west of Padden Creek is a great place to find some birds that may not be found on a walk around the lake and in the woods. It is open and brushy with some trees and snags, and this year once again was a good place to see and hear Olive-side Flycatcher, Western Wood Pee Wee, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, Willow Flycatcher, goldfinch, Bushtit, Black-headed Grosbeak, waxwing and flicker.

Birdsongs and calls are my favorite part of the birding experience. This year there were the usual five singing warbler species (3 Black-throated Gray, 2 Townsend’s, 2 Yellow-rumped, 3 Orange-crowned, and several Wilson’s) on territory near the area of the Clayton Beach parking lot, and a MacGillivray’s joined them this year. As the early summer progressed, I saw young of all six species, in spite of the Cowbirds that inhabit the area that time of year. The Black-throated Grays were the most interesting because they each had a favorite song that was different from the other two, and they would often be found singing those songs from their particular territory. The three territories were adjacent to each other. Once in a while, they would sing one of the common songs that another one liked to sing, but they each had a favorite.

The Wood Ducks nested successfully for the second year in a row by the treatment ponds north of the parking area. The nest was just west of the fenced-in ponds, and there is a small hole in the fence, hidden in the blackberries, where mom was able to bring her young into the pond area. There were only three left when the young were able to fly away. It probably had to do with the Cooper’s Hawks who nested somewhere northeast of the ponds this year, a first for them in that location since I’ve been birding there.

Bald Eagles were successful in raising a young one at Padden, and near the roadway on the road to the viewpoint above Larrabee. Unfortunately, the nest along the roadway is only 150 feet from the road, and there is currently logging going on above Larrabee. The loaded logging trucks will be bringing the logs out of the hills next spring, going right through Larrabee and past the eagle’s nest during nesting season. I brought the location of the nest to the attention of the state parks and the DNR, but no protection will be offered the eagles. This constant movement of trucks will most likely have a negative impact on other bird species that nest next to the roadway as well, including the area by the Clayton Beach parking area, and may make for a less than desirable birding experience there next spring.

The news for the Lake Padden area is not good either. The area just north of Padden and west of Padden Creek that I mentioned is being surveyed for a 210 house development. Not only will that destroy some valuable habitat, but the large number of free-roaming cats that will go with the houses will put a great deal of pressure on the birdlife along the creek and at the north end of Padden Park.

The total number of species for the Clayton Beach parking area this spring and summer was 86. This does not include any birds found at the shore or on the bay as that is outside my count area. The best one day count was 60 birds on May 29th at Lake Padden Park, including the area along Padden Creek to 36th Street and the area west of that.

I hope to see you out birding next spring. If you would like to get more information about the areas mentioned above, or arrange to join me for a bird walk next spring, feel free to call me at 671-9586.

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Blanchard Mountain Needs Our Help

by Tom Pratum
NCAS Conservation Committee

For nearly the past 20 years, efforts have been underway to save that jewel of the Chuckanuts to our south — Blanchard Mountain. Blanchard Mountain is state trust land managed for timber revenue — much of which goes to Skagit County. Thanks to the efforts of Conservation Northwest (formerly NWEA), the Sierra Club Mt Baker Group, and other groups, not a lot of timber has been cut in the past 10 years. Unfortunately, that appears likely to change soon.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been developing a plan for “mixed use” management of the area. We had hoped the plan would have a large conservation component, but it now appears that timber harvest will carry the day. Timber sales have already taken place in the outer portions of the reserve, and are proposed into the future in the very heart of the area — Lilly and Lizard Lakes and even toward Oyster Dome itself. All that would be spared would be the riparian buffers specified in the DNR’s grossly inadequate HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan). Note that these buffers are specified as 100-year site potential tree height (SPTH), which is 170 feet for this area. Just imagine a future of hiking through a large clearcut toward this meager area of con-servation around the two lakes and Oyster Creek.

If you, too, are concerned about this area, we encourage you to contact the Friends of Blanchard Mountain (http://www.blanchardmountain.org.) We will also keep you updated as to the status of timber sales.

Don’t forget you can always view local Forest Practices Applications (FPAs) — including those at Blanchard Mountain by simply visiting the ever-intoxicating NCAS website: http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/php/index.php?chapter,conservation. It should be noted that timber sales are often planned well in advance of a FPA, so getting involved in the effort to save Blanchard Mountain now is a good idea.

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Kudos to the Blaine City Council

On Monday, October 24, the Blaine City Council voted overwhelmingly—6-0—to reject the Trillium Corporation’s plan for 70 homes on the Semiahmoo Spit. This is truly good news for those of us who wish to see an end to development on the spit.

Many residents and organizations had spoken out about impacts to views, increased traffic, and the detrimental effects that more development would have on this sensitive wildlife area. The Drayton Harbor-Semiahmoo Bay area is one of the 53 original Important Bird Areas designated by Audubon Washington and is essential wintering habitat for tens of thousands of birds of numerous species. This same area is a significant part of the Cascade Loop of the Great Washington State Birding Trail, and the city of Blaine is just beginning to realize the economic benefits of healthy bird populations.

History has shown that the sheltered embayment of Drayton Harbor and the natural accreted gravel spit provided food and a haven for thousands of Pacific Black Brant that depend on this important staging area before heading north to their Arctic breeding grounds. The dredging that preceded the construction of the Semiahmoo marina wiped out vast amounts of the eelgrass beds and the Brant numbers have decreased significantly since then.

From the date of the ruling, the Trillium Corporation has 10 days to appeal the decision, and it is likely that they will. Trevor Hoskins, chairman of the Semiahmoo Spit Preservation Committee, said that he was pleased with the vote. The committee is hoping to open discussions that focus on purchasing the land for public use.

The Semiahmoo Spit has seen all the development it can handle. Further abuse of this unique, sensitive area will have serious consequences for all the forms of life that utilize it.

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