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April 2006 Issue (vol 37, number 4)
      (Previous Issue March 2006) - (Next Issue May 2006)



APRIL General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, April 25, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Birds in Motion IV

Joe Meche will present the fourth installment of his video series about birds. This years version will contain a lot of new footage from a recent trip to south Louisiana, as well as drawing from over 200 hours of videotape. This evenings program is certain to entertain and, in response to numerous requests, Joe has consented to bring back a few favorites from previous episodes; e.g., the loon family at Lake Bonaparte. Joe has been photographing birds for more than 20 years and discovered the joy of videotape over 15 years ago. Since then, hes tried to balance the two as his travels and national security would allow. Joe is the current Vice President of NCAS and also serves the chapter as newsletter editor and Birding Programs Coordinator. As always, programs of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public. Join us for a fun evening with the Vice President. No, not that one!

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Birding Festivals

Editors note: Feel like taking a break and getting away for a little out-of- town birding? Try on some of these festivals for size.

11th Annual Godwit Days
April 21-23

Join in on some of the best birding on the wild Redwood Coast of northern California. For more information about this super festival, go to their website at www.godwitdays.com or call their toll-free number at 800-908-WING.

Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival
April 27-30

For warmer and dryer weather, great birding in central Arizonas diverse range of habitats awaits those wishing to add southwestern birds to their life lists. Field trips, seminars, and special events highlight this festival. Visit www.birdyverde.org for full details.

Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival
April 28-30

You might see over a million shorebirds at this festival. The Grays Harbor Audubon Society stages a first-class gathering with tons of things to do and see. Visit their website at http://www.ghas.org and click on Shorebird Festival for more information.

Puget Sound Bird Fest
May 12-12

Just down the road is one of the newer birding festivals on the circuit. Celebrate on the weekend of International Migratory Bird Day. Visit the festival website at http://www.pugetsoundbirdfest.com.

Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest
May 18-21

Eastern Washingtons dryer climate beckons to birders who want a break from the wet side. Last years festival goers enjoyed 157 species of birds and numerous activities and events. For details, go to http://www.leavenworthspringbirdfest.com.

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NCAS Spring Field Trips

Dave Schmalz
NCAS Field Trip Chair

Ahh, glorious springtime! Warmer, longer days herald the sequential return of Neotropical songbirds to Whatcom County and environs. Swallows, warblers, wrens, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers, and hummingbirds having spent their winter at points south from Mexico to South America return these next two months to the profusion of seeds, insects, and nectar that our region so abundantly provides.

Want to learn more about these colorful, often elusive species? NCAS offers a variety of field trips tailored to all levels of birdwatching expertise. All NCAS field trips are FREE and open to members and non-members alike. Due to the popularity of our outings, all trips require advance registration.

For more information or to register, please contact the individual trip leaders listed below or NCAS Field Trips at 671-1537.

Saturday, April 22. Beginning Birdwatching.

This half-day trip will cover the basics of birdwatching to get you started (or to encourage you along your way) including field guides, binoculars, scopes, basic identification, and where and when to visit local areas for best viewing. Also, enjoy some time in the field, practicing your skills at a local natural area. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Saturday, April 29. Cherry Point Beach Cleanup and Birding Tour.

This half-day work party/birdwatching event will focus on picking up the ever-present beach litter on one of Whatcom Countys wildest beaches, as well as enjoying the marine birds still present for the annual Cherry Point herring spawn. Join this joint NCAS/ReSources outing for fun, contribution, and likely a high-spirited event! 8:30 AM. Trip leaders: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537; and Wendy Steffensen, 733-8307.

Sunday, April 30. Deception Pass State Park.

Full-day trip (half-day option) enjoying the splendor of songbirds, lingering seabirds, sea mammals, and the stunning scenery at one of our regions most popular state parks. Well spend time identifying birds by their songs and calls and hopefully catch some late-departing migrants in their summer breeding plumage. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Sunday, May 14. Chuckanut Songbirds.

Full-day trip (half-day option) exploring the extraordinary south Chuckanut Mountains for songbirds, raptors, and more. Special guest leader George Heleker has spent the last ten years chronicling the abundance and diversity of spring songbird populations in this scenic wonderland. 8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Sunday, May 21. Tennant Lake, Nooksack River Dike.

Full-day trip covering the diverse habitat and spectacular scenery of the lower Nooksack River country. This fairly-strenuous 6-mile hike will explore open meadows, wetlands, forest, and riverine habitat, featuring swallows, warblers, sparrows, wrens, and birds of prey. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

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Waterfowl in the Western Arctic

Each spring, uncounted millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and water birds, such as loons and terns, migrate north from around the world to remote, productive Arctic tundra wetlands where they nest, rear their young, molt, rest, and fatten under the Midnight Sun. From a global perspective, the wetlands in Alaskas Coastal Plain are critically important. In fact, Alaska has the largest contiguous blocks of two key types of tundra wetlands in the entire circumpolar Arctic.

When one thinks of waterfowl production in North America, the prairie potholes of the northern Great Plains come to mind. However, hundreds of thousands of about 20 species of ducks, geese, and swans rely on Arctic Coastal Plain wetlands and coastal habitats in Alaska each summer and scatter across North America during the balance of the year. More than 70 percent of the Arctic Coastal Plain wetlands including much of the best and most important habitat for waterfowl is found in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (the Reserve).

If industrial-scale oil development overlays the Reserves vast wetlands with a spider web of roads, pipelines, gravel pits, airstrips, and other facilities, Arctic waterfowl will experience greatly increased disturbance, predation, pollution, and loss of habitat.

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2006 Wenas Campout

May 26-29

For over 35 years, Audubon families have been camping at the Wenas Creek Campground, officially named the Hazel Wolf Wenas Creek Bird Sanctuary. The site, southwest of Ellensburg, is now in an Important Bird Area which Audubon is working to secure in protected status.

The free, primitive campground on the north fork of Wenas Creek has exceptional opportunities for birding, botanizing, and enjoying spring in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. Here are a few things to consider:

The campground is about 2,500 in elevation and can be quite cold at night and hot during the day.

You should take your own water for cooking and drinking.

Plan on tent camping or using pickup campers.

The committee rents portable toilets for four days and the expense is shared.

Bicycles and Frisbees are fun to take along, as are telescopes and cameras.

Please leave your pets at home.

There will be organized field trips, natural history workshops, and old-fashioned campfires in the evening for story-telling and recapping the sightings of the day.

Visit http://www.nwlink.com/~cyrus/wenas.html for more information. There is a bird checklist, along with directions to the campground, and more.

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ACOW is coming to Whatcom County

There are 26 Audubon chapters in Washington state, one of which is the North Cascades Audubon Society (NCAS). Twice each year leaders of these chapters and our state office Audubon Washington meet at what is known as the Audubon Council of Washington (ACOW). ACOW is always on the move around the state and is hosted in turn by various chapters. This years Fall ACOW will be hosted by NCAS and will be held on October 6-8, at Camp Lutherwood on Lake Samish.

ACOWs are always inspirational and educational events. They offer an opportunity for the chapters to share knowledge and experience and explain what is happening in their respective parts of the state. Chapters share the issues they are dealing with, the battles they are fighting, and the fun they are having, as well as their successes and their failures. An ACOW is also an opportunity for the host chapter to educate the rest of the state about their area.

On Friday afternoon will be a meeting of the Audubon Washington Conservation Committee and Education Committee, both made up of representatives from all chapters. Saturday morning will be reserved for field trips while the afternoon will be filled with workshops and presentations. On Sunday morning, Audubon Washington will inform the group on what is happening on the state and national levels. Usually, 80-100 people attend.

Hosting such an event is a new experience for most of us at NCAS. We are going to need a committee and it will be necessary to recruit some new volunteers, some of whom will, ideally, have experience in coordinating such a gathering. If you want to meet Auduboners from outside our area, make some new friends (who will know where to find Tri-colored Blackbirds and Great Gray Owls in eastern Washington), and just have some fun, please join the team. We will need people to lend support in the areas of:

Planning

Registration

Hospitality

Transportation

Program Coordination

General Administration

Procurement

If you are inspired to become involved in this once-in-a-decade event, please call Paul Woodcock at 380-3356.

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Birdathon 2006

Its time again for one of the most popular and FUN events that NCAS has to offer our annual Birdathon fundraiser. Now that spring has arrived and a few Neotropical migrants are showing up here and there, shake off those winter blahs and get outside to hone those birding skills. And what better way to get into the swing of spring than to participate in the Birdathon!

Last year saw a spirited competition between Team Timberdoodle and the reigning champs, Team Killdeer. In the end, when the dust had settled and all the totals were in, Timberdoodle had unseated the champs by a feather or two. Team Killdeer immediately asked for a rematch and, as of this writing, both teams have entered this years Birdathon.

Keep in mind, however, that this is a friendly competition and part of the FUN of a birdathon. To become part of the fun, all you need to do is join the ranks of participants, as an individual or as a member of your own team. The NCAS Birdathon is open to everyone. The level at which you participate is totally up to you.

The objective of a birdathon is to count all the species you see or hear in a single 24-hour period. The entire month of May will be set aside for you to participate on any day that fits into your teams schedule. Prior to your count day, you talk to friends, family, and coworkers and solicit funds to sponsor your efforts. Sponsors can pledge a flat amount or a certain amount per species you observe.

The NCAS Birdathon is a terrific way to enjoy a day in the field and at the same time, help to raise much-needed funds to support Audubon efforts throughout the year. You can also use it as an excuse to go birding for an entire day!

If youd like more information or would like to sign up now to participate, call Joe Meche at 738-0641. You can also send him an e-mail at joemeche@aol.com.

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NCAS on the Road
7,044

Joe Meche

The number in the title represents the total miles traveled on our late winter road trip to Louisiana. Instead of flying high above the landscape (from 35,000 feet we would have missed that Yellow-billed Magpie and the roadside Ferruginous Hawk in the Sacramento Valley), we decided to drive across it and feel the pulse of America. While the pulse of the country is strong, palpitations are regular and perspectives are plentiful and lurking around every corner.

The plan was simple enough. We would drive due south to avoid the unpredictable, late-winter weather of the Cascades and the Rockies; pick up the better-weather roads through the southern tier states; and cruise into south Louisiana in four days. Simple enough. The main concern for the first day was the unpredictable Siskiyou Summit that separates Oregon from northern California. No problem.

We continued south and then left winter behind as we made the big left turn and headed east across the expanse of the Mojave Desert. As night came on and we drove east from Barstow, California, one of the more interesting sights of the entire trip occupied our conversation. What we saw on this late Sunday evening was an endless trail of headlights coming down Interstate 15. We surmised that this was the bumper-to-bumper homeward-bound exodus of weekend visitors leaving Las Vegas!

On day three Arizona became New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle loomed. The drive across Texas has the potential to be a mind-numbing experience. At its widest point, its almost 900 miles across and thats just too much Texas! So we sliced across the Panhandle and slipped through Oklahoma to deal with the psychological Texas factor. Even though we had to reenter the Lone Star State for a while to get into Louisiana, we felt better about our decision.

I awoke on Day 5 in the same bedroom I grew up in and the first sound I heard was the amazing repertoire of an old favorite the Northern Mockingbird. Coffee on the old porch swing and the cacophony of bird song left no doubt that we had reached our destination. Despite the fact that we had just driven over 3,000 miles, the weather report of impending rain and thunderstorms almost dictated that we...go birding!

So off we went to Lake Martin and one of the larger rookeries of wading birds in the south. Lake Martin is a typical cypress-filled lake swamp south of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Years ago, very few people from outside the area knew about this special place but it has now been discovered, as evidenced by the long lenses and birders working the shoreline on a road that surrounds almost two-thirds of the lake.

On the following two trips to the lake, we arrived just after sunrise to beat the rush and were treated to good looks at a typical southeastern Barred Owl and a pair of vociferous Red-shouldered Hawks. Far too numerous to count and well-dispersed were Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, and Anhingas. It was still early in the year but the big birds were actively building nests and pitching avian woo. Yet to arrive were the reliable Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons and the Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Just to remind us of where we were, the occasional large alligator surfaced in the duck weed-covered shallows.

While at the lake, we located a Red-bellied Woodpecker calling from its nest hole, and getting a few responses; a Common Moorhen wading a little too close to a lurking gator; and a very loud Common Yellowthroat, sending his message far and wide.

Mockingbirds, cardinals, and Blue Jays were morning highlights in the backyard, along with a foraging Brown Thrasher, numerous Crested Titmice and Carolina Chickadees, and a lone Philadelphia Vireo.

On our return, we took on Texas! We escaped unscathed and spent some time in southeastern Arizona at the Nature Conservancys Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve where the highlight bird was a male Vermilion Flycatcher. It was still early in the year so overall bird numbers were low, although the Chipping Sparrow numbers belied that assessment.

While in Arizona, we had to stop by and brave South Pole-like conditions on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mountain Chickadees were also braving the cold wind, along with several of the gray-headed Dark-eyed Juncos of the southern Rocky Mountains. Of all the birds we saw, the two that tied the trip together were the crows and ravens. We saw them everywhere along the way. Although the motivation for this trip was to visit with my soon-to-be 89 year-old Mother, we did manage to take a side trip or three.

We returned after a great two-week road trip and, as always, gained a new appreciation of where we live. Primary perspectives gathered on this trip were that America is on the move, regardless of rising gas prices, and that the big cities are looking less attractive than ever before. Big cities reflect, more than anyplace else, the insatiable thirst and utter dependence on fossil fuels. I have to wonder if these road trips will become a thing of the past.

Either way, well always have this 7,044-miler to remember.

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Conservation Page

Comprehensive Plan Amendments:
An Update And a Thank You to the Whatcom County Council

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

In last months Avalanche, we described two comprehensive plan amendments that we felt were particularly important to the future of our area. These have now been dealt with by the county council, and in both cases, the council has acted wisely.

Docket 2006-K: Sudden Valley Provisional UGA Rescission. This was adopted as an emergency text amendment to the comprehensive plan at the February 28 council meeting. The vote was 5-1, with Ward Nelson opposed and Sam Crawford absent. While this is a victory in the battle to protect Lake Whatcom, even this small skirmish might not be over. A handful of Sudden Valley residents continues to push forward their proposal to incorporate as a city making efforts to protect our regions most important drinking water source ever more complex. The odds seem to be against a City of Sudden Valley happening at this time, but this situation continues to unfold.

Docket 2006-S: Bellingham UGA Study Area Designation and Forestry to R10A Rezone. This proposal to rezone as rural, and eventually convert 2400 acres of Galbraith Mountain currently zoned for rural and commercial forestry into an Urban Growth Area (UGA), was stripped from the list of docketed comprehensive plan amendments for 2006 at the March 14 council meeting.

The majority of the council who voted against this proposal is to be thanked graciously. While we are breathing a sigh of relief, this battle is most certainly not over. This proposal will be back, and its proponent the Trillium Corporation will be trying to convince all of us that putting 9,600 homes* in an area that is currently forest habitat will be a good move for our community. We will be keeping you updated.

*The 9,600 number comes from the required density for an area designated urban in accordance with the Growth Management Act.

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Thoughts on ANWR From Audubon Alaska

Industrial Oilfields Fragment and Degrade Habitat

Within the Arctic Refuge, the coastal plain is very narrow as few as 15 miles wide and contains avian habitat found nowhere else in the refuge. Its lowland tundra, freshwater wetlands, coastal marshes, and barrier islands and lagoons are key parts of the larger Arctic ecosystem that makes the Arctic Refuge unique as a protected area in the United States.

Oil development in the Arctic Refuge would require an extensive complex of drilling pads, roads, pipelines, impoundments, processing plants, dormitories, gravel mines, solid waste disposal sites, airports, and the like. In fact, the producing fields around Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk sprawl over more than 1,000 square miles. Even with improved technologies, the industrial complex needed to produce and transport oil would mean the unavoidable loss of significant nesting, brood-rearing, and feeding habitats for birds. In addition, indirect effects, such as altered water drainage, water depletion in lakes and rivers, dust deposition and habitat fragmentation would extend far beyond the immediate footprint of an oilfield.

Direct losses of habitat at Prudhoe Bay and other North Slope oil fields have reduced habitat for nesting birds and altered their distributions. For example, nesting shorebirds (e.g., Dunlin) are less numerous near roads than away from roads and one study estimated reductions of 5-18% in numbers of shorebirds nesting within the perimeter of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. Nests of Tundra Swans are located farther from oilfield infrastructure than the nests of other waterfowl.

Within the Arctic Refuge unlike the area around Prudhoe Bay there is limited coastal habitat into which birds can be displaced. Any losses of habitat for species with small or declining populations could be harmful at the population level.

Thousands of Snow Geese gather on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain each fall to eat cotton-grass and build fat reserves for long flights to southern wintering grounds. The birds spend up to 16 hours a day feeding, and human activity can easily disrupt them during this critical time. They are highly sensitive to disturbance, especially by aircraft, and birds that are displaced from prime feeding habitat or are frequently disturbed may be less fit for migration and experience reduced winter survival. More than 80% of the feeding habitat preferred by Snow Geese within the Arctic Refuge is located inside the 1002 Area [managed by the USFWS]. Indeed, the US Department of the Interior estimates that oilfield development could displace Snow Geese from as much as 45% of this habitat within this area.

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