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February 2007 Issue (vol 38, number 2)
      (Previous Issue January 2007) - (Next Issue March 2007)

FEBRUARY General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, February 27, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Glen Alex Alexander, Education Coordinator at the Padilla Bay Reserve since 1990, will discuss the importance and ecology of estuaries, mud flats, and eelgrass. He will explain how hundreds of thousands of birds can spend the winter in such a small space, and how near shore habitats are the most valuable of any habitat in Washington state.

Glen was born and raised in Wisconsin and moved to Bellingham in 1972. He received his bachelors and masters degrees at Western Washington University. Join us for an in-depth look at a local treasure and a true birding hotspot. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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Feeder Watching

Paul Woodcock

The winter of 2006-07 certainly has let its presence be known, both before its official beginning and again with the coming of the new year. When six to eight inches of snow accumulate on the ground outside our homes, most of us are forced to change our habits in some way, and the same is true of the other creatures that share our environment. For those of us who feed birds, these circumstances can provide an opportunity to observe concentrations of some of our favorite avian species right outside our windows. Coincidentally, the opportunity comes at a time when the prudent thing to do is to stay home and watch them. The long hours of darkness also make getting up before dawn to watch a relatively easy task.

On the morning of January 11, the coffee was brewing as the predawn light revealed the first action at my feeders. Snow had started falling before noon on the previous day and five to six inches had accumulated with temperatures in the low 20s. A number of Song and Fox Sparrows and Spotted Towhees were there to greet the day. These three species are competitive and territorial and there is constant interaction between them as they feed. Fluttering duels and chases take place with regularity, especially among Song Sparrows and between towhees and Song Sparrows. Spotted Towhees can certainly maintain their position at the top of the pecking order, but the Song Sparrows seemgram for grammore tenacious and sometimes the towhees just let them be. The Fox Sparrows easily retire to the ground to begin the process of kicking the snow aside. As seeds scattered on the snow, more birds gathered below the feeders. Eventually, 4 Spotted Towhees, 4 Fox Sparrows, and 5 Song Sparrows collected. Song Sparrows can spend so much time and effort competing that one has to wonder how they get enough to eat. Around 8 AM, a flock of about 15 Dark-eyed Juncos swept in adding their pugnacity to that of the sparrows. One of these juncos was of the slate-colored subspecies, an uncommon winter resident in our area.

At dawn, the next wave of birds appeared. Three Purple Finches, a male and two females, were followed by about a half-dozen House Finches. Chickadees, both Black-capped and Chestnut-backed, began to collect in the trees around the feeders. As I watched, only about 4 to 6 of the 30+ chickadees came to the sunflower feeder at one time. They flew in, spent a few seconds selecting a seed and flew back out to the cedar tree to crack and eat it. There was a constant in and out flow of chickadees. Around all of this activity, I scanned the shrubs for a particular bird, a single immature White-throated Sparrow that had been appearing at my feeders fairly regularly for the past month. On the previous day, the White-throat had not shown but I found a Lincolns Sparrow hiding in the snowberry bushes, watching the action. It was a first for my yard. The White-throated Sparrow did finally appear, running out into the snow from under the snowberries. It seemed a little hesitant with all the activity around it and did not stay long. By this time, a pair of American Goldfinches arrived at the thistle feeder. Then, two Stellers Jays made a noisy entrance, clearing away many of the birds that had collected.

The ebb and flow of species and numbers went on throughout the day. Mid-morning, a flock of about 20 Bushtits drifted through the area. They clustered on the suet feeder for a few minutes and then moved on. A female Downy Woodpecker put in an appearance at the suet a little later. Three Varied Thrushes spent some time feeding on the snow under the feeders.

During the early afternoon, a single Golden-crowned and two White-crowned Sparrowsthe first in my yard this winterspent about two hours feeding before moving on. Two Eastern Gray Squirrels spent some time digging in the snow around the feeders opening up a few holes to bare ground. When the squirrels left, the Fox Sparrows and Spotted Towhees went to work enlarging the hole and kicking away the snow. By evening, significant patches of ground were showing and the surrounding snow was littered with plant debris.

By the end of that day, I had found over 100 individuals of 16 species around my feeders. That was an exciting and educational day of birding and it happened without even having to leave the kitchen. As our winter weather persists, the yard continues to be surprisingly productive habitat. In the first two weeks of 2007, two dozen species of birds have appeared at and near my feeders. Each day is a little different but there is almost always something new and unexpected. We can experience real birding adventure with a minimal expenditure of resources and, by being observant and recording what we observe, even contribute to science at the same time.

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10th Annual Great American Backyard Bird Count

February 16-19, 2007

The National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology are hosting the Great American Backyard Bird Count on Presidents Day Weekend. Join birders across the nation who will be counting birds in their yard or other favorite location. No fee or registration is required. You can make a significant contribution to science by counting on one or more of these days and reporting your results online at the counts website at www.birdsource.org/gbbc. You can also check the website for directions or more information

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Winter Field Trips

Dave Schmalz
NCAS Field Trip Chair

Wintertime provides some of our best bird watching opportunities of the year here in Whatcom County. Local marine waters are an important component of regionally, if not continentally significant, winter habitat for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl, seabirds, and shorebirds. Additionally, large numbers of eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls concentrate in the uplands immediately adjacent to and upstream from northwest Washingtons saltwater shorelines.

North Cascades Audubon Society (NCAS) offers a variety of trips this winter and each is designed for all levels of bird watching experience, from beginner to advanced. Outings emphasize discovery, wonder, education, and fun. All trips are open and FREE to members and non-members alike. Due to popularity, most trips require advance registration. For more information or to register for a trip, contact individual trip leaders listed below or NCAS Field Trips at 671-1537.

Please Note: *Trips marked with an asterisk are led by North Cascades Audubon Society guides and are co-sponsored by Whatcom County Parks and Recreation.

*Saturday, February 3. Semiahmoo Spit.

Half-day beachwalk at one of Whatcom Countys most geographically stunning and biologically rich sites. 9 AM. Open. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Sunday February 4. The Magic Skagit.

Full-day trip (half- day option) to the avian wonderland of Fir Island and the lower Skagit River delta. Swans, Snow Geese, and owls highlight this annual spectacle of waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey. One of our most popular trips. 8:30 AM. Trip Limit: 10. Trip Leader: Jeanie Johnson, 671-8886.

Sunday, February 11. Birds of the World at Woodland Park Zoo.

The Woodland Park Zoo maintains several aviaries replicating tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate habitats from around the world and is actively involved in conservation efforts related to numerous endangered species. Observe and learn about birds native to Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, including the Violaceous Turaco, Spectacled Mousebird, and the White-crested Laughing Thrush. 8 AM. Trip Limit: 10. Trip Leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, February 24. Samish Flats Birds of Prey.

Eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls are the focus of this full-day trip (half-day option). The Samish Flats support an unusual concentration of birds of prey in winter. Past trips have tallied over 100 individual raptors for the day! Time: 8 AM. Trip Limit: 12. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

*Saturday, March 3. Semiahmoo Spit.

Repeat of February 3 trip (see above for details).

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Audubon Adventures

Help put Audubon in classrooms!
Rae Edwards
Education Committee

Thank you to those who have chosen to help support educating youth about birds and nature by making donations to NCAS for the Audubon Adventures program.

Each year, NCAS has supported up to 30 teachers with this program. Audubon Adventures provides teachers with materials for each student and teacher resources. This year there is an educational poster and website access added to the package. Topics include Wings & Things, Bees, Bats, Yardbirds. If you would like to check out the interactive website, you can find it at www.audubonathome.org/birdstohelp.

The cost per classroom is $45.65, but any amount you can offer will move us toward our goal. Please take a moment today to write a check and send it to:

North Cascades Audubon
PO Box 5805
Bellingham, WA 98227

Please indicate on your check that it is for Audubon Adventures.

And thank you, again, for your generosity.

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We Need You!

Join a fun group of dedicated board members! NCAS is actively seeking a Membership Chair. We need someone with basic computer skills who can update our membership files, send monthly reminder notices, create mailing labels for our newsletter using MS Excel, and attend our monthly board meetings. If you want to make a contribution to our chapter and to your community, please e-mail Paul Woodcock, NCAS President, at paulwoodcock@comcast.net. or give him a call at 380-3356.

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Winter Reading

Have you noticed that the weather this winter has kept you indoors a bit more than youd like? Or maybe you had a bout of this years nasty new strain of flu. The shorter days and the wet, cold weather provide the perfect opportunity to gather together that pile of must-read books and maybe even order a few new titles. With that in mind, I thought I would provide a short list of books that might fill the void until the weather moderates and were back in the saddle again.

Feather Quest

This work by noted ornithologist Pete Dunne chronicles the twelve months that he and his wife, Linda, spent traveling around North America in search of a few good birds and the great locations to see them. Dunnes style is at once relaxed and informative and will definitely make you consider a similar trip of your own. Food for winter thoughts.

The Big Year

Many people participate in what birders refer to as a Big Year, where you keep track of all the birds you see in one calendar year. In 1998, three men chose to compete in a Big Year and took this concept to the extreme. Mark Obmascik tells this extraordinary tale of an obsessive trio of birders who barnstormed North America for the title. This is a real page-turner.

Parts Unknown

Tim Gallagher has long been associated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and he has written scores of articles about wildlife, nature, and photography. In this collection of essays, Gallagher takes the reader to faraway places that you might not find on many maps.

The Verb To Bird

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the difference between bird watching and birding and whether youre a bird watcher or a birder. Peter Cashwell is an English teacher by profession and an avid birder by an inner calling. This often humorous book is about birds, language, literature, pop culture, and the human race.

The Birds of Heaven

Peter Matthiessen is a well known novelist, naturalist, environmental activist, and world traveler. He has an eye for detail in all the things he writes about and this work is no exception. In this book, his passion for cranes and the places they inhabit comes through with the inspiring and elegant prose of a true master.

A Year in the Maine Woods

Author Bernd Heinrich rediscovered the meaning of peace and quiet and harmony with nature during the year he spent alone in a cabin that he built in the woods. With no running water and no electricity, he reflects on the time that he spent alone, except for his pet raven, Jack.

Rare Bird

The Marbled Murrelet is a local bird that has received a lot of press in recent years, primarily due to the loss of much its primary nesting habitatold growth forests. Maria Mudd Ruth takes us back to the time of Captain Cooks voyages of discovery along the Pacific Coast in 1778 to trace the path of this unique bird.


This book is more than 30 years old and possibly out of print, but its worth the search. Written by Frank Graham, Jr., long-time Field Editor of Audubon magazine, this compact volume takes a closer look at a mostly unappreciated group of birds. Gulls are efficient predators and scavengers and have adapted remarkably well into the destructive world of humans.

Editors note: If youd prefer to focus more on field guides and such, have a look at our web site at http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org and click on the Birding books link under Birding on the homepage. The twenty titles that you find there, as well as the books listed above, can be ordered directly through the web site from Village Books in Fairhaven. If you order through the site, NCAS will receive a dividend from your purchase(s).

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Big Box Update

Betsy Pernotto

In September of 2006, the Bellingham City Council passed an emergency moratorium to stop construction of retail stores over 100,000 square feet for six months to allow time to pass an ordinance to deal with the potential impacts of big-box stores.

Numerous studies have looked at the economic and social impacts of big-box stores. I would like to focus here on the environmental impacts. Although Wal-Mart is often named as the culprit and does have a disproportionate influence on the U.S. economy because of its enormous size, it is important to realize that similar impacts are felt from other big-box stores, as well. Big-box stores are heavily oil-dependent and are a very unsustainable form of development.

Air pollution.

Big-box stores and malls, because of their attendant car-dependent culture, create major pockets of air pollution. Driving for shopping has increased more than twice as fast as driving for any other reason, including commuting to work. Between 1990 and 2001, the number of miles driven by Americans for shopping increased by 40 percent. For millions of Americans, walking, biking, or transits are not options for shopping driving is a necessity. By 2001, the average shopping trip increased to seven miles, from five miles a decade earlier.

The long-haul shipping of big-box stores also has serious impacts on air pollution. Corporate retailers provide almost all their goods through global distribution networks and contracts with factories across the world to produce their goods. Trucking grew by 55 percent between 1993 and 2002 and now accounts for 16 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As corporate retailers demand ever-cheaper goods, manufacturers have turned more and more to the production of goods in China where labor costs are very low. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are a major entry point for these goods from Asia into the U.S., with Wal-Mart being the shipping terminals top customer. The engines of the large numbers of incoming ships and vast fleets of outgoing trucks waiting to load these goods for distribution burn enormous amounts of fuel, making the ports the largest source of concentrated air pollution in the region, accounting for one-quarter of the area's diesel exhaust and more nitrogen oxide than emitted by southern California's 350 largest factories and refineries combined.

Water pollution.

Big-box stores with their acres of parking lots are a major source of water pollution. Run-off now ranks as the nation's leading source of water pollution and now affects more than 40 percent of U.S. lakes and streams. The non-profit group American Rivers attributes the drastic decline in steelhead and salmon numbers in the Skykomish River to runoff from poorly planned development, especially big-box stores, strip malls and parking lots. No other land use generates a larger volume of contaminate runoff than this type of development.


The amount of retail space in the U.S. has proliferated enormously since 1960. From four square feet per person in 1960, it rose to 19 square feet in 1990 as malls and strip malls expanded. By 2005, as the number of big-box retailers exploded, there were 38 square feet of retail per person in the U.S. This vast expansion of retail space consumes land at an accelerating pace. Since 1990, some 500,000 acres, an area more than half the size of Rhode Island, has been developed for retail, mostly big-box stores.

Please contact Bellingham City Council to voice your concerns about big-box stores in our community. Ask them to support a size cap of 90,000 square feet for retail stores in Bellingham with design standards for mixed residential and commercial use that fit the "urban village" concept of the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan and that are pedestrian- and bike-accessible.

Information from: Big Box Swindle (Stacy Mitchell, Beacon Press, 2006) and http://www.newrules.org . For more information, call Betsy at 360-647-752 or betsyp@openaccess.org.

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The majority of nations had lost the ability to be self-sufficient, even to satisfy the elementary needs of their people for food. Now every nation was losing this ability. The cities could not feed themselves; they were largely abandoned as urban millions spread into the countryside in search of food. Those who suffered least were those accustomed to poverty and hunger; those who suffered most were the inhabitants of the rich nations. And in the richest nation of them all, the harshest changes came to the few but precarious, monstrous cities that had once appeared, briefly, in that nations arid West; in those desert lands where, as the cautious had foreseen, cities were not meant to be. Most of the people had disappeared, fleeing to the greener regions from which, as everyone knew, their packaged food came. But even in the most desolate and devastated of the remote cities a few men and women survived, clinging to the ruins, trying to rebuild the simple farming and pastoral economy that had been destroyed by the triumph of the city, trying to recreate a small society of friends in a community of mutual aid and shared ownership of land.

from Good News, 1980
Edward Abbey

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Update on Some Developments of Concern

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

Whatcom County, it would seem, is being converted into residential development at an ever-increasing rate. There are so many development proposals out there that it is impossible for an all-volunteer organization such as ours to evaluate the environmental impacts of all of them.

However, there are a few that we are very concerned about. This is either due to their location and the direct impacts they would have, or due to the indirect impacts they would have to the rest of Whatcom County.

Balfour Village:

This development would place 667 single family dwelling units and 100 condo units on 272 acres near Kendall. This proposal basically drops a ready-made town right between Sumas and Red Mountain. While the developer touts this as a low impact development, much of the development is proposed for an alluvial fan hazard area, and the developer has proposed to build a channel to route stormwater into nearby Sprague Lake.

The development was issued a mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS) on 12/27/2006 - which would have allowed it to proceed without an environmental impact statement (EIS). The MDNS was rescinded on 1/12/2007 based at least in part on it being issued in a technically incorrect manner, but we won't be surprised if it is reissued later, and may have been re-issued by the time you read this.

While we don't argue that some development is likely to occur here due to its comprehensive plan designation (most of this area is UR4 long-term planning), we question the intensity of this development - we feel an EIS should be mandatory for a project of this size and scope, and hope Whatcom County will eventually require one. Please see the information put out by the local community group Foothills Friends (http://www.foothillsfriends.com) for more information on the potential impacts of this proposal.

Trillium - Galbraith.

This proposal to turn 2400 acres on the north side of Lookout Mountain into a UGA has been around for over one year (it was not included in the Comprehensive Plan docket for 2006, but has been resubmitted in 2007), and the proponent likes to say that it will "round out Bellingham's UGA".

In actual fact, this represents more of a cancerous tentacle of urban growth than a rounding out, in that it will force urban densities into a forested area that bridges both the Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish watersheds. Almost all of the area is currently designated for commercial forestry (CF), and the applicant has no reason to expect that it will be rezoned for residential use.

While Balfour Village (discussed above) is proposed for an area already designated to take on development, this is proposed for an area designated for forestry, with significant wildlife habitat, and one that acts as a wildlife corridor to Whatcom Falls Park and Scudder Pond. In the City of Bellingham Wildlife Habitat Assessment (Ann Eissinger, 2003), the habitat value of this area is rated as excellent, and it is further stated This block is essential to wildlife movement between the Cascades and the Chuckanuts.

This is exactly the type of proposal that must be stopped at its current stage - before it gains too much momentum. We should be working to preserve our forested water and viewsheds; for ourselves and those who are to follow. We hope the county council will do just that.

Trillium - Alden Reach.

We don't have details of this proposal yet, but the development of 1,000 acres near Point Whitehorn is a very concerning prospect. We will be closely looking into this proposal. Youll find links for maps showing the locations of all of these proposals on our website: http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/php/index.php?chapter,conservation#developer.

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Many folks in Washington have some awareness of wild birds, from pigeons and starlings to robins and gulls. And increasing numbers of residents and visitors are learning about our bird spectaculars.
Swans and Snow Geese gather by the thousands in winter on the Skagit and other coastal deltas.
Shorebirds numbering tens of thousands migrate through in spring and fall.
Raptors and songbirds follow the Pacific Flyway along our coast, through our mountains and valleys, and across our prairies and farmlands.

But take people on an Audubon field trip and they begin to see with new eyes. They hear new sounds. They learn new names. They discover a whole new world of birds and special places. They begin to care about our natural heritage in a whole new way.

Caring about something often leads us to care for it. And because, for most people, Audubon is synonymous with birds, they look to Audubons leadership in saving wild birds.

Audubon members not only lead field trips, they also organize birding festivals, hold community programs, present outdoor science classes for children and adults, and conduct the Christmas Bird Count and Backyard Bird Count. Washingtons 20,000 members and 26 independent chapters together with Audubon Washingtona field office of national Auduboncreate a powerful force for conservation locally and statewide.

The key to saving wild birds is saving the habitat they need to survive.

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