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April 2007 Issue (vol 38, number 4)
      (Previous Issue March 2007) - (Next Issue May 2007)

APRIL General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, April 24, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Polar Bear Survival

The polar bear is the canary in the coal mine for climate change, and their rapid decline shows that we are in a serious crisis in desperate need of political action. With Arctic ice continuing to disappear, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is launching a speaking tour around the US and Canada to promote wilderness for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and action on climate change.

Author Chad Kister will be on hand to bring us up to date on the latest climate change impacts to the Arctic and Alaska. His presentation shows the critical need to begin reducing fossil fuel emissions and replace them with solar, wind efficiency, and other renewable resources.

Join us for what promises to be an informative and important evening. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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From the Editor

Recent discussions on some of the local birding list serves have focused on the pros and cons of reporting rare birds and the general and broad-reaching concept of how people watch birds, and other wildlife. I posted a few thoughts on Whatcombirds and encouraged folks to write in and offer their thoughts on the situation. Along with my own thoughts, which are shared in the April issue of the Whatcom Watch, three other local birders offer their perspectives on a situation that bears some scrutiny. The discussion begins on page 5 and continues on the following page.

If, after reading these articles, you would like to add your own point of view, feel free to send them to me for publication in future issues. We know there’s potential for a sort of point-counterpoint debate on how we might be loving wildlife to the extreme.

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Conservation Reserve Program (CREP) in Whatcom County

CREP provides incentives for landowners to plant forested buffers along anadromous fish-bearing streams. The program pays all the costs to establish the buffer and the maintenance for five years. In addition, landowners receive annual rental payments under 10- or 15-year contracts as well as a one-time signing bonus. To be eligible, the stream segment must provide habitat for fish listed under the Salmon and Steelhead Stocking Inventory (SASSI) and the habitat must be a significant limiting factor.

If you’re interested and would like more info about the program, contact the Whatcom Conservation District at 354-2035, or send an e-mail to wcd@whatcomcd.org.

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NCAS Officer Nominations

The following individuals have been nominated to fill the officer positions for NCAS for the Audubon year 2007-2008.

Joe Meche President

Paul Woodcock Vice President

Lila Emmer Secretary

Dian Birsner Treasurer

Nominations will remain open through April and May and the positions will be voted on at the General Membership meeting on May 29.

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NCAS Spring Field Trips

Dave Schmalz
Field Trip Chair

Springtime’s warming temperatures and lengthening days herald a period of immense and dynamic transformation in the life cycles of our local bird populations. Tens of thousands of wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, and seabirds which annually rely on Whatcom County for their winter habitat are currently staging and poised to head northward and inland to their breeding territories.

Simultaneously, countless thousands of temperate and Neotropical songbirds are beginning to arrive locally and regionally to the habitat they depend upon for their breeding season after wintering from points as far south as Central and South America.

NCAS offers a variety of spring field trips designed for all levels of birdwatching experience to share in the discovery, awe, and appreciation of the avian world and the greater cycle of natural wonders and events upon which their lives (and ours) depend.

All NCAS Field Trips are FREE and open to members and non-members alike. Due to popularity, most trips require advance registration. For more information or to register for a particular trip, please contact individual trip leaders listed below or NCAS Field Trips at 671-1537.

Please note: • Trips with an asterisk are co-sponsored by Whatcom County Parks and Recreation and led by North Cascades Audubon guides.

Saturday, April 7. Semiahmoo Spit. *

Half-day trip to one of Whatcom County’s most scenic shorelines. Spring is a transition time at Semiahmoo, providing last chances to see departing waterfowl, shorebirds, and seabirds and first encounters of the season with arriving temperate and Neotropical songbirds. 9:00 AM. Trip Limit: Open - no registration required. Meeting place: Semiahmoo County Park. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Saturday, April 7. Cherry Point Eco-Tour & Beach Clean-Up.

Join Re Sources’ Beach Naturalist Doug Stark, North Sound Baykeeper Wendy Steffensen, Marie Hitchman of the Whatcom County Native Plant Society, and NCAS guide Dave Schmalz, for an extraordinary outing combining field observation and service work at one of our region’s ecological gems. 8:15 AM. Trip Limit: None. Co-sponsored by NCAS and Re Sources. Contact: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537 or Wendy Steffensen, 733-8307.

Sunday, April 15. Kendall Creek - Sumas Mountain.

Chapter members M&#;°ire Walsh and Keith Fredrikson invite you to explore their home and environs, the Turtle Dove Sanctuary, located on Kendall Creek at the foot of Sumas Mountain. NCAS guide Paul Woodcock will lead this full-day (half-day option) trip exploring riparian, wetland, meadow, and forested habitats in search of resident and breeding songbirds. 8:30 AM. Trip Limit: 10. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Sunday, April 29. Deception Pass State Park.

Full-day (half-day option) trip exploring the flora, fauna, and geography of one of our region’s most spectacular state parks. This complete naturalist’s tour will spend equal time on birds, mammals, flowers, trees, tidal forces, meteorology, and/or whatever else might captivate us in the moment. 8:00 AM. Trip Limit: 10. Trip Leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, May 5. Semiahmoo Spit. *

Repeat of April 7 trip. Note: As spring progresses, emphasis of this first Saturday of each month outing will shift away from wintering birds to a focus on resident and migratory, breeding songbirds.

Saturday, May 12. Lake Padden - Chuckanut Ridge.

Full-day (half-day option) trip exploring open water, wetland, and woodland habitats with a particular emphasis on identifying birds by their songs and calls. Special guest leader, George Heleker, has spent the past 10 years chronicling the abundance and diversity of local, breeding songbird populations 8:00 AM. Trip Limit: 12. Trip Leaders: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537, and George Heleker.

Saturday, May 19. 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.

Sunday, May 20. Chuckanut Songbirds.

Full-day (half-day option) trip exploring the extraordinary south Chuckanut Mountains for Neotropical songbirds, raptors, and more. Special guest leader, George Heleker, has spent the past 10 years chronicling the abundance and diversity of spring songbird populations in this scenic wonderland. 8:00 AM. Trip Limit: 12. Trip Leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, June 2. Semiahmoo Spit. *

Repeat of May 5 field trip.

Saturday, June 9. Beginning Birdwatching.

This half-day trip will cover all the basics of birdwatching, 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.

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National Day of Climate Action

Saturday, April 14, Noon-3 PM
Maritime Heritage Park

Show up to help create the critical mass we need to make a statement. Or go further and march to the park from one of three locations (TBA)! If possible, wear red (for warming/warning) and carry signs to let passersby know why you are marching.

What’s the statement? The man-made shifting climate is the biggest threat we face.

• To Congress: cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

• For the American people, it’s about raising awareness and encouraging them to make some simple but important lifestyle changes today.

• For all of us, it’s a way to show that we care deeply about this issue.

For more information you can contact Krista Hunter by e-mail at ruddyduck@earthlink.com or by phone at 739-2991. You can also contact Erika Thorsen for information by e-mail at erikathorsen@yahoo.com or by phone at 647-1638. Visit www.stepitup2007.org for updated info.

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Audubon Alaska Watchlist

The Watchlist identifies species of birds with declining or vulnerable populations. It serves as an early warning, alerting landowners, industry, resources managers, and the public to take steps to prevent populations from becoming threatened or endangered with extinction. Watchlist species regularly recorded on the coastal plain and adjacent coast of the Artcic National Wildlife Refuge include:

Red-throated Loon* Yellow-billed Loon

Common Eider* King Eider*

Long-tailed Duck * Black Scoter

Golden Eagle Peregrine Falcon

Wandering Tattler Whimbrel

Bar-tailed Godwit Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The species with an asterisk are probably at greatest risk if there is oil development on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain.

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Birdwatching Ethics

Joe Meche

From our lofty perspective at the top of the animal kingdom, humans have enjoyed a long-standing and strong inclination to watch other animals for a variety of reasons. Numerous members of the kingdom see other species as potential prey, while an equal number are careful not to become a meal themselves. Aside from those who hunt for sport or subsistence and scientists who study animals, millions of people watch wildlife for the sheer enjoyment they derive from the experience. According to author Joseph Kastner, we are “A World of Watchers.”

Of all the watchable wildlife on the planet, probably the most scrutinized are birds. Birds are easy to watch and they’re everywhere, so you don’t have to travel very far to enjoy their company. Nevertheless, we spend billions of dollars traveling the planet in pursuit of birds to add to our life lists. You might participate in one of the popular ecotourism expeditions to distant birding hotspots or prefer to stay closer to home. Regardless of where you go, the end result invariably involves a conflict of sorts with a basic ethos that pertains to the way we interact with other species. The concept is the same, whether you’re watching wood ducks or warblers, whales or wallabies.

While we pursue birds and other wildlife for our own enjoyment, we sometimes take for granted the needs of the animals themselves. Some of the pursuers actually feel that they are entitled to invade the space of others for their own benefit. All too often the desire to have a closer look or get a better photograph overrides the need to consider any adverse impact to the object of the quest. Keeping a respectful distance shouldn’t be a problem. After all, with today’s optics, we are able to walk softly and carry a long lens.

Recent postings on three bird-related list serves focused on a couple of associated threads that have prompted numerous discussions for a period of time. One debate in particular concentrated on photographers and their always ambitious desire to get the perfect shot, while another considered the responsibility of birdwatchers in reporting rarities. The dilemma in the latter comes down to whether or not to spread the word about the occasional rare bird that shows up in unexpected places. The link that connects these discussions is a frequent and often overlooked part of bird watching — the ethics of the individual watchers.

In this complex technological age, we take so many gadgets into the field that one can only wonder how this affects the natural experience. Among the fairly recent innovations taken into the field are recordings of bird songs and calls. These recordings are designed to lure birds into view, much like the duck and goose calls were designed to lure birds into range. Regardless of the success rate, the use of recordings to attract birds —especially owls — has the potential to place excessive stress on the birds, especially during the nesting period.

Locally, we’ve experienced a few rara avis incidents where the excited response of some was so overwhelming that it gave the bird watching community a bad name.

This winter, Whatcom County first hosted an Emperor Goose, which was followed by a King Eider and a Whooper Swan. As the word spread, the birders began to arrive. The Emperor Goose didn’t stay long enough to produce much of a stir, but the eider stayed at Semiahmoo for most of the winter and was seen by quite a few folks. The location the eider chose was ideal for the bird to maintain some sense of separation from the crowds, since there was a natural buffer provided by the water.

The Whooper Swan was first observed in Skagit County and was the source of excitement for quite some time. And then one day it was gone, only to be rediscovered near Ferndale some time around mid-February. However, there was no report offered for almost two weeks, due to concerns about creating a rush which might have overwhelmed the bird and the private property it frequented.

While these incidents shared the experience of a rare bird, the behavior of some of the watchers was reportedly deplorable. The potential for the birds to suffer undue stress from the clamor and private property being trashed serves only to cause a birder to consider keeping these rare sightings to themselves. If you feel strongly against reporting your sightings online, the best thing to do is to document what you see with all the necessary details and, if possible, a photograph. The citizen scientist in you can then submit your documentation to the appropriate offices, such as the state birds records committee, etc.

Another thing to consider is the overwhelming need to become one with nature, without a natural idea of what that means. An example is the boater who intentionally yet slowly paddles or motors into a wintering flock of scoters or other water birds, just for the experience. While the concept is clear and possibly sound from the perspective of a low-impact approach, the boater is doing more harm than he realizes by causing the birds to take flight. These birds are feeding and resting while they winter here. They are in the process of building and maintaining the fat reserves that sustain them through the cold, wet winters and on into migration to their breeding grounds.

We all have our own unique styles of watching and enjoying wildlife and upon closer inspection, perhaps we could improve. Each of us must question our own motives and program ourselves to be as respectful as possible to the creatures we are privileged to watch. Recently, I had occasion to read a somewhat profound tidbit that clearly tells the story and gives one pause to look within: “The true meaning of ethics is in the behavior you practice when no one else is around.”

My Ethics/My Dilemma

When I was a volunteer for Fish and Game, I was obligated once a week to be in my distinct area around Ferndale and Lynden to count the Trumpeter and Tundra Swans as well as note any collars and ID numbers. I’m not obligated anymore, but I still enjoy observing the swans.

Recently, in mid-February, I was driving in the area and as soon as I turned off Slater Road, I found my first flock of about 40-50 swans. I parked on the side of the road and clicked on my emergency blinkers. I raised my binoculars and in my initial view I noted a blue collar on a trumpeter as well as a swan with a very yellow beak and a bit of black on its mandible. I only had a side view. This bird was not in my field guide and I thought about a photograph for ID purposes, but my camera bag was in the back of the car and I feared that any unnecessary movement would spook this bird as well as the others. I remained in the car and the flock did not move away, so I was able to enjoy them.

Once home, I contacted several expert birders and was able to speak with Paul Woodcock. I described this bird and Paul told me that I had possibly spotted the same Whooper Swan that was ID’ed near Conway several weeks ago. And since that bird hadn’t been reported in that area lately, he made the assumption that it was probably the same bird and now in Whatcom County. I’m a novice and I was thrilled. Apparently, I had found a bird rare to this area. I was very pleased with myself until the following events occurred!

Later in the week, two other experts confirmed the bird’s identity and it was suggested (somewhat adamantly by one person) that I inform the birding community by posting the sighting online. I immediately refused to do that. I had visions of the birds being scattered and private property being littered. The road where I parked is public, but I pulled off onto the side of the road and clearly was parking on private land. I felt an intense obligation to protect the swans as well as preventing the land from potential abuse.

From February 18 until March 1, I wrestled with this posting business. Of course, I want others to enjoy these elegant creatures, but they are here for a reason. They are not here for my enjoyment. They migrate here for a purpose. I feel strongly that when we overview these exquisite birds as well as other species that are migratory, we are putting them at peril! I did finally post the sighting online, a full week and a half later. I am still uncomfortable with this.

On the morning of March 6, I drove up to the same area and not one swan was in either of the two smaller meadows where I had originally seen it and the Mute Swan — once on February 18 and again on February 27. A large flock, probably around 150-200 swans, was in the center of the very large and nearby grassy meadow.

Now I am wondering. Did my posting cause these magical birds to leave the original areas? Were they simply tired of being viewed and scoped? I’ll never know that answer — swans don’t talk. But, if I am ever again so lucky to spot a rare bird in our area — will I report it?

Lila Emmer

My Two Cents

I won’t deny for a minute that I appreciate reports of rare birds, and that I will often go to check out those reports, such as that wonderful Whooper Swan that was around for so long. I also realize that it can create problems. Often, overzealous birders (Who, me?) will create problems such as parking in poor spots that could cause safety hazards; trodding on private property without getting permission from the owners; and getting too close to the coveted bird, stressing it out (something that I’m occasionally guilty of in my desire to get photographs).

If birders could adhere to an ethic that respects the rights, property, and safety of others, I feel it would be all right to respond to rare bird sightings. If know that’s a big if. But if we want to promote birding as a pastime, we should set a good example of how birders are to behave.

Barry Ulman

and more...

When the Eurasian Kestrel visited the Samish Flats, I spent several days scoping it from the road, taking extensive notes on its behavior and feeding habits. After a day or two a well-known bird photographer got permission to be on the property. From then on, knots of photographers and birders were chasing the bird for hours every day. Having to be constantly on the alert because of the proximity of people, its feeding time was drastically reduced. Finally it disappeared.

Wildlife live on the edge of survival every day. Not enough food or missing a meal can mean death if extended cold or rainy weather shows up. Death means an end to passing on genes of that individual. It’s also a dent in the diversity of an area.

I love seeing a new species. It’s the highlight of my day. However, in my many years of birding, I’ve learned it is far more rewarding to observe and learn how a bird or animal behaves than to see how close I can get to it. When the urge to see, touch, or photograph birds becomes addictive (listers, banders, photographers), we need to weigh our personal goals against the needs of those little lives we want to manipulate for our pleasure.

Mary Teesdale

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Conservation Issues....Old and New

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

Last month I mentioned a few development proposals that are of local concern. Here is a brief update on those, and a note regarding reconveyance of Lake Whatcom Forest Board land.

Balfour Village: We are still waiting for another SEPA determination to be issued. We are hoping for an EIS requirement, but won’t be surprised if another MDNS is issued.

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 and Trillium - Alden Reach. These comprehensive plan amendments were submitted for the 2007 docket. Our board voted unanimously to oppose both proposals, and I attended and commented at the March 13 meeting of the County Council Planning and Development Committee, where both were unanimously voted down. A couple of council members even asked Trillium to please not submit them again next year. It should be noted that there are strong economic arguments against the proposals as well as environmental issues.

The full comprehensive plan docket must still be voted on by the council, but the chances are close to zero that these will proceed further.

We should all thank our council members for their concern over these two monstrous proposals.

Reconveyance of Lake Whatcom Forest Board Land: I mentioned this possibility in the September issue, and would have thought we would hear some public announcement by now. This would transfer some or all of the approximately 8,000 acres of Forest Board Trust land in the Lake Whatcom watershed, currently under the management of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to Whatcom County.

Even though nothing has been publicly announced, there is $300,000 in the 2007 county budget to “study” the matter — none of which appears to have been spent as of this writing. Additionally, at least one elected official is talking to folks as if the plan is a done deal. The preliminary plan that I have seen a copy of has misidentified the land that could be transferred, and has a number of other problems that show me it is half-baked at best.

Even though I have not seen a recent draft of what is actually planned, I have many concerns, including:

• The ability of the county to oversee and coordinate fire protection and other management aspects over such a large area.

• Introduction of an increasing human presence in the watershed (e.g. dogs, mountain bikes, etc) that would come from designating this area as park — the question is whether this is better or worse than the occasional forestry operation.

• Management and compensation of other trust beneficiaries (e.g the Mt Baker School District) will suck up scarce county financial resources - diverting county funds away from other watershed protection projects, into managing land that is already in public ownership and has stable management. Note that this much of this land was transferred to DNR control in the early 1990’s exactly so it would have stable public ownership.

• And finally, the county currently makes no attempt to examine, or comment on commercial-scale forest practices in the watershed (those under Class III classification). It certainly seems that a much smaller investment in forest practice oversight would provide a more reasonable watershed benefit.

Because we have not seen the actual plan, our board has not taken an official position. Stay tuned for further details — this is likely to be used to feather one or more politicians’ election year nests, so we can expect to hear something soon.

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