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September 2007 Issue (vol 38, number 6)
      (Previous Issue May 2007) - (Next Issue October 2007)

SEPTEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, September 25, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Giant Hummingbirds and Nocturnal Seabirds Conservation of Endangered Birds on Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile

Join John Bower as he tells the story of evolution and conservation on Isla Robinson Crusoe, a small, semi-tropical island located 500 miles off the coast of Chile. His talk will center on his sabbatical research on the conservation of the Juan Fernandez Firecrown Hummingbird, the seventh largest hummingbird in the world, and the Pink-footed Shearwater. John will also discuss the larger issue of island conservation and will show slides of the culture of the island’s 600 inhabitants.

Professor Bower teaches field biology, natural history, evolution, environmental issues, and folk music performance at the Fairhaven College at Western Washington University.

As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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NCAS Officers Elected

At the May General Membership Meeting, the following individuals were elected to fill the officer positions for NCAS for the Audubon year 2007-2008.

Joe Meche President

Paul Woodcock Vice President

Lila Emmer Secretary

Diane Birsner Treasurer

All the races were close, but the vote was resoundingly unanimous. No chads were left hanging in the balance.

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From Audubon Washington

Audubon Washington is joining a growing coalition opposed to Initiative 960 — on the statewide ballot this November — because it would put funding and clean-up of natural ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat at risk.

Tim Eyman’s latest initiative would make it much more difficult to obtain vital public funding for conservation. I-960 is a rigid, confusing, and costly bureaucratic proposal to vastly expand the definition of “tax increase.” It would require the approval of two-thirds of the State Legislature, along with expensive public advisory votes in many cases, on every change in revenue, even routine fund transfers.

Innovative efforts to fund conservation or clean-up efforts would have to be sold to a supermajority of legislators — and in many cases to the public as well — as a tax increase, even if they did not raise anyone’s taxes. Actions that require a public advisory vote would be identified as a “tax increase” and allotted just 13 words in the voters pamphlet to justify their ten-year cost. Hundreds of millions in state dollars would be wasted on endless ballots and expensive court battles over how to interpret I-960, leaving even less for important environmental priorities.

Even transferring funds from one state account to another to fund conservation would be a “tax increase” and could be held up by a minority of lawmakers. Routine decisions about budgets and fees could be turned into polarizing debates over “tax increases” if I-960 is approved. Raising the parking fee at state recreation areas by 25 cents to invest in maintenance would require legislative action as a “tax increase.”

It is already difficult enough to obtain funds for efforts like the State Department of Ecology’s grants to improve and protect dozens of waters across the state. When you cast your ballot in November, imagine how hard it would be to get funding for any Audubon priority — even inflation adjustments to current projects, to say nothing of new investment — if I-960 is approved.

Audubon Washington is a member of the statewide Washington Tax Fairness Coalition. To find out more about I-960, visit their website at www.WATaxFairness.org.

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Mr. Irving Goes to Washington

Steve Irving
Conservation Committee

Linda Johnson, President of the Black Hills Audubon Society, and I attended the Global Warming Workshop and Advocacy Training in Washington, D.C., on June 24-27. Linda flew the red-eye, getting in on Sunday morning, while I started with the first flight out of Bellingham, Sunday morning at 5:45 AM. I arrived at the Hotel Quincy in the other Washington at 6 PM. The Washington state delegation reunited at a reception at the Audubon office that evening where we were able to meet our classmates and the Audubon staff, including Sean Saville. Sean attended last year’s fall ACOW at Lake Samish and will also attend this October’s conference in Sequim.

On the following morning, we met for breakfast and classes at the Audubon office, which took up most of Monday and Tuesday. We learned why Audubon thinks that stopping or at least slowing global warming should be Audubon’s top priority. We learned that global warming could cause 50% of all birds and other animals to be extinct by 2050 if the problem is not addressed in a serious way. To Audubon people who have spent much of their lives standing up for birds and other animals and their habitat, this was dire news indeed. After much of this type of education, we were taught how to channel our concern into becoming effective lobbyists.

On Wednesday, we put all of our skills to work on our Washington state senators and representatives. We were able to talk with Senator Patty Murray and later, her staffer as well as Senator Maria Catwell’s staffer. Then, Linda spent time with Representative Baird while I spoke with Representative Larsen. We were listened to respectfully and we told them how concerned we were about global warming. We then went to the Audubon debriefing in the House cafeteria. Even though we were given passes to see the immigration debate in the Senate, we both opted to return to the hotel to get our bags and head for our respective airports. We were ready to leave the 97 degree, muggy heat and get back to the green and cool Washington.

While in Washington, we were treated grandly by the Audubon staff and found a renewed respect for the job that National Audubon is doing. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting and talking with the president of National Audubon, John Flicker, who had great praise for the staff of Audubon Washington.

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From Our Leader

At the dawn of the 20th century, Americans turned a blind eye to the slaughter and impending extinction of birds until the band of determined nature lovers who became the Audubon Society opened their eyes and spurred action. The birds were saved, and they enrich our lives today.

At the dawn of the 21st century, concerns about the health of our planet have never been greater. Whether it’s preserving dwindling species and habitat or combating climate change, the time for action is now.

Audubon is taking action. Across America, our community-based network of state offices, chapters, centers, staff, and volunteers is helping Americans from every walk of life to rediscover and connect with nature, and then to take the vital actions needed to conserve our world.

On the banks of the Rio Salado in Phoenix, Arizona, we’re introducing families to a restored and thriving ecosystem in what was once a community dump. In Columbus, Ohio, Audubon is working with local partners to transform a former industrial site into a park where residents can enjoy birds and wildlife close to home. And in thousands of classrooms across the country Audubon Adventure materials are helping students discover the wonder of nature and what they can do to help.

Audubon state offices, chapters, and centers engage thousands of volunteers as citizen scientists doing essential work to guide our conservation effort. For example, Audubon citizen scientists have identified more than 2,000 Important bird Areas encompassing 200 million acres nationwide. Efforts to protect these places now range from local initiatives to international alliances.

You can see Audubon’s hands-on work in South Carolina, where we are preserving the world’s largest cypress-tupelo swamp, or in California’s San Bernardino Valley, where we are protecting the last of the few remaining Tricolored Blackbirds. Still other initiatives focus on protecting Alaska’s North Slope, Florida’s Everglades, and Sage Grouse habitat throughout the intermountain West.

Our national policy office rallied volunteer activists this year to resist efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act and to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. Our legal experts also blocked oil and gas leasing in the fragile migratory bird habitat around Alaska’s Teshekpuk Lake, as well as blocking a US Navy landing strip in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. In New York and Connecticut, we secured new protections for the crucial habitat of Long Island Sound.

You make all of this—and much more—possible. With your assistance, Audubon will continue to build on 100 years of success, helping old friends and new to discover and connect with the wonders of nature, and to take action. Together—like those pioneers a century ago—we will succeed in protecting the birds, wildlife, and places we love, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Together, we will build a better tomorrow.

John Flicker
President, National Audubon

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A Pair of Gems From Our Elders

Travelers in the Sierra forests usually complain of the want of life. “The trees,” they say, “are fine but the empty stillness is deadly; there are no animals to be seen, no birds. We have not heard a song in all the woods.” And no wonder! They go in large parties with mules and horses; they make a great noise; they are dressed in outlandish, unnatural colors: every animal shuns them. Even the frightened pines would run away if they could. But Nature lovers, devout, silent, open-eyed, looking and listening with love, find no lack of inhabitants in these mountain mansions, and they come to them gladly. Not to mention the large animals or the insect people, every waterfall has its ouzel and every tree its squirrel or tamias or bird: tiny nuthatch threading the burrows of bark, cheerily whispering to itself as it deftly pries off loose scales and examines the furled edges of lichens; or Clarke crow or jay examining the cones; or some singer—oriole, tanager, warbler—resting, feeding, attending to domestic affairs. Hawks and eagles soar overhead, grouse walk in happy flocks below, and song sparrows sing in every bed of chaparral. There is no crowding, to be sure. Unlike the low eastern trees, those in the Sierra in the main forest belt average nearly two hundred feet in height, and of course many birds are required to make much show in them and many voices to fill them. Nevertheless, the whole range from foothills to snowy summits is shaken into every summer, and though low and thin in winter, the music never ceases.

John Muir

Among the Birds of Yosemite

I was asked to imitate the Wild Turkey call, and I did, to the surprise of all in the circle. Hooted like a Barred Owl, and cooed like the doves. I am glad, really, that I was not desired to bray! “Why?” Why! Because an ass is an ass and it would have been rude even in an ass to bray in such company.

John James Audubon,


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NCAS Fall Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
Field Trip Chair

The weather is feeling like fall and fall is a time of change. Your chapter's field trip program is also undergoing some change. After 16 years as your Field Trip Chair, Dave Schmalz has decided to move on to other challenges. We wish to express our sincere thanks to Dave for all his years of dedicated service providing exciting, educational experiences to our community. Do not Fear! Dave will still be leading trips for the chapter.

It is my intention to continue the long-standing tradition of excellent field experiences and to expand the program as necessary to meet the needs of our members and the community. I would appreciate your input and assistance in making this happen. If you have feedback on how we are doing, suggestions on improvements, new places to go or different types of trips you would like to see us offer please contact me by e-mail at vp@northcascadesaudubon.org or by phone at 380-3356. It takes good leaders to make a field trip successful and more leaders mean more trips. If you have expertise to share, NCAS can use your talent. Please get in touch.

North Cascades Audubon field trips are open to chapter members and non-members alike and are free of charge. We limit the number of participants for most of our trips in order to reduce environmental impact and to assure a quality experience. Therefore, advance registration is usually required.

Here are a few offerings to begin our fall calendar. Please check the October issue of The Avalanche for the complete fall schedule.

Saturday, September 29 & Sunday, September 30. Overnight on Lake Samish. A 5:00 AM chorus of Northern Pygmy Owls thrilled many of us who attended the Audubon Council at Camp Lutherwood last fall. The sound of 5 or 6 owls, all tooting at the same time, is an experience worth having. Lutherwood has graciously donated overnight camping space for a few of us. We will arrive at 6 to 7:00 PM, pitch out tents (vehicle camping is OK, too) and have an evening campfire. Early risers can listen and search for owls. After a no-host breakfast we will hike and bird in excellent second-growth forest habitat. 6:00 PM to 12:00 Noon. Limit 12. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Saturday, October 6. Semiahmoo Spit. A half-day trip to some of Whatcom County's most scenic and biologically rich shorelines on Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor. We will view large numbers of seabirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds as well as raptors and songbirds. 9:00 AM. No Registration Required. Meeting Place: Semiahmoo County Park. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock. This trip is sponsored by Whatcom County Parks with NCAS leadership.

Sunday, October 7. Tennant Lake and Environs. This is a half-day trip to say goodbye to Tennant Lake for a while. October 7 will be the last weekend day the boardwalk will be open until the end of January. We will search the area for late migrants, early winterers and resident birds. Join us for a chance to spend some quality time at one of our best local places. 8:00 AM. Trip Limit: 12. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

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A Bit of Perspective

Avoid the highways when you take a walk. Even if well shaded, they are abandoned now to the pestiferous English sparrows; and if you are really intent of a good tramp of a few miles, do not turn aside for a stretch of swamp. If you have any fear of wet feet, be properly shod before starting. It too often happens that the sights worth seeing come to you when you are in a bit of wet meadow. The swamp sparrows, that are such sweet songsters; the marsh wrens and the king rails and the soras will not come to the dry ground at the edge of the meadow and show themselves for your benefit. If you want to enjoy them you must go to their haunts; and once there, if you are really fond of birds, you will never regret it.

There are neglected, tangled, briery nooks in every neighborhood that will repay frequent visits. There, some of the best bird music is to be heard. In an old field I know of, too barren to be worth cultivating, and unpleasantly strong of odors of Jamestown wood, there is every summer a colony of

Carolina wrens, and their songs are not excelled by any of our birds, except thrushes and the rose-breasted grosbeaks. In this field, too, I am sure of finding scores of garter snakes, and the pretty creatures add a charm to the place. Finally, nowhere else are there so many gorgeously-colored dragonflies as about this same neglected weed-grown field. By very many, walks are thought to be enjoyable only in what is commonly called pleasant weather.

What constitutes a pleasant day, as distinguished from an unpleasant one, is not very clear. If I have seen something new, that day is pleasant, however the thermometer registers or the winds blow. Surely, too, after a month of sunny days, a steady, pouring rain is delicious, not to look at merely, but to be about in it. It is charm enough to tempt one out to see how birds and mice and squirrels, and the snakes, frogs, and insects pass their time when it rains. The cunning you will see displayed by them will compensate for the soaking you may get.

Charles C. Abbott

A Naturalist’s Rambles About Home

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Birdathon 2007

*Team Timberdoodle
Victor Burgett

This past May, Paul Woodcock and I chose a birdathon route entirely within the confines of western Whatcom County. Unlike our earlier routes that also included hot spots in Skagit and Island Counties, for the second year in a row we opted to reduce our mileage as much as possible to maximize our time in the field. This meant sacrificing some of the specialties of our old driving-intensive Blaine to Whidbey route, such as the Purple Martins swooping around the pilings at the Anacortes ferry dock, or the Marbled Murrelets bobbing in the deep channel currents offshore from Washington Park. That route had resulted in totals of 98 in 2004 and 110 in 2005. Limiting ourselves to a smaller area allowed us to cover our territory much more thoroughly. It paid off well!

In 2006, despite the major setback of losing three prime, morning birding hours, due to my vehicle being broken into at Tennant Lake in Ferndale (we did hear the bittern from the boardwalk, however), we still ended the day with 122 species. And, we had spent less than half as much time in our vehicles. It’s true that our 2006 list lacked a Purple Martin and a Marbled Murrelet, but we just about swept the resident neotropicals due to our extra time devoted to the Chuckanut Mountains. We enjoyed excellent luck with both shorebirds and late-lingering waterbirds by making repeated stops at almost all of the best county shoreline sites.

Our final tally for 2007 was 124 species — only two higher than 2006. But that total included 13 species that were not recorded on three previous efforts. New this year were Red-throated Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Brant, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Stilt Sandpiper, Common Tern, Band-tailed Pigeon, Vaux’s Swift, American Dipper, Western Kingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Meadowlark, and Evening Grosbeak. With the exception of the kingbird, none of these species is particularly rare in Whatcom County, but all can be hit or miss — especially the northern breeding water birds which might already have vanished for the summer by mid-May.

There are still quite a few birds, all of which are consistently seen in the county, which Paul and I have yet to add to our birdathon list. Oddly, we still haven’t listed an Osprey or a kestrel. If the high country could be included in a time-effective manner, there are even more species to add. I’d love to tick a White-tailed Ptarmigan on a birdathon. Each bird-athon provides a unique and exciting opportunity to challenge our personal knowledge about birds and the area in which we live. I am already excited about next year!

*2007 Birdathon Champ!

**Team Killdeer
Joe Meche

As has been our practice for past NCAS Birdathons, Cindy and I incorporated our efforts into our mid-May getaway. We’ve done this in Louisiana and at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. This year’s destination was Alta Lake, near Pateros. An immediate treat was a mostly-deserted campground in the middle of the week.

We arrived early enough to take a hike to stretch our legs after the drive over the mountains from the cool westside to the drier, warmer environs of eastern Washington. This was the first of several scouting trips to check out what we might see when the birdathon whistle sounded on the last day. This proved to be one of many hikes around the lake and short drives on nearby roads that would maximize our efforts when we started our official count.

Alta Lake is usually home to a large contingent of California Quail and this time was no exception. For our entire stay, we could hear their distinctive Chicago, Chicago, Chicago throughout the day. House Wrens, Cassin’s Finches, and Mountain Chickadees were easy to locate and the lovely songs of Canyon Wrens were a delight to our westside ears.

My most anticipated birds at Alta Lake are always the Common Poorwills, and as darkness fell, their calls resounded from the sagebrush covered slopes above our campsite. During the first night, I was awakened by a number of Great Horned Owls calling back and forth. Then the coyotes chimed in! This trio was busy every night providing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

On our count day, which we started at 6 PM the night before, we ranged from Alta Lake to Blaine and Semiahmoo. We had over 80 species by the time we reached Washington Pass and knew we had a chance to excel with the better-known west side birds. After perfect weather all week, little did we know that rain awaited us as soon as we crested the Cascades.

Once again, the contrast from one side of the mountains to the other was phenomenal. By the time we reached salt water, Noah was loading the ark. We had to stretch the limits and get soaked doing it just to pick up the few species we could see! Oh, well. I walked the boardwalk at Tennant Lake and we threw in the (wet) towel at 6 PM.

We tallied 121 species and will have to spend another year in the shadow of the Timberdoodlers, to whom we extend our congratulations. Do I dare say, wait until next year?

** 2007 Birdathon Runner-up.

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Conservation Issues — New and Old

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

Over the late spring and summer, there has been much activity of interest to those who value conservation in our region. A number of local issues that we have spoken about in the past remain unresolved: Balfour Village in Kendall (still waiting for a re-issued SEPA determination), and the proposal to reconvey Lake Whatcom forest board land (regarding which, nothing has come forward). There has been some activity, and we have had some involvement in the following local issues:

Greenmill Hydro Project

This project to run water from Lake Whatcom into Bellingham Bay to generate power was given a preliminary permit by FERC in late September 2006 despite our strong objections. In March 2007, the proponents submitted a progress report that indicates that the City of Bellingham hasn’t also strongly objected to this non-beneficial use of drinking water. Because this proposal would use existing city infrastructure, the City can bring it to a stop. We can only hope this project is brought to a halt before it is too late.

Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve

In May 2000, former Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher designated 3,000 acres of tidelands and aquatic areas off Cherry Point to be “...withdrawn from conflicting uses until the Nooksack River salmon and Cherry Point herring populations recover from their current states of decline.”

Currently the DNR is developing a management plan for the area that may very well do nothing at all to help the endangered herring or salmon runs. Conservation Committee member Steve Irving is attending the meetings to work out the plan, and we will certainly have more to say in the coming months.

Blanchard Strategies Group Agreement

This agreement and the management plan implied by it - which we are not entirely in agreement with - was given a SEPA DNS in April. We subsequently commented organizationally, and in concert with other organizations, and our collective comments resulted in the SEPA determination being delayed in June. However, on August 8, the DNR decided to ignore our comments and pleas for the preparation of an EIS, and re-issued the DNS.

In the interest of space, I won’t go into detail regarding our comments, but the DNR’s response to our concerns about timber harvest activities occurring close to an occupied Marbled Murrelet stand was to basically dismiss them. When concerns were brought forward regarding the effect of increasing sediment loading in Lake Samish from timber harvest activities, the DNR had the absurd response that phosphorus is only released from sediment under low oxygen conditions, “... conditions not known to exist in Lake Samish.” The initial part of the statement is correct, but the final statement is false as Lake Samish is a mesotrophic lake. Mesotrophic lakes can generate significant organic matter, which consumes oxygen from the water as it is used by other organisms. Therefore, much of the deeper parts of Lake Samish undergo oxygen depletion during the summer months when the lake is stratified, and therefore sediment loading is important.

In any case, we continue to have concerns about this proposal, which was formally adopted on August 15. The plan will remain unchanged unless appealed by September 13. We expect timber harvest near the core area to occur well within the initial 5- year time frame of the agreement, forever eliminating the possibility of meaningful preservation of this area.

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Screech of the Eagle

The resurgence of the Bald Eagle has resulted in its recent removal from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and Auduboners from across the country are taking heart. According to John Flicker, President of National Audubon, “Like no other species, the Bald Eagle showed us all that environmental stewardship has priceless rewards.”

The encouraging news about eagles proves the effectiveness of focus, energy, and action by conservationists, legislators, regulators, and concerned citizens. It comes just after Audubon’s State of the Birds Report revealed that many of our most common birds have seen their populations shrink by half or more during the same four decades when the eagle was making its comeback.

If you’d like to read the entire report, as well as view pictures and information about some of the Washington state birds in steepest decline, visit Audubon Washington’s site at http://wa.audubon.org/science_SOTBReport_WAState.html.

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