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February 2008 Issue (vol 39, number 2)
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FEBRUARY General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, February 26, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Lake Whatcom Hydrology

We all know what the source of our drinking water looks like on the surface, and we’re all aware of the many aspects of the lake that we enjoy recreationally or aesthetically. But have you ever given any thought to exactly how Lake Whatcom works? Join us for an enlightening evening with Associate Professor of the Geology Department at Western Washington University, Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., as he tells us more than we ever expected to know about the lake. There’s so much more than meets the eye.

Join us for an intriguing evening and remember that meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public. Invite a couple of friends to join you.

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From the President

You might have noticed that the daylight hours are getting perceptibly longer. On one day recently, I returned to a particular spot where I had been exactly one week before, at precisely the same time. I couldn’t help but notice the different light. The cloud cover was the same, but it was so much brighter. In the annual holiday hangover period perhaps my mind was still overwhelmed and otherwise occupied, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. No big surprise there. Ancient civilizations were more in tune with nature and took the changes in stride, but I was still taken aback. Oh well.

From the shortest day of the year on the Winter Solstice, we wait patiently for signs that we might have made it through the heart of winter. While there are no guarantees that spring weather will be here tomorrow, mid-January usually heralds a noticeable seasonal swing on the downhill side of Christmas. However, the weatherman predicts that a northeaster is on the way today, so I won’t break out the shorts just yet! It’s just another brick in the wall. We can handle it.

Here at NCAS headquarters in downtown Bellingham, I can look back at one of the quieter winters I’ve experienced when it comes to bird sightings, especially those of the rara avis variety. Last year at this time we had visits from an Emperor Goose, a King Eider, and a Whooper Swan to get goofy over, along with a few other delectable sightings. This year has been very quiet; although, our county list stands at 100 species at month’s end.

All the birding list serves that I monitor have reported exciting birds like Clark’s Grebes on the west side, an Arctic Loon on the Columbia River, and Northern Hawk Owls on the east side, to name a few. Of course, these birds require a bit of a drive and in these times of stupid gas prices, we find it best to let other folks do the driving. I find it much easier and certainly more cost-effective to walk down to Whatcom Creek and see where the Barred Owl is spending the day. I’ve located it in several different locations since we first found it on the Christmas Bird Count in December.

Cold weather, northeasters, and gas prices notwithstanding, we still have good numbers of wintering birds to observe on closer-to-home forays. And right around the time when we’ve located every Eurasian Wigeon there is to see in the county, we can begin to look forward to return of a few of our early favorites, like the swallows. It’s all about time and how we choose to spend it.

Before we know it, winter will become spring and there will be numerous activities and events to keep us busy. Make sure to stay tuned to these pages and attend the chapter meetings. Plan to become more involved in chapter activities and let us know how we can serve you better. We’re always trying to improve, so don’t be shy.

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Birding Humor

Editor’s note: We of the newsletter staff are always on the lookout for odds and ends that might appeal on some level to a variety of readers. Who can deny, especially in today’s world, the need to laugh a little every now and then? With this very basic theme in mind, enjoy this page as an alternative to crying.

The Laws of Birding


Laws Concerning Rare Birds

• Rare birds reported on Wednesday are usually gone by Saturday.

• During spring and fall, all major flights will occur on a weekday.

• The farther you travel to see a particular bird, the less likely you are to find it.

• Good birds appear when you have a bagel with cream cheese in your hand.

Laws Concerning Field Marks

• Whenever you are out birding without a field guide and see a new bird, the field mark you think is the important one is never the important one.

• A bird will always fly before you can look at the important field mark.

Laws Concerning Life Birds

• You might look for a particular bird for 20 years without finding it, but once you DO find it, you find them everywhere. They turn up in your driveway, on your porch—they turn up EVERYWHERE! They suddenly become robin-like in their numbers.

• The bird that you struggle through difficult terrain, endure multiple injuries, and screw up your schedule for, will be waiting for you above your car in the parking lot.

Laws of Identification

• If a small brown bird flies across the road, it’s a Song Sparrow.

• If the bird sits there all day and lets you look at all its field marks, it is not a rare bird.

• If there are two or more birds in a tree and one is a rarity, the only one you can’t see is the rarity.

• Dull birds with difficult plumage are always seen on overcast days.

• Woodpeckers and creepers spend more time on the far side of the trunk.

• A bird is most visible when you look in your field guide and least visible when you go back to look for the next field mark.

• Birds are most visible when your binoculars are down.

• The rarer the duck or goose, the farther from shore it will be.

• Birds which can be distinguished by voice only sing when aircraft are overhead.

• If you have seen the bird before, it’s an escapee. If it’s a lifer, it’s a wild bird.

Laws of Photographing Birds

• Your best photographic opportunities will occur when you do not have a camera.

• The lens you have with you is never long enough.

• If the lens is long enough, the bird will be too close to focus.

Law of Scopes

• If you need the scope, it’s in your trunk. If you do not need it, it’s on your shoulder.

Number One Law of Birding

• Common species are more common than rare species.


You are a birder if......

• Your kids are named Accipiter and Buteo.

• Your spouse says, “It’s either me or the birds,” and you have to think about it.

• You try to talk your kid into going to college in Belize so you can have an excuse to go and bird there.

• You get up earlier on weekends to go birding than you do during the week to go to work.

• Your children have not had new shoes in two years but you own a Swarovski.

• The most prevalent items in your wardrobe are your birding t-shirts.

• You keep a list of birds seen out of the bathroom window while on the toilet.

• You have a trip list from your honeymoon.

• You have a list of lists.

• You go to the beach only during nor’easters and after strong cold fronts.

• You have a callus on your finger from the focus knob.

• Last but not least, you know you are a birder if you did not laugh at any of these because they are true.

These tidbits of birding humor were provided by the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club.

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Spring ACOW

For the spring Audubon Council of Washington (ACOW), being held April 11-13, Audubon Washington has chosen the Sleeping Lady mountain retreat in the foothills of the Cascades outside Leavenworth. The Sleeping Lady creates an atmosphere that blends seamlessly with nature and the surrounding landscape, and provides an environment that fosters creative interaction. This all-inclusive retreat is also a leader in an environmentally-conscious industry; with conservation a primary concern from its construction through its daily operations.

For more information on the spring ACOW 2008, visit the Audubon Washington web site at http://www.wa.audubon.org where online registration is expected to be available by February 13.

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Waterfall Finder’s Guide

Robert L. Mooers, veteran hiker, cartographer, and wilderness navigation instructor, has authored a new book: Waterfall Finder’s Guide, Western Washington Series, #1: The Northern Counties and the Olympic Peninsula.

This is, quite simply, the most inclusive and complete water-falling guide to northwest Washington ever! Bob Mooers tells you how to experience—on foot or by car—more than 120 year-round waterfalls.

In the guide are clearly written directions, a map for each day hike or drive-to waterfall and a foreword on viewing safety. The hikes are rated for each approach to the individual falls.

This book is a perfect complement to your other field guides and is available at Village Books in Fairhaven. You can also read more by visiting the more comprehensive web site at http://www.fallsguytrailguides.com.

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NCAS Winter Field Trips

Paul Woodcock

If you are new to Whatcom County, or just have not gotten out much in winter, you might feel as I did years ago. Winter is a time to sit by the fire listening to the rain on the roof and dreaming of spring warbler migration or Rufous Motmots and their environs. Winter may well be Whatcom County’s finest birding season. Our marine environment offers habitat for thousands of Trumpeter Swans, Snow Geese, and other waterfowl, as well as hundreds of raptors. And there is so much more to find for those who take the time to look. All of you birders who already know this to be true are welcome to come along also!

NCAS 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.

If you have feedback or suggestions concerning field trips or would like to lead a trip, please contact me by e-mail at vp@northcascadesaudubon.org or by phone at 380-3356. It is our aim to provide a positive birding experience for all.

Here is our winter field trip calendar. Please check next month’s issue of The Avalanche as more trips may be added.

Saturday, February 2. Semiahmoo Spit.

Enjoy 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. No registration required. Meet at Semiahmoo County Park at 9 AM. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock. This trip is sponsored by Whatcom County Parks with NCAS leadership.

Sunday, February 10. The Magic Skagit.

This is a 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. This trip always fills up so call early. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Jeanie Johnson, 671-8886.

Sunday, February 17. Marine Park, Blaine.

This will be a half-day walking tour—approximately one mile—viewing a veritable outdoor classroom for the study of waterfowl, seabirds, and shorebirds. Shallow, mid-depth, and deep-water habitats, often patrolled by eagles and other raptors, are easily seen. Enjoy a morning walk with great birdwatching and learn about some of the amazing adaptations of our avian friends. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, March 8. George Reifel Sanctuary, B.C.

No birder’s winter is complete without a trip to the Reifel sanctuary near Ladner, B.C. This will be a full-day trip to one of our area’s most spectacular wildlife refuges. Habitat diversity is part of the magic of Reifel. Large concentrations of dabbling ducks and Snow Geese are complemented by Sand- hill Cranes, shorebirds, owls, and other raptors. Woodland birds, possibly including some of our northern, nomadic species, are also present. 8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

**Border crossing requirements are about to change! After January 31, 2008, you might be required to have a passport in hand to cross the border into Canada.

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2008 Winter Wings Festival

February 15-17
Klamath Falls, OR

The Klamath Basin of south central Oregon and northern California is home to over 350 species of birds throughout the year. It is famous for spectacular flocks of waterfowl on the lakes, rivers, and nearby Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges. We’re especially blessed to be home to the largest concentration of wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.

The Klamath Basin Audubon Society is sponsoring the Winter Wings Festival in conjunction with Klamath Wingwatchers. The festival offers keynote speakers, field trips, workshops, and other special events. In addition, there are many free activities such as vendors, live birds, and displays targeted to families and children.

For more information or to register as a participant, visit our web site at http://www.winterwingsfest.org.

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NCAS Spring Field Trip to Dungeness Spit

As with any good field trip—or trip of any sort for that matter—a good plan is essential. We are still in the early planning stages for a weekend field trip to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge/Dungeness Spit Recreation Area, sometime in May. The plan is to spend at least one night at the Clallam County Park that overlooks the spit. The park has a group campground and should provide a good base for as many participants as we can muster. So far, we have about a dozen people signed on to make the journey.

Paul Woodcock and I will be on hand to lead one or two excursions onto the spit and also spend some time at the Dungeness River Audubon Center. Both destinations should be super in May with lots of good birds and the good weather that is the norm around the Sequim area.

Further announcements will be made at future chapter meetings to add to the roster and begin planning on the logistics of carpooling, camping, etc. It is possible that you can participate in the field trips and stay in one of the many motels nearby, if you’d rather not rough it.

E-mail Paul at paulwoodcock@comcast.net or phone him at 380-3356. I’m available at mechejmch@aol.com or by phone at 739-5383. Let us hear from you.

**We will keep you posted as to the situation with the ferry between Keystone and Port Townsend.

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Whooping News

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Whooping Crane Coordinator, Tom Stehn, reported that as of November 27, 2007, 257 Whooping Cranes had arrived in Texas for the winter. This number represented over 97% of the flock and was a new high count over the 237 that were present during the winter of 2006-2007.

Stehn has been conducting aerial surveys to monitor crane numbers in south Texas since 1982. On his most recent census on January 8-9, Stehn tallied 236 cranes, but was able to cover only 1/3 of the area due to coastal fog rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico.

And now, despite the fog, the size of the flock wintering in Texas is estimated to be at a record number of 266 individuals.

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Bellingham Parks Volunteer Work Parties and Events

Winter 2008
Drop-in Work Parties

Lend a hand keeping Bellingham parks green.

Gloves, tools, and directions provided.

Squalicum Creek Park February 9. 10 AM-Noon.

Euclid Park. March 1. 10 AM-Noon.

Little Squalicum Park. March 8. 10 AM-Noon.

Boulevard Park. March 15. 10 AM-Noon.

Civic Field Forest. March 22. 10 AM-Noon.

Racine Trail. March 29. 10 AM-Noon.

April 19. Earth Day. There will be multiple work party opportunities on this special day.

May 10. Backyard Habitat & Native Flora and Fauna Fair. Held on the Fairhaven Village Green, there will be plants for sales, nesting boxes for birds, and a friendly, informational gathering to welcome spring to our backyards.

May 11. Big Rock Garden. Enjoy a Mother’s Day reception

in Bellingham’s unique sculpture garden.

To learn more about programs and ways to volunteer, go to http://cob.org/government/public/volunteer/parks/index.aspx.


The kingdom of ornithology is divided into two departments—birds and English sparrows. English sparrows are not real birds, they are little beasts.

Henry van Dyke
American Ornithology for the Home and School
Volume 1, 1905

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Is Bellingham an Evergreen City?

Tom Pratum
NCAS Conservation Committee

In the current legislative session a bill has been introduced to help preserve urban tree canopy in the cities and urban growth areas of Washington state. This bill was described briefly in the January issue. The primary issues of interest that the bill requires (as of mid-January) are:

1. That an urban tree inventory be conducted statewide by the DNR.

2. That most cities would be required to develop ordinances to cover:

• Tree canopy cover, density, and spacing.

• Tree conservation and retention.

• Vegetated storm water runoff management using native trees and appropriate naturalized vegetation.

• Clearing, grading, protection of native soils, reductions in soil compaction, and use of appropriate soils with low runoff potential and high infiltration rates.

• Appropriate tree siting and maintenance to promote utility safety and reliability.

• Native species and naturalized species diversity selection to reduce disease and pests in urban forests.

• Tree maintenance.

• Street tree installation and maintenance.

• Tree and vegetation buffers for riparian areas, critical areas, transportation and utility corridors, and commercial and residential areas.

• Tree assessments for new construction permitting.

• Recommended forest conditions for different land use types.

3. A funding mechanism so this doesn’t become an “unfunded mandate” for which cities must comply.

One might wonder: Isn’t Bellingham already an Evergreen City? Don’t we already do all of the things mentioned above? The answer to these questions can be summed up as: yes, Bellingham is pretty green, but no, it isn’t yet an “Evergreen City” — the Evergreen Cities bill would have an effect here.

Bellingham has a couple of ordinances dealing with trees: it has a landscape tree ordinance (BMC 20.12.030) which dictates the planting of certain trees after development of a property. It also has a street tree ordinance (BMC 13.40.070 — 13.40.090), that deals with trees on city rights-of-way. However, it does not have any specific ordinance to protect tree canopy, or to protect “heritage trees” — those trees that have seen many a mayor come and go. These issues are sometimes dealt with on a case-by-case basis in the city’s planning department, but there are no codified standards to be followed.

Does it seem like a lot of trees have disappeared in the past year or 10 or 20? Are the pressures of GMA induced urban infilling likely to accelerate that trend? It doesn’t have to be so. Let’s hope a version of this bill (currently HB2844) is passed, undiluted by weakening amendments, so we can work together to protect the tree canopy we have, and enhance it for the future.

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Great Backyard Bird Count

February 15-18

Is there a better way to spend time in mid-February than to count birds in your backyard as part of a nationwide effort to track winter bird populations? Join in the effort that observed 613 species and 11,082,387 individual birds in 2007.

This annual event is co-sponsored by the National Audubon Society, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Wild Birds Unlimited. For more info or to register to be a counter, go to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc.

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Walking It Off

For me, recreation is an inadequate reason to pollute the wilderness with my own human presence. The wild is too important. I would like to see great chunks of uninhabited country, which we, by voluntary compliance, never enter. And other areas, encompassing most truly wild regions in the lower 48, that we visit only during critical and self-defined times of personal passage, maintaining empty land for our collective spiritual journeys or vision seeking.

Doug Peacock

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