Newsletters – from the old website (some of the older ones are not available as PDFs):
- MARCH General Membership Meeting
- From the President
- NCAS Spring Field Trip to Dungeness Spit
- Bellingham Parks Volunteer Work Parties
- A Few Thoughts From a Visiting Birder
- Help Wanted
- NCAS Spring Field Trips
- Imagine: A Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve
- Another Take on the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve Proposal
- THE MAGIC SKAGIT
- February Morning On the Spit
MARCH General Membership Meeting
The Chuckanut Mountains are the place where the Cascades meet the seathe only place in the entire Cascade Range, from northern California to British Columbia, where major foothills of the Cascades touch saltwater. The Chuckanuts contain thousands of acres of maturing forest more than 70 years old, including old growth patches, extensive wetland complexes, salmon and steelhead streams, 300-foot high cliffs, and sweeping views of the Cascades, Olympics, and the BC Coastal Range.
Local author and master hiker Ken Wilcox will take us on a virtual tour of this wonderland of trails and birds, just south of Bellingham. You might say its our own backyard, and its very accessible to us all.
Join us for an informative 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. Well save a seat for you.
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From the President
By the time this issue of The Avalanche reaches your door, springor at least a hint of springwill be in the air. Traditionally, this is the time of year when all of the Hamsters begin coming out of their lairs to look for their shadows and check to see if the crocuses are up, yet. Better weather is surely on the way and it should be fairly warm by....July 5. Just four months to go!
This issue also marks the beginning of my twelfth year as editor of your newsletter, and I look forward to the next twelve. This is also a good time to thank everyone on the Avalanche staff for all their cheerful labor over the years. The staff spends an inordinate amount of time each month researching in any number of areas for potential copy. My hat is off to their efforts. I just hope theyll hang around for the duration of my tenure as editor. I might get the credit/blame for the finished product but its the people behind the scenes who do all the work. I couldnt do it without my trusty staff. Lets hear it for the staff!
As we progress into the next twelve years and if you ever take time to read the description of the newsletter on the address page/last page, youll notice one thing that is as important as anything within the newsletter itself. It is clearly stated that opinions expressed in this newsletter are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization. This is a standard disclaimer but one that needs to be understood by all. Within the same box as this disclaimer is the message that the editor welcomes articles, black and white artwork and photographs, and letters. What all this means is that this publication is, in fact, an open forum for all who wish to participate. The editor also reserves the right to decline any submission that might manifest itself as a personal attack on anyone or stray from the stated mission of this organization.
With that small piece of business out of the way, we now look toward all the things we have on tap for this spring. With the increasing popularity of NCAS field trips, our field trip chair has loaded the slate into May. Along with our regular trips those of the walking, short-hike variety we offer two trips that have potential to become annual events. One involves a two-night, weekend campout at the Dungeness Wildlife Area and another offers the opportunity to look for birds on bikesactually, well be on the bikes! See the full schedule and details for all the spring trips on page 5 of this issue.
Along the way and as we continue locked into our orbit around the sun thats the big picture keep in mind that we always look forward to hearing from you to let us know how were doing. Were extremely approachable and welcome any ideas you might have to help us to improve. Well just continue our efforts to achieve the goals of NCAS and try to entertain you in the process.
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NCAS Spring Field Trip to Dungeness Spit
The early stages of planning have paid off and we have secured the use of the group campsite for our weekend field trip to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge/Dungeness Spit Recreation Area, May 9-11. The plan is to spend two nights at the Clallam County Park that overlooks the spit. The park 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. Tents and smaller-sized campers are preferred and larger vehicles might need to utilize a nearby site.
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 early 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 youd rather not rough it.
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Bellingham Parks Volunteer Work Parties
Drop-in Work Parties
Lend a hand keeping Bellingham parks green.
Gloves, tools, and directions provided.
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.
Mark your calendars
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A Few Thoughts From a Visiting Birder
I have lived on the East Coast all my life, so I love to go birding when I am out west because there are so many new birds to add to my life list. And, since Washington is such a great place to see ducks in winter, I knew that I would be on the go during this recent visit in February. On my first birding morning, I grabbed my sisters less-than-wonderful binoculars and my 81 year-old mother and we ventured out into the rain, in the car. I had contacted Joe Meche, the local Audubon president, and learned that there were several great places right in the Blaine area to go birding.
Stopping and looking around Birch Bay was a real treat on the first day. Surf and White-winged Scoters, Buffleheads, Greater Scaup, and Common Goldeneyes were all enjoying a rainy day on the bay. At the state park, I added Horned Grebes and Brant to my duck list.
At Semiahmoo on the second outing, I added Canvasbacks, Barrows Goldeneyes, Pacific Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Harlequin Ducks. We also saw Bald Eagles, cormorants, and Song Sparrows.
On the last outing, we found the Red River Road, and I have never seen so many raptors in trees. There were ducks in the distant fields, but it was the eagles and hawks that got my attention. We also visited Tennant Lake and Hovander Park, where a very friendly white peacock approached my car.... probably searching for a handout.
In all, it was a wonderful visit. Thanks again Joe for some insider tips on where to go and what to look for in each location. Your web site was very good. Kudos to those in your club who worked on it.
Edited for length.
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Our most excellent treasurer, Diane Birsner, has decided to end her tenure in that position as of the end of May. What that means is that NCAS is in need of an individual who can handle the financial/bookkeeping end of our organization. Diane has agreed to assist in the changeover as soon as we find someone who is interested in taking on the task and joining our merry band of Auduboners.
Qualifications: QuickBooks knowledge (comfortable with the basics); organizational skills.
Tasks: Pay monthly bills; process and deposit membership dues and donations; reconcile bank statements; generate monthly treasurers reports (balance sheet, profit/loss statement); attend monthly Board of Directors meetings and annual planning retreat; prepare annual budget.
Time commitment: 10-12 hours/month.
If you have an interest and the basic skills that the position requires, please give Joe Meche a call at 739-5383, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
And a great big THANKS, Diane, for the great work youve done as NCAS Treasurer. We all wish you the very best.
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NCAS Spring Field Trips
We have a few weeks to go until spring arrives but the days are getting longer and even a little sunnier. Huttons Vireos, Song Sparrows, and Bewicks Wrens are singing and the buds on the Indian plum are showing color. The neotropical migrants will not be here for weeks, but change is inevitable and winters days are numbered. So, enjoy the winter birding while you can. But if you are anxious for spring, here is a chance to look ahead to some of the field trips NCAS will be offering in the new season. Come along with us and experience the changing flora and fauna of our varied local habitats as winter transitions into spring.
NCAS field trips are intended for birders of all levels of experience and are offered FREE of charge to all. We limit the number of participants in order to assure a positive experience and reduce negative impacts. All participants are encouraged to carpool and share expenses with those who are willing to drive. Please contact trip leaders directly to register and do so early as most trips fill early.
This is only a partial list of spring trips. Be sure to check the April issue of the Avalanche for additional trips.
We had to get to Reifel one more time before winter comes to a close. This will be a full-day trip to one of our areas most spectacular wildlife refuges. Habitat diversity is part of the magic of Reifel. Large concentrations of dabbling ducks and Snow Geese are complemented by Sandhill Cranes, shorebirds, owls, and other raptors. Hopefully, some winter specialties might still be around. There is a $4 fee to enter the refuge. 8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356. Passport or certified birth certificate with photo ID is required to cross the border into Canada and return.
Enjoy a half-day trip to some of Whatcom Countys 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 is required. Meet at Semiahmoo County Park at 9 AM. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock. This trip is sponsored by Whatcom County Parks with NCAS leadership.
Just north of White Rock, BC and seven miles from the US border, the Serpentine and Nikomekl Rivers lay side by side creating a large and diverse flood plain. The scattered wetlands, woodlands, prairies, and parklands that border the rivers provide habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, warblers, sparrows, finches, and raptors. This is excellent birding territory but few Whatcom County birders are aware of it. Enjoy a day of birding and exploring these riverine environments. Welcome a new leader and learn a new location.
8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Sam Gardner, 527-9619. See border crossing requirements for March 8 trip.
This trip to search for early neotropical migrants and other woodland birds is sponsored by the Whatcom Land Trust. Join NCAS leaders for an easy hike of about 2 miles through mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. Deer are plentiful and several species of warblers will be back and singing. 10 AM. Trip leaders: Paul Woodcock and Tom Pratum. Call the Whatcom Land Trust at 650-9470 to register.
This day offers one of the lowest tides of the year affording the opportunity for those who wish to walk to an eelgrass meadow. First, we will bird the trails around the Brazeale Interpretive Center and then head inside to tour the facility and meet the Education Center Coordinator, Glen Alexander. Alex will introduce us to Padilla Bay as well as the research and programs at the reserve. After lunch, those who wish to can hike a quarter mile out onto the mudflats to experience first-hand the habitat that supports the rich and diverse marine ecosystems of our area. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 18. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.
On this new field trip offering, the birds will not be on bikes, but the birders will. We will meet at the Rotary Trailhead on Old Fairhaven Parkway and take a leisurely pedal along Padden Creek to Marine Park and then follow the shoreline of Bellingham Bay to Little Squalicum Beach. Well stop occasionally to look for birds. After a lunch break at Little Squalicum, well return to the starting point and call it a day. 9 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Joe Meche, 738-0641.
This is a repeat of the April 5 trip. The birds will be changing, however, as wintering waterfowl begin to leave and migrant songbirds arrive.
Friday-Sunday, May 9-11. Dungeness Campout.
See page 3 for details.
On this full-day trip, we will cover the diverse habitat of Tennant Lake and the adjacent Nooksack River south as far as Marine Drive. At this time of year, the Tennant Lake boardwalk is a trip in itself. But we will go on to explore the open meadows, forests, and riverine habitats of the surrounding area which, at this time of year, feature warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers, swallows, wrens, and raptors, among other species.
8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.
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Imagine: A Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve
Whatcom County has proposed creating a huge new forest preserve which would protect one-fifth of the Lake Whatcom watershed. These lands are currently managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for commercial timber to generate revenue for beneficiaries. The exciting proposal would create an 8,400-acre preserve in two parcels, one on Stewart Mountain above the Hertz (Northshore) Trail and the other on Lookout Mountain above Sudden Valley.
The area is forested, extremely rugged, and wet. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, these forests are home to Marbled Murrelets; rare because they nest in old-growth forests. Other wildlife living in the proposed preserve are Bald Eagle, Osprey, tailed frog, and the Salish sucker (a small native fish). Common Loons at one time nested in the area, though they have not been seen for several years.
I went out to hike around on some of these lands a few weeks back. The forest is beautiful, reminiscent of a more lush and rugged Blanchard Mountain. The area is mostly second-growth forest, but here and there are patches of old growth which were never logged. I discovered several dramatic sandstone formations and a sheer waterfall. The creek beds are unlike anything Ive seen in Washington. Streams cut deep, tumbled ravines and often expose dramatic sandstone seeps covered in lush moss.
The size of the proposed preserve is hard to comprehend and as I hiked I became all too aware that I would see just a small part of it. An eight thousand acre-plus preserve would be one-half the size of Bellingham at its city limits. The eight-mile loop I attempted to hike began at the lakeshore (300 ft elevation) and if I had not been stopped by snow cover, it would have taken me to 3,000 feet, nearly to the summit of Stewart Mountain.
The ruggedness is one reason why logging and logging roads are inappropriate for this area. Nonetheless, DNR has two timber sales up for sale right now the 39-acre White Chanterelle above the Northshore Trail and the 51-acre Look North above Sudden Valley. While these sales follow logging rules set by the state for the watershed, they still involve clearcutting and they add to the miles of logging roads, which have already caused problems in the watershed. Just these two sales could result in 2.5 miles of new logging roads, and are examples of the type of management we can expect for this area if the forest preserve is not created.
Unstable soils are another reason why logging is not suitable for many areas in the watershed. Smith Creek blew out in the winter of 1983 during a rain-on-snow storm event, as have other creeks that flow into south Lake Whatcom. The Smith Creek failure was huge. Snow had accumulated in the clearcuts on Stewart Mountain when a warm, wet front rolled in. The rain washed the snow down the mountain and brought logging debris with it. Logging roads turned into muddy streams and culverts clogged and failed. The debris jammed the narrow ravines until the dams failed, sending the whole mess of rock, soil, and logs down the creek and into the lake and homes below. Today, the creek is still scoured to sandstone bedrock. Keeping forests standing in the watershed as firmly rooted anchors can only help prevent such future catastrophes on the unstable soils of the watershed.
The Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve proposal is made possible by a state law that allows counties to reconvey or transfer back to county management a type of DNR land called Forest Board Land. These are tax-foreclosure lands from the early 1900s which the state DNR manages on behalf of the counties. State law is strict in allowing transfer only for park purposes. The state will not allow counties to manage these lands for commercial timber, because if done statewide it would circumvent DNR and reduce state general fund revenues.
If these lands are protected as preserves and no longer logged by DNR, Whatcom County will lose a fraction of revenues. Because revenues are distributed like property taxes, much of which go to the state general fund, the local loss is minor. DNR revenue projections indicate that about $185,000 in annual revenue would be lost locally. Moreover, the state-mandated distribution of logging revenues would not allow these funds to be used for protecting Lake Whatcom.
The county parks director envisions a forest preserve managed much like the lands around Pine and Cedar Lakes. He imagines low-impact day hiking and the occasional backpacker. As in the Chuckanut Mountain area, there would be no new access roads and most of the trails will be built along old logging grades. In a few areas an entirely new trail would be built to connect the old grades.
Whatcom County should be applauded for its efforts to create the forest preserve. A new preserve would provide biking, hiking, and hike-in camping excellent forms of recreation with minimal impact to the lake and the watershed. It would protect nearby residents from landslides which can be triggered by logging, and the preserves trees, uncut, would mature over time into old-growth forests like those that once graced our watershed. Most important, a new forest preserve in the Lake Whatcom watershed would protect the very forests that filter our drinking water.
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Another Take on the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve Proposal
While the terminology may not be familiar, this is the same reconveyance proposal that Ive written about on at least 3 occasions over the past 2 years (see Avalanche issues for September 2006, April 2007 and January 2008). One would think that, with a proposal of this magnitude, someone preferably the originators of the proposal would have been trying to educate the public regarding all of its implications. However, this has not occurred in fact, no attempt has been made to answer many questions that have been raised here and elsewhere.
While this 8,400 acre park proposal may indeed turn out to be a good deal for the citizens, wildlife, and water-drinkers of Whatcom County, there are a number of questions that must be answered prior to its adoption.
To say that the transfer of this land 7,400 acres of which are inside the watershed - to Whatcom County will do much to protect Lake Whatcom is very simplistic. The quoted forestry impacts in the preceding article had nothing to do with current forest practices. Any long-term impacts from long past forest practices will be present regardless of who manages the land. Unless a conservation easement is given to an outside entity such as the Whatcom Land Trust, there is no guarantee that this, or a future county government will not perform its own timber harvest. And, even if timber harvest ceased on the transferred land, this would only reduce the total acreage of watershed forest practices by about 10%.
There is no evidence that current forest practices on DNR land have a significant impact on the water quality of Lake Whatcom. We need only look to the TMDL study to see that nearly all of the nutrient loading comes from the developed sub-basins. Thus, the proposal would have no effect on what has been shown for decades to be responsible for the decline of Lake Whatcom: residential development. Changing the status of 7,400 acres of land that is already protected from residential development will do nothing to stem the downward spiral of Lake Whatcom water quality.
The cost quoted in the preceding article, $185,000, is unsupported by existing documentation. The total estimated revenue to local taxing districts (Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham, and the Mt Baker School District) from current Forest Board land in the watershed is estimated to exceed $400,000 according to the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan DEIS (2003). An independent estimate of the revenue can be obtained as follows: with a simple calculation it can be shown that the average timber harvest on the land under consideration in this proposal is likely to be 47 acres per year, 42 acres of which are inside the watershed. Forty-seven acres is the same size as the Look North timber sale (misstated in the previous article as 51 acres). The DNR has a minimum bid for this timber sale of $678,000. While minimum bids are almost always exceeded, we can use this as a low estimate to obtain likely revenue. If this income is broken down according to the formula in the DEIS, local taxing districts stand to lose in excess of $350,000. These costs ignore the additional management costs for this area. Added together these are likely to be very significant, and do not include approximately $300,000 that would be needed to bring a final proposal forward.
The total cost of this proposal is very relevant since, without an accompanying tax increase, the countys budget is a zero-sum game: the cost of this proposal will be borne by other county programs could the budgets of other water resource programs be reduced to pay for this?
It is unclear that management as a park will be more beneficial than management as commercial forest land. There will be transportation impacts. Note that this park will be serviced primarily by North Shore and Lake Louise Roads, and all traffic on these roads will have negative water quality impacts. As indicated in the preceding article, there has been at least one Marbled Murrelet detection in the area of this proposal, but the place of detection is close to the parking lot of the North Lake Whatcom Trail, and this is the likely to be one of the major access points to this park. Will the increased traffic there negatively impact these endangered avian friends?
There could be both direct and indirect land use impacts: this commercial forest land is designated as forest resource land in our comprehensive plan. The example of Pine and Cedar Lakes given in the preceding article is a poor one from a land use impact standpoint. The Pine and Cedar Lakes area is not currently zoned as commercial forest (CF) land it has been zoned recreation and open space (ROS). While this may seem like a technical distinction, if the 8,400 acres of this proposal is re-zoned ROS, many potentially degrading land use actions will be allowed that are not allowed under CF zoning.
By the time you read this, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the DNR and Whatcom County will have been presented to the county council by the county executive. If this agreement is approved, it will initiate a long process which may take up to two years. It certainly seems like it would be a good idea to talk before we start that process. I think we can learn a lot from that conversation and, in the end, we will be very glad we had it.
If you have questions regarding this, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information see:
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THE MAGIC SKAGIT
How many birders can boast of a traditional birding day that begins with the expected and delightfully deteriorates into a bunch of alpacas?
Jeanie Johnson led one of those bird-rich days around Fir Island when one scope is focusing on the short eared owl at rest on a piece of driftwood, and another is following the peeping sounds somewhere in the adjacent muddy, plowed field and locating the pair of killdeer. And, in another perfectly focused view perched on an upright piece of driftwood, with a hooked beak to be respected a Northern shrike!
Suddenly, the short eared owl is airborne because a Northern harrier hawk wants that specific space in that huge tideland of driftwood. The owl didnt seem too concerned; just flew over to another piece of nearby driftwood. And the great blue heron, directly in front of the group, with distinct orange feathers on its graceful neck, continued to groom.
Although some in the group only wanted to enjoy raptors, we couldnt ignore a large leafless bush to the left of the dike, with a single bird gripping the tip of a branch. The scope revealed a meadowlark. However, not everyone was convinced. Therefore, Jeanie led us through the what else could it be? questions. The size of the bill, the definite yellow on the throat, the apparent V on the chest, the spots on the back; created a consensus that it was probably (but not definitely) a Western meadowlark.
For the raptor lovers, mature bald eagles and various aged juveniles were everywhere! They appeared to be in nearly every tree, every snag, every upright piece of driftwood, and of course, even casually standing in muddy fields.
However, trumpeter swan families interspersed with tundra swans appeared fairly casual in the presence of so many eagles. The swans continued to forage, groom, and rest while eagles, equally casual, soared over their habitat.
Whereas, in another field, when a peregrine falcon shot by on a low dive, hundreds of snow geese (with their distinctive black-tipped wings) exploded off their field, and into the air displaying an amazing shining white image against the dark gray clouds! Over and over, the explosion occurs from a flyby of a Northern harrier and again from a red-tailed hawk. Considering that these birds migrate off the coast of northeastern Russia, on Wrangel Island, one would hope that they could find an area to forage with fewer interruptions?
Although, the majority of the action took place in the tidelands off the dike on the North Fork Access to the Skagit Wildlife Area, a couple of kestrels were observed clinging to the power lines waiting.
In the winter, the Magic Skagit is impressive. Our usual ducks (American widgeon, mallard, and the gloriously, painted Northern pintail) were also available in the flooded cornfields for us to enjoy and simultaneously, spread out like a buffet table, for nearby eagles as well as another peregrine falcon!
At the end of the day, traveling east on Route 11, the lead car took an unexpected right turn and entered the driveway of the Chuckanut Alpaca Ranch. We followed and were treated to yet another peregrine falcon, high in a tree, overlooking the ranch. The owner graciously allowed us to stay awhile and thus; we ended our day viewing one last falcon and 58 alpacas.
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February Morning On the Spit
*Thanks to Paul Woodcock
Skinny Semiahmoo Spit Saturday morning,
one short mile: county park trying to be natural,
posh resort, upscale condos, yacht marina,
road and walking trails all squeezed
between two beachesbusy place.
Birds and birders watching them are busy too.
Birds dabble, dive, feed and fly.
Birders squint and peer through binocs and scopes-
try to keep warm.
Brant, buffleheads, cormorants, common goldeneyes
Birds dont much mind people, but flee every time
Bald eagle, that dark terrorist of the sky,
Eagle nails a duck out on the sea, drops it-
two gulls rush in, start tearing it apart,
Those with scopes say, its gory-
probably a scoter.
Harlequins, common loons, greater scaups, harrier
Adult eagle perches nonchalantly, barely 12 feet up
in a small leafless tree
Man walks boldly up, right in its face,
takes a picture.
More and more of our group approach
Eagle turns sideways, poses,
sun illuminating its fierce yellow hooked beak.
Wish I had my camera.
Then it fliesdid we disturb it?
Seconds later some see the eagle grab a duck.
In no time we are looking down on the beach,
watching it speedily pluck its catch.
Soon it is tearing off flesh, making a big pink hole;
orange bill-its another white-winged scoter.
Mew gulls, canvas backs, long-tailed duck, red-necked grebe
Find a large dead bird under a shore pine.
Appears to be a common loon,
odd plastic bands on its wings.
Huh? Its been neatly decapitated, legs and feet gone too.
Weird, somethings fishy here.
Ruddy duck, meadowlark, starlings, white-crowned sparrows
Two immature eagles perch in a snaga snag
placed as mitigation for more condos to come.
Under snag man finds two black and white wings,
connected by bloody boneseagle table scraps.
Someone asked, wheres the head?
Black turnstones, heron, pintail, red-breasted merganser
Mount Baker lifting its cloud cloak
baring a magnificent snowy head.
Sea sparkles in the sunshine,
brant trail eel grass from their bills
and cormorants dry wings.
Carnage and beauty, death and life,
no pretense in the real world.
Everybody must eat or die.
All that avian beauty and vitality
has but one purposesurvival to reproduce.
There is a knife-sharp beauty to these daily deaths.
that are part and parcel of this unique and threatened spit.
We need not be horrified, it is an honor to so intimately
witness the cycle of life.
*Paul leads a bird walk here monthly in winter for NCAS and Whatcom County Parks and Recreation.
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