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April 2008 Issue (vol 39, number 4)
      (Previous Issue March 2008) - (Next Issue May 2008)

APRIL General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, April 22, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Marine Bird Health

The SeaDoc Society is a core marine ecosystem health program of the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California Davis. The society operates in the expanse of the Puget Sound/Georgia Strait as a primary area of interest in marine health and has an office on Orcas Island. Joe Gaydos, Regional Director and Chief Scientist of the SeaDoc Society, directs activities in this area and will be discussing the big picture regarding local marine bird health.

The society has sponsored studies that have looked at the health of seabirds and, unfortunately, is having to focus on the reasons for the dramatic declines in their populations. Joe has testified at a Department of Fish and Wildlife hearing on setting limits for hunting scoters, after which there may be some hope for lowering the hunting limits based on data on scoter numbers and reproduction rates. Of particular interest to us is one study that looked at factors in the decline of the Cherry Point herring fishery

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. We’ll save a seat for you.

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From the President

If you had any doubts at all that spring is upon us, just look outside. The rain is coming down in sheets and the wind is blowing at a steady clip! I know that you’re thinking that this description sounds like October, but there are new buds on all the trees and shrubs, cherry blossoms are lining the streets, and birds are greeting the morning with song. I rest my case.

There are other sights of spring about as well, in the form of increasing numbers swallows filling the air in all the usual places, feeding on early hatches of flying insects. In the north county I see pairs of Red-tailed Hawks high above the landscape doing their courtship circling and calling. And even those scurrilous starlings are in serious nesting mode. No matter how you feel about this introduced species, observe them in action for just a while and you’ll understand why they’re so successful.

This spring will see our most ambitious schedule of field trips to date. Paul Woodcock has taken over the helm as Field Trip Chair and put together quite the array of opportunities for birders of all levels to get out and sample some of our area’s prime birding hotspots. Details for all the trips can be found on page 5.

Add to that impressive selection of field trips the first of what we hope will become an annual event for NCAS — the Dungeness Spit Spring Campout. We already have an almost-full contingent of campers ready to go, but a few places are still available. Details for this weekend outing are available on page 3. With the usual banana belt climate of the Sequim area, this is certain to be a winner.

Less exciting and even a bit on the sad side is the fact that in a couple of months, we’ll be losing our excellent treasurer, Diane Birsner. With all due respect to past treasurers, Diane has raised the standard for this position to new heights with her impressive skills at managing a budget that can at times be more than confusing. Thanks, Diane, for all your efforts.

We are seeking a replacement at this time, so if you’re interested in the position and interested in becoming a member of the NCAS Board of Directors, please give me a call or send me an e-mail. Diane has graciously agreed to assist the new treasurer in the transition. The qualifications for the position can be viewed on page 4.

Our nesting box program is going along with great results and rapidly approaching the 300-box plateau. What began as a spring project to celebrate Scudder Pond a few years ago has grown beyond our wildest dreams, and we thank all of you who have helped the project to expand to its present level of success. We plan to add larger boxes to our inventory and participate in more events as time goes by. The concept of providing nesting boxes for cavity-nesting birds whose potential nesting sites have been destroyed or taken over by less-than-desirable species is gratifying, to say the least. The enthusiasm of the community to do their part is great to see. Thanks, again, to all who take on the task and continue to support this project.

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NCAS Spring Field Trip to Dungeness Spit

May 9-11

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 two 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 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.

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Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival

May 2-4

Join the good folks from the Grays Harbor Audubon Society at one of the finest birding festivals on the West Coast. You’ll have a chance to see a million or so shorebirds as well as participate in a number of activities and events.

For full details, visit www.shorebirdfestival.com. You might also enjoy visiting the chapter’s excellent website at http://www.ghas.org.

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Thoughts on Birdsong

It is hard to tell just how much of the attraction in any bird-note lies in the music itself and how much in the associations. This is what makes it so useless to try to compare the bird songs of one country with those of another. A man who is worth anything can no more be entirely impartial in speaking of the bird songs with which from his earliest childhood he has been familiar that he can be entirely impartial in speaking of his own family.

Theodore Roosevelt

The timidity of many a songbird is your own fault. Treat them with kindness and they will treat you to melody.

Charles C. Abbott

And what is a bird without its song? Do we not wait for the stranger to speak? It seems to me that I do not know a bird till I have heard its voice; then I come nearer it at once, and it possesses a human interest to me. I have met the gray-cheeked thrush in the woods, and held him in my hand, still I do not know him. The silence of the cedar bird throws a mystery about him which neither his good looks nor his petty larcenies in cherry time can dispel. A bird’s song contains a clue to its life, and establishes a symphony, an understanding, between itself and the listener.

Birds with the flocking-instinct sometimes sing in concert. The prettiest instance known to me of this habit among our birds is that of the goldfinches, which in spring have their musical reunions—a sort of sangerfest which often continues for days, and during which the matches appear to be made. But with most of our birds the song is sort of a battle-flag of the males, and when they unfurl it, if it is not a challenge, it certainly indicates that they have the “fighting edge.” It is a notice to other males that “this grove, or this corner of the field is my territory, and I will tolerate no trespassers.”

John Burroughs

The morning song is the most cherished of the bird-lover’s day.

Oliver Thorne Miller

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Help Wanted

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 treasurer’s 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 mechejmch@aol.com.

And a great big THANKS, Diane, for the great work you’ve done as NCAS Treasurer. We all wish you the very best.

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Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival

April 19

For details on all scheduled events and activities, visit the City of Blaine’s website at


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NCAS Spring Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
Goodbye to Winter

On March 8, eleven of us headed out from the WTA’s Ferndale Park & Ride for a daylong visit to the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, BC. What started out as a cloudy, drizzly dawn turned out to be a glorious, sunny day with temperatures near 22 degrees Canadian — 70 degrees Fahrenheit to us from south of the border. It was the last field trip of our winter schedule and it definitely felt as though change was in the air.

At least a thousand Lesser Snow Geese and hundreds of Trumpeter Swans greeted us on Westham Island as we approached the refuge. These were just two of the 62 species we recorded that day. Among the highlights were a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls, a Northern Saw-whet Owl, 28 Wood Ducks, 11 Hooded Mergansers, 18 Gadwalls, 3 Black-crowned Night Herons, and a mink. We all took our time as Reifel gives birders a unique opportunity to study waterfowl at their leisure. For instance, how easy it is to miss a female Gadwall among the female Mallards on the water. A few of us lingered and wandered for nearly seven hours.

As we walked along the western dike in the warm glow of the afternoon sunlight, pairs of Canada Geese challenged us. They were clearly defending their territory, ready to nest and raise their young. Two wintering species which some of us had hoped to find — Bohemian Waxwing and Common Redpoll — could not be located even though the redpolls had been recorded only a few days prior. It was easy to speculate that they, knowing that spring was close, were making their way north to their breeding grounds.

Welcome to Spring

Spring has arrived and it’s my favorite birding season of the year. With spring comes the promise of small, brightly-colored birds from the tropics. These birds travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to spend a few months and raise their young where we live. They bring with them their beautiful songs and exciting identification challenges. We have planned an excellent set of field trips to outstanding local birding habitats. Join us to search for warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, and other resident and migratory species.

Saturday, April 5. 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 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.

Saturday, April 12. Nicomekl River-Serpentine Wildlife Area.

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.

*Be aware of border crossing requirements.

Saturday, April 19. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve.

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.

Saturday, April 26. Padilla Bay Estuarine Reserve.

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.

Sunday, April 27. Birds on Bikes.

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. We’ll stop occasionally to look for birds. After a lunch break at Little Squalicum, we’ll return to the starting point and call it a day. 9 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Joe Meche, 739-5383.

Saturday, May 3. Semiahmoo Spit.

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 article above for details.

Sunday, May 18. Spring Songbirds.

This is a full-day trip (half-day option) exploring a variety of habitat types around Lake Padden with an emphasis on identifying birds by their songs and calls. This trip is suitable for all levels of experience. Special guest leader, George Heleker, has an exceptional ear for our local avian friends. Time: 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leaders: George Heleker and Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, May 24. Tennant Lake-Nooksack River Delta.

On this full-day trip, we will cover the diverse habitats 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.

Saturday, May 31. Chuckanut Songbirds.

This full-day trip (half-day option) will explore the south Chuckanut Mountains in search of neotropical songbirds with an emphasis on local breeding bird songs and calls. Special guest leader, George Heleker, has spent the past decade chronicling (often by ear) the abundance and diversity of breeding songbird populations in this scenic wonderland. This trip is suitable for all levels of experience. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leaders: George Heleker and Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, June 7. Semiahmoo Spit.

This is a repeat of the April 5 trip.

Sunday, June 8. Woodland Park Zoo.

Enjoy a full-day adventure featuring “up close” encounters with both local and exotic avian species from around the world. Woodland Park hosts an amazing array of global bird species and is an important partner and participant in captive breeding programs critical to the survival and conservation of endangered species worldwide. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, June 14. Beginning Birding.

This half-day trip will cover the history, basic skills, and tools of birdwatching, including field guides, optics, methods of identification, and local birding hotspots. After the indoor session, we will spend a few hours in the field practicing our skills. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

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Something to Crow About

The color of the crow’s plumage has been used to describe a variety of subjects. Miners would refer to the color of the ore as crow rather than as black. A miner coming upon a poor, thin, or impure bed of coal or limestone would call it crow coal.

To crow-hop is to hop like a crow and refers to a horse jumping about with arched back and stiff knees as a precursor to bucking. When you say that someone is crow-hopping in America, you mean that he or she is trying to back out of an argument. A crow hobble is a rope tied to the fore and back leg of a horse to stop its leaping and bucking. There’s no evidence, however, that crow hobbling has ever been used to put a stop to backing out of a dispute.

As early as the sixteenth century, English doctors used the term crowlynge or crowling to describe the rumbling sounds in the stomach or bowels of a sick patient. Crowing was the term used to refer to the sounds made when the patient had whooping cough or croup.

It may be the ultimate measure of our capacity for disdain of the crow that in New England the word becomes a euphemism for cursing. “Jesus Christ!” becomes “Jesum Crow!” and “For Christ’s Sake!” becomes “For Crow Mike!” In Australia a common expression of surprise or disgust is “stone (or stiffen) the crows.”

And so it goes, assorted references to crows being regularly incorporated into the English language. As the crow extends its populations and we expand our appreciation of the crow’s behavioral and physical complexities, crows will likely broaden their influence on our vocabulary and provide new figures of speech to enrich our view of the world around us.

We know of no other wild animal that so consistently and thoroughly has affected our art, language, religion, and science—literally since the dawn of human history. There is no doubt that people learned about crows and ravens by listening to their teachers, mentors, and peers, by looking at art, dance, and film, and by reading holy, popular, and scientific writings. That is, we have come to know the crow not merely by contact in nature but by social learning, and we have modified, embellished, and extended this understanding through cultural evolution. As we now begin to explore the behavior of crows, you will learn of the myriad ways we affect crow behavior, but you will notice that our certainty in labeling these changes as arising from cultural evolution is less than our certainty about human cultural evolution. This is often simply because we can never understand another species as well as we understand ourselves.

Editor’s note: From In the Company of Crows and Ravens, by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell

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A Few Things To Ponder

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you had to choose between the buffalo and the giraffe; between a flower and an elephant? What would you choose? What if you had to decide between a hundred year-old tree and a million year-old beach? Between drinking clean water or breathing clean air? Would you make the right choice?

Every decision we make has consequences. We choose what we put into our lakes and rivers. We choose what we release into the air we breathe. We choose what we put into our bodies, and where we let our children run and play. We choose the world we live in, so make the right choices.

Learn what you can do to care for our water, our air, our land, and yourself at http://www.earthshare.org.

Editor’s note: The previous sentiments are parts of an ongoing public service campaign aired regularly by Earth Share, America’s first national environmental federation.

Question Box
Kevin J. Cook

Q. Are birds really dinosaurs?

A. Anyone over 40 grew up in a time when any large bone pile from an ancient time was a dinosaur. We’ve learned a lot since then.

Not all those big animals were related closely enough to be classified under a single name. Ergo, “dinosaur” now refers to a single group of those prehistoric animals; inarguably, birds developed from this group. However, calling birds dinosaurs establishes a premise that an organism is what it descended from. Consider this statement by the authors of the book Assembling the Tree of Life (Oxford University Press, 2004):

“With the recognition that vertebrate classifications should strictly reflect evolutionary relationships, it has become apparent that Osteichthyes [taxonomic superclass of bony fishes] cannot include only the bony fishes, but must also include the tetrapods [four-legged vertebrates].”

Using this statement to apply the birds-are-dinosaurs claim with uniformity presents a startling perspective: that robin in your birdbath, that snake in your garden, that turtle in the school aquarium, that alligator in the golf course water hazard, that cat in your lap, that stegosaurus skeleton in the museum, and you—all fishes!

Classification gauges information on a knowledgeable teeter-totter—similarities on one side, differences on the other. If similarities outweigh differences, a single name covers all, but if differences outweigh similarities, a separate name is needed. You are not a fish; a jay is not an owl.

Based on what we know now—not what we think we will eventually know or what we want to believe—the differences between dinosaurs and birds outweigh the similarities. Allegorically, when they lost their teeth, they stopped being dinosaurs and started being birds.

Editor’s note: Kevin J. Cook writes a column for Birdwatcher’s Digest called The Backyard. This piece was excerpted from that column.


Imagine that one day you were given the opportunity to watch birds for 24 hours straight. Imagine covering as much territory as you could during that period with a variety of habitat types to explore, ranging from mountains to tidewater. Imagine competing in a Big Day Challenge, either alone or with your favorite birding companions. Well, we have a deal for you!

Participate in this year’s NCAS Birdathon and you can do all of those things and more. Before you start your 24 hours in the field, collect pledges from friends, family, and coworkers to support your efforts to dethrone the reigning champions, Team Timberdoodle. You need not count individual birds but only species; i.e., if you see 857 robins, they only count as one robin.

This is our big fundraiser for the year and the entire month of May is open for you to pick the 24-hour period that works best for you. If you’ve always wanted an excuse to go birding and contribute to a worthy cause at the same time, call Joe Meche at 739-5383 or e-mail him at mechejmch@aol.com.

Just imagine the fun you’ll have!

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