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September 2008 Issue (vol 39, number 6)
      (Previous Issue May 2008) - (Next Issue October 2008)

SEPTEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, September 23, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Lake Baikal

In 2006, Nina Carter, Executive Director of Audubon Washington, traveled to Siberia to see birds and wildlife on Lake Baikal. She and her husband made the journey with 15 other eco-tourists. They spent two weeks on the world’s largest freshwater lake. Imagine a lake stretching from Olympia to Vancouver, BC with only one city of 300,000 on the southern end! Lake Baikal is an International World Heritage Site with hundreds of resident and migratory birds.

Nina will entertain us with slides from her adventures through Moscow, Siberia, and Lake Baikal....with several photos of birds from the trip.

Join us on our return from summer hiatus 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 and treats and hot beverages will be available.

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From the President

After a questionable summer, we have returned. Some folks are still waiting for real summer weather but we must understand that Northwest summers are often hard to decipher without looking at a calendar. Oh, we had a few warm days but it was mostly cooler than normal and that’s OK by me. Whenever I spoke to my mother during the summer and heard her speak of 95 degrees + in south Louisiana, I felt even cooler. I don’t live here for the heat, so let the cooling continue as we get back to work.

We’ve been busy this summer scheduling programs for future chapter meetings and feel that our September program will kick off the year in high form. The range of programs that we’re lining up will be geared toward the entertaining and informative presentations we’ve come to enjoy. This year, we’ll travel to far away and exotic places like Siberia and Indonesia, and even Whidbey Island.

Our nesting box program has proven to be quite the success and there will be additions to the inventory of box types in time for our spring nesters. Added this year to the smaller boxes that we’ve been making for backyard birds will be boxes for cavity nesting ducks, kestrels, and flickers. We plan to make the boxes available at chapter meetings as well as an event or two during the coming year.

The NCAS Board of Directors has seen a few subtle changes over the summer and we will begin our regular meeting schedule this month, as we look forward to the coming Audubon year.

It’s difficult to imagine but before long, I’ll put out the word to gauge interest and recruit new observers for the Bellingham Christmas Bird Count! Regardless, I hope your summer was a good one and worthy of a few short stories to submit to your newsletter. There’s always room for more.

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Fall 2008 Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
Field Trip Chair

Though it is only late August, the weather is acting as if autumn has already arrived. I for one am not ready to let go of summer quite yet, but we will call these few, introductory trips the beginning of our fall schedule anyway, as the autumn migration is already underway.

As you will notice, the trips below are all sponsored in cooperation with governmental agencies and are open to all without pre-registration. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to reach more people to share the joys of birding and further our mission of wildlife conservation. We would appreciate your input and assistance in making this happen. If you have feedback on our field trip program or 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. Also, if you have expertise to share, NCAS can use your help. It takes good leaders to make a field trip successful and more leaders mean more trips. 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 outings to begin the fall season. Please check the October issue of The Avalanche for a complete fall schedule. There is much more to come!

Saturday, September 20. Lake Terrell, Whatcom Wildlife Area.

This is a half-day trip co-sponsored by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Join us for a chance to spend some quality birding time at one of our best local places. Warblers and other neotropical birds will be on the move! 9:00 AM. No Registration Required. Meeting Place: Lake Terrell parking lot. (Remember that WDFW parking permits are required at Lake Terrell! Those interested in carpooling from another location please contact Paul at 380-3356.) Trip Leaders: Paul Woodcock and Jim Edwards of Tennant Lake Interpretive Center.

Saturday, October 4. Semiahmoo Spit.

For the third year, "Birding the Beaches" continues as a cooperative effort of NCAS and Whatcom County Parks on the first Saturday of each month. It is a half-day trip to some of Whatcom County's most scenic, biologically rich and heavily used 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.

Saturday, November 1. Semiahmoo Spit.

This field trip will be a repeat of the October 4 outing. Please see above for details. Each month is different at Semiahmoo. Come every month and watch the seasons change!

Saturday, November 8. Lake Terrell, Whatcom Wildlife Area.

This trip will be a repeat of the September 20 trip. Waterfowl hunting will be under way at Lake Terrell but there is sufficient habitat in the Whatcom Wildlife Area for us to all to coexist and find good, safe places to observe wildlife.

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Arbor Day Celebration at Elizabeth Park

Saturday, September 27
10 AM-2 PM

Join in the fun and celebrate the magnificent trees at one of Bellingham’s oldest and most popular neighborhood parks.

• Watch an arborist demonstrate technical tree climbing.

• Learn how you can keep Bellingham green.

• Take a guided walking tour of the park’s trees.

• Build a nesting box for your backyard birds.

Partners participating in the event are Backyard Habitat Mentors, Bellingham Community Wildlife Habitat Project, Bellingham Parks and Recreation, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, North Cascades Audubon Society, and Tree Keepers.

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Burke Museum Events

Arctic Wings:
Miracle of Migration
September 13-December 18

A new environmental photography exhibit explores the phenomenon of bird migration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a region that is environmentally crucial to the survival of over 190 bird species, yet is a hotbed for political controversy. Birds from across six continents and all 50 United States migrate to the refuge annually to take advantage of the 24-hour Arctic summer daylight and plentiful food sources.

This exhibit features over 30 photographs that capture the essence of the refuge and the birds that nest there.

The Owl and the Woodpecker

Award-winning photographer Paul Bannick will present a slide show and lecture, and will sign his new book, The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America’s Most Iconic Birds. His book is a unique blend of personal field notes, rich natural history, and stunning photographs.

For more information on these and other events and to learn more about the Burke Museum, visit their superb web site at http://www.burkemuseum.org.

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Woodpecker Days

Paul Woodcock

Ever since my first trip to the Okanogan Highlands more than thirty years ago, I have felt a strong affinity for the area. Each summer I make it a goal to spend a week camping there and the US Forest Service campground at Lost Lake has become my traditional headquarters. The campground is far enough off the main highway to be fairly quiet mid-week and is centrally located in the highlands. From there it’s a relatively short jaunt to Havillah where Bobolinks can be found most summers and Great Gray Owls have nested here for a number of years. Mountain Bluebirds abound along the open roads north toward Molson and Chesaw and the riparian habitats of streams such as Myer’s and Toroda Creeks are home to Gray Catbirds, Veerys, MacGillivray’s Warblers, and Yellow-breasted Chats.

But even with all this action nearby, it is often hard to get beyond the campground. Lost Lake itself is one of the few remaining lakes in Washington where a Common Loon chick or two are fledged most summers. Also, a small population of Black Terns is present every year. Common Nighthawks seem to be overhead each evening and their “booming” is often heard. Corvids are well represented. Though Gray Jays are usually numerous and live up to their “camp robber” reputation, an extended family of Common Ravens is definitely in charge of the campground. I have also gotten used to Williamson’s Sapsuckers and Pileated Woodpeckers being regulars around camp. Five summers ago a single Black-backed Woodpecker was present, chipping bark off the western larches, but I never found the species there again until this year.

Except for the presence of larches, the woods around Lost Lake used to remind me of Alaska — thick stands of smaller evergreens with a few larger trees and deciduous trees in the mix. Several years ago, the forest service began new management practices that have changed that greatly. They began to thin the woods dramatically, leaving larger, mature trees — mostly western larch and Douglas fir — in an attempt to recreate the open, park-like forests which were prevalent before logging and fire suppression; though it appears to me that the resurgence of grasses may be very attractive to the cattle industry. Last year the forests adjacent to the campground were thinned and piles of slash were still present, waiting for burning this coming winter. For some reason, be it the insects or the thinning process itself, a number of the trees left standing are dead or dying. All this habitat change has contributed to noticeable differences in bird species. Gray Jays, always common in the campground, have become harder to find, and for the first time I found Steller’s Jays there this summer. Dark-eyed Juncos have always been present but their numbers have greatly increased. (It dawns on me, however, that they were also certainly much easier to see!) Western Wood Pewees, Townsend’s Solitaires, and especially Tree Sparrows, all species normally seen in the area have become much more common than before. A pair of MacGillivray’s Warblers, a species I had not located in the area before, set up housekeeping this summer in newly resurgent shrubs in a cleared area near my campsite, the male singing regularly all week long. And then there were the woodpeckers.

On June 25, my first day in camp, the weather was blustery, keeping bird activity low, but I was surprised to find Red-naped Sapsuckers in the area, as well as numerous Williamson’s Sapsuckers. Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers also made their presence known. The following morning, as the dawn came still and clear, I could tell by the variety of woodpecker “raps” I was hearing that I had some good viewing ahead. On a walk to the lake and around the campground that morning, I found the two sapsuckers, a flicker, and a Hairy Woodpecker. I also had memorable experiences with a pair of Townsend’s Solitaires and a beautiful Northern Goshawk which passed about ten feet overhead as it zipped through the campground.

Returning to my campsite, I soon realized that I was camped overlooking woodpecker heaven. I located five species of woodpecker in the next few hours. It was not surprising to find the Black-backed Woodpecker, though I had not expected to find it while sitting in my campsite. From that location I eventually found a pileated, three Williamson’s and one Red-naped Sapsucker, a hairy and three Black-backed Woodpeckers. With the flicker seen earlier by the lake, the total was six species of woodpecker for the day. While looking at woodpeckers, I also happened to locate a White-breasted Nuthatch, my first in Washington state. My species total for the day was 55. On the following day, I found my one and only Downy Woodpecker for the trip about 100 yards from my campsite. And to top it all off, a day later on June 27, again seated in a chair at my campsite, I found myself looking at the back of an American Three-toed Woodpecker on a tree trunk about 50 feet away. That makes eight different species of woodpeckers at the Lost Lake campground over a three-day period.

A few years ago, when I found the Black-backed Woodpecker at Lost Lake, I told friends to go up there to see it and, of course, it did not show, nor did I find it again for years. It is hard to predict how this managed forest will evolve or whether these same woodpecker species will be present next year. But I would still recommend the Okanogan Highlands and Lost Lake for birding or just plain being. It is a place where loons sing you to sleep each evening and ravens sound the morning alarm. This year, the dawn chorus featured flycatchers, vireos, warblers, thrushes, grosbeaks, sparrows, crossbills, and siskins. But it was the percussion section that was particularly varied, skillful, and memorable.

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Elderhostel Trip to Churchill, Manitoba

Martha Burns

Editor’s note: One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Churchill, Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay — polar bear country! I found out recently that a good friend made the trip last year and she wrote an account of her journey to share with friends and family. Since I’m always on the lookout for copy, I asked if I could present an edited version of her adventure for our armchair travelers, and here it is....for your enjoyment.

This whole trip was such an experience and I still can’t believe I did it. I boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder [in Seattle] in late afternoon and headed toward my destination of Minneapolis. Had a good night’s sleep and awakened in Montana. After another night on the train, I arrived in Minneapolis. My next destination was a flight away in Chicago and then to Winnipeg. The next day I flew via Calm Air Line into Churchill. We stayed about 20 miles outside Churchill at the Churchill Northern Studies Center.

This place is truly in the middle of nowhere, and is a former site of a rocket base from the 50s, not rockets as in defense, but rockets for scientific research of the atmosphere and the Aurora Borealis. It is no longer used for that purpose and now houses all kinds of Arctic research, and research is an ongoing, year-round activity. Everything pertaining to the Arctic is subject to research.

Some of the highlights of my stay were my first helicopter ride, dog sled ride, and tundra buggy trip. In the helicopter, we flew over the tundra looking for polar bears. We saw our first bears, which was awesome. In fact, we saw eight or ten that day, along with a large bull moose with a huge rack. The sled dog pound and the sled dog ride were a lot of fun. These two days of adventures were followed by two days in the tundra buggies. These large vehicles are made for the sole purpose of taking people out onto the tundra to observe polar bears for about six weeks each year. We spent eight hours each day on one of these but the time goes fast when you’re spotting polar bears, Arctic foxes, ptarmigan, and other fascinating bits of Arctic nature.

On two nights, we were able to observe the aurora borealis, an awesome sight. I also spent an afternoon in Churchill, population 800. The temperature was about -13C with a wind speed of 35 knots. Needless to say, no one was very interested in moseying around outside. We were not allowed to go outside our quarters unless accompanied by a staff member — you never knew when a polar bear might be around, and they are very unpredictable animals.

The 30-hour trip back to Winnipeg took 40 hours — such is travel in the Arctic.

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Updates on Some Local Conservation Issues

Tom Pratum

Over this past summer, there has been some news regarding some of the local conservation issues the chapter has been involved in:

On June 27, a draft management plan for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve was presented by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Steve Irving and Paul Woodcock spent countless hours working with others on this plan to manage this precious local resource. Presumably there will be further public input before this plan is adopted, but exactly how that will transpire is unknown at this time.

To see the draft plan, go to:


• On July 8, King County Superior Court Judge Susan Craighead overturned the DNR’s issuance of a SEPA Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) for the Blanchard Strategies Group (BSG) agreement. The court action had been brought by the Chuckanut Conservancy and the North Cascades Conservation Council — while we had argued against the DNS, we did not join in this legal action. These groups deserve a hearty “thank you” for their efforts in stopping the implementation of this agreement, which we feel would have insufficiently protected the core values of the Blanchard Mountain ecosystem.

This decision is good news for Blanchard Mountain. While we are currently unsure of the DNR’s response, it is likely that a full EIS will now need to be conducted. We hope this EIS will consider all impacts of this agreement, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

• On July 22, the Balfour Village (Kendall Valley) developers proposed a dramatic reduction of the number of planned residences from 100 multi-family homes plus 667 single- family homes, to only 289 single-family homes. This sounds like good news, but the developers have made clear that, in reality, they still want to pursue the original plan as drafted, which would include at least 650 single-family homes as well as commercial and retail development.

Even though the developers are dropping three of the original four components of their original 2005 application, they clearly plan to revive in the future most if not all of what they are currently dropping. This may be an attempt to push the project through “piece by piece” in an attempt to avoid the cumulative effect analysis required under SEPA.

Stay tuned for updates.

• Between April and the end of June, a committee — hand- picked by the county executive — met to consider the memorandum of agreement (MOA) that would push forward the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom Landscape Planning Area Forest Board lands to Whatcom County. Given the makeup of this committee, it is not surprising that they voted to recommend approval with few conditions.

• One recommended condition of approval was something mentioned here for many months: a conservation easement. Unfortunately, the recommended conservation easement is very limited in scope. For example, while it attempts to control forest practice activity, it would not prevent a future county administration from allowing unlimited camping, fires, and off-road vehicle use on this land.

Despite its skewed composition, there were three dissenting votes on the committee. Among their concerns were some which were expressed here previously:

• Given that lands proposed for reconveyance currently contribute little to the water quality problems in Lake Whatcom, what will the impacts of this proposed park be on the watershed as a whole?

• What are the financial impacts, and how will they be paid in an era where county budgets are being cut (e.g., county parks has been asked to cut its budget by $575,000 for the upcoming 2009-2010 budget cycle)?

• What effect will this “de-designation” of resource land have on adjacent land uses?

It is expected that this will come before the county council in September, so more news is in the offing.

For more information on this issue, see:


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