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April 2009 Issue (vol 40, number 4)
      (Previous Issue March 2009) - (Next Issue May 2009)

APRIL General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, April 28, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Pigeon Guillemots, Puget Sound’s Seabird Mascot

Several years ago, Frances Wood became smitten by a black seabird with white wing patches and fire engine-red feet, called Pigeon Guillemots. Each spring these social, musical, and entertaining birds gather in nesting colonies along Puget Sound bluffs. In her presentation, Frances will describe these animated seabirds, explain their interdependent relationship with the near shore environment, and why guillemots are becoming the poster bird for the health of Puget Sound waters.

Frances is the author of Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West, and writer for Bird Note, a two-minute radio program about the intriguing ways of birds, which airs daily on public radio. She is also past-president of the Whidbey Audubon Society and coordinates an on-going research study of guillemots on Whidbey Island.

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 and treats and hot beverages will be available.

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From the President

It’s reasonably official now — spring is here! According to the calendar and the US Naval Observatory, the vernal equinox was upon us as of 11:44 AM on March 20. And it was a wild beginning, as I recall, complete with gusty wind and rain squalls. I sat tight in the cab of my truck and enjoyed it from inside the box.

As certain as the arrival of spring is a crowded calendar of activities and events to occupy our hearts and minds well into summer — but I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. NCAS keeps a relatively crowded calendar through most of the year, but it seems that with better weather on the horizon, there’s just more to do.

As you peruse this newsletter, you’ll see that through the often-thankless efforts of our all-volunteer board and chapter members, we have our hands into a lot of things — usually up to the elbow.... metaphorically speaking.

• NCAS Field Trips

Our stalwart field trip guru has put together a stellar array of field trips to take us right into June! Check out the full listing on page 3.

• Wings Over Water/Northwest Birding Festival

For the 7th year in a row, this festival draws attention to the birds of the Blaine/Birch Bay area. For details, see excerpts from the official press release on page 5.

• Backyard Habitat and Native Flora Fair

NCAS will be on hand to press the flesh and spread the word while promoting our nesting box program. More details on page 6.

• Dungeness Weekend Campout

Join us as we return to the scene of last year’s inaugural weekend on the Olympic Peninsula. See page 4 for details.

• Spring ACOW

Representatives from your chapter’s Board of Directors will attend the Spring Audubon Council of Washington to hear and learn about the state of the Audubon union. We’ll cover a variety of topics and report back to you at the last General Membership meeting before summer break on May 26.

On top of these exciting activities and events, some of us are now sporting our first-run NCAS t-shirts, emblazoned with our very own logo. They’re long-sleeved because, well, we are in the Pacific Northwest, after all. We have a variety of sizes to offer and they may be purchased at monthly chapter meetings. *I’ll be sure to wear mine at the spring ACOW!

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NCAS Spring Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
NCAS VP/Field Trip Chair

Tree and Violet-green Swallows and Rufous Hummingbirds are already here and a few early warblers are being reported. More warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, and orioles will be arriving over the next few weeks. Out on the saltwater, mud flats, and fields, waterfowl and shorebirds are staging for their journeys to the north or into the interior. Even more shorebirds will be passing through. These next few weeks will bring some of the best and most exciting birding opportunities of the year. And much more is changing besides the birds. Trees, flowers, fungi — all of nature responds to warming temperatures and lengthening days. Don’t miss the chance to be part of this awesome season. Plan to get out on your own or to join NCAS in the field.

North Cascades Audubon trips are open to all who wish to attend, FREE of charge. We limit the number of participants on many of our trips in order to reduce environmental impact and to assure a quality experience. Therefore, advance registration is often required. Carpooling is encouraged and we urge all passengers to share expenses with those who drive. Please call Paul at 380-3356 if you have questions or suggestions.

The current list of spring field trips is below. Look for more trips targeting neotropical songbirds in the May issue of the Avalanche. Except for the Stimpson Reserve trip, please contact individual leaders if advance registration is required.

Saturday, April 4. Semiahmoo Spit.

Join us for Birding the Beaches, a cooperative effort of NCAS and Whatcom County Parks. This trip, on the first Saturday of each month, is usually about three hours in length. It is a great outing for beginning birders. We will tour beaches on Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor and view large numbers of seabirds, waterfowl and shorebirds as well as raptors and songbirds. Semiahmoo/Drayton Harbor is Whatcom County’s only designated Important Bird Area. We all need to know and value this important habitat. Meet at Semiahmoo County Park at 9:00 AM. No Registration Required. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock.

Sunday, April 19. Deception Pass State Park.

This is a full-day trip (half-day option), exploring the flora, fauna, and geography of one of our region’s most spectacular parks. One cannot minimize the superlatives of this place. This complete naturalist’s tour will spend equal time on birds, mammals, flowers, trees, tidal forces, meteorology, and whatever else might captivate the moment. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, April 25. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve.

This trip is co-sponsored by the Whatcom Land Trust. We will be searching the Land Trust's beautiful Stimpson Reserve for neotropical migrants and other woodland birds. Join NCAS leaders for an easy hike of about 2 miles through a mixed coniferous and deciduous forest. Deer are usually plentiful and a few flycatchers and warblers should be back and singing. 10 AM. Trip leaders: Tom Pratum and Paul Woodcock. Call the Whatcom Land Trust at 650-9470 to register.

Saturday, May 2. Semiahmoo Spit.

This is a repeat of the April 4 trip. See the details for that date.

Saturday, May 2. Agate Pond Preserve.

See Page 6 for details of this exciting new tour of a private 100-acre wildlife sanctuary north of Lake Whatcom.

Saturday, June 6. Semiahmoo Spit.

We go back to the beaches as on the previous first Saturdays.

Saturday, June 13. 4th Annual Woodstock Farm and Chuckanut Breeding Bird Survey and Potluck.

This event is co-sponsored by NCAS and Bellingham City Parks. The morning count will be followed by a potluck dinner and presentation in the afternoon. We are looking to enlist a few experienced birders for a dawn to mid-day bird count of the Woodstock Farm, Mud Bay, and Clark’s Point area. . Please call Paul Woodcock at 380-3356 if you are interested in helping with the count.

Everyone is invited to the potluck which will begin with a birding tour of Woodstock at 3:30 PM followed by dinner (take a dish to share) and a presentation of the survey results and the birds of Woodstock Farm. Please RSVP by calling Tim Wahl at 319-2290 if you plan to attend the potluck. As parking is limited at Woodstock, carpooling will be required.

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2nd Annual NCAS Dungeness Campout

May 15-17

Riding the tsunami of enthusiasm from last year’s initial effort, we’ll return to the Clallam County Park Campground at Dungeness Spit for a weekend campout with four field trips worked into the mix.

We have reserved the group campsite for the weekend and the park manager has told me that we may increase the limit to 40 campers. Some folks — 27 as of this printing — have already reserved a spot so contact me soon to sign up.

Paul Woodcock and I will lead field trips on Saturday and Sunday, alternating between the long hike to the historic Dungeness Lighthouse and the Dungeness River Center/Railroad Bridge Park. Both places will have good birds in a variety of habitats, and both nights will feature a great campfire with a strong possibility of delightful (?) picking and grinning and singing along (an informal poll will determine whether or not we include Kumbaya in the play list).

Carpooling is emphasized and tents are preferred over larger RVs, although we will entertain a small RV or two and perhaps a VW camper or three.

Join us for a great weekend getaway in mid-May! For more info or to sign up, contact Joe Meche at 739-5383 or at mechejmch@aol.com.

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7th Annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival

Saturday, April 18

BLAINE, WA—If you’re wild about birds, you won’t want to miss the 7th Annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival (WOW). The festival will be held Saturday, April 18, in the seaside town of Blaine, just off I-5, Exit 276. WOW celebrates the incredible variety of migratory birds that flock to this pristine coastal area. Birding is one of America’s fastest growing outdoor activities and Drayton Harbor/Semiahmoo Bay, an Important Bird Area (IBA) located on the Pacific Flyway, is one of the country’s premier bird viewing locations where you can observe a large variety of birds close at hand.

WOW offers a day-long birding expo with lots of free activities for the entire family. For more information and full details on the schedule of activities, visit the festival’s web site at www.blainechamber.com/wow or call 360-332-4544.

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Post Point Herons

It’s that time of year, again, and the Great Blue Herons are returning to the rookery trees at Post Point on Bellingham’s Southside. We are truly blessed to be able to host a gathering of these large nesting birds practically in the middle of our community. Much like the salmon that are beginning to return to urban streams, the herons offer yet another unique connection to the natural world and provide an opportunity to observe these magnificent birds; albeit from a respectful distance.

As it often is with opportunities of this sort, problems have arisen in the past, causing some of the birds to abandon their nests and young, so measures are being taken to minimize disturbance to the birds during this critical period.

This year, by order of the Director of Bellingham Parks and Recreation, the wooded area at Post Point will be closed to the public during the heron nesting period. None of the off-leash dog trails that are maintained by the city will be closed; only the volunteer-built (illegal) trails will be closed.

Enjoy the Great Blues, but give them some room!

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Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival

April 24-26

Each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to rest and feed in the Grays Harbor estuary on their migration northward. Coming from as far south as Argentina, these Arctic-bound shorebirds are among the world’s greatest migrants. Some birds travel over 15,000 miles, round trip! The concentration of birds during spring migration offers people a great opportunity to view a number of shorebird species. With luck, you will also see the birds flying together in beautiful formations while trying to evade a Peregrine Falcon.

This wildlife spectacle happens every year at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and in other parts of Grays Harbor County. People from around the world come to view this event of hemispheric importance. The festival works to bring people together for this incredible natural phenomenon.

Come and be part of the celebration! For more information and a complete list of activities, events, speakers, and places to see the birds, visit the festival’s complete web site at www.shorebirdfestival.com.

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Backyard Habitat & Native Flora Fair

May 9

Mark your calendars for this annual spring event at the Village Green in Fairhaven. NCAS will have more of those great nesting boxes for sale, and the Komo Kulshan Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society will conduct a plant sale. This group is a great help in selecting the right place for your native habitat. Plus, there will be tours demonstrating backyard features for wildlife! NCAS could use your help educating people about nesting boxes at our booth. If you are interested, please contact Rae Edwards at 527-9619 or e-mail her at redwardsbham@yahoo.ca.

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Family Birding/Nature Programs

Would you like to lead?

I am looking for an Audubon member willing to lead a Saturday field trip for families. Current research is showing that grandparents and/or working parents value activities where adults and children explore nature together. If you think you would like to lead a family program, please contact Rae Edwards, NCAS Education Chair, at 527-9619, or e-mail her at redwardsbham@yahoo.ca.

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Educational Materials for Sale

Is there a special child, teacher, or environmental educator in your life who would love a Department of Ecology poster on Wetlands, Estuaries, or Streams? These beautiful posters will be for sale at monthly chapter meetings, for a $5 donation to NCAS.

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Agate Pond Preserve

Visit one of our most spectacular private wildlife preserves in the Squalicum Valley as long-time NCAS member and friend, Tricia Otto, takes you on a guided tour to explore the lives of cavity-nesting birds. During the tour, you will survey nesting boxes for ducks, owls, swallows, and chickadees, and record nesting activity inside the boxes.

Discussions will focus on how to improve nesting box success for all these species, including proper box construction, habitat requirements, and predator protection. A tour of the preserve will cover wetlands, forests, and a beaver swamp to view natural nesting cavities.

The tour will take place on Saturday, May 2 from 9 AM to 2 PM. Take a lunch and good footwear for a variety of habitats. The trip limit will be set at 15, so call early to reserve a spot and get directions to the preserve.

To register or for more info, call Joe Meche at 739-5383 or e-mail him at mechejmch@aol.com if you’re interested in visiting a unique treasure, right here in our greater backyard.

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NCAS Officer Nominations

Tom Pratum
Nominating Committee

In accordance with the bylaws of our chapter, each year at our May meeting, we elect officers to fill the following positions for the coming year: President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Our bylaws stipulate that these positions have the following functions.

President: Coordinates all phases of the chapter and acts as its executive head.

Vice President: Assists the president in carrying out of all duties.

Secretary: Keeps records of all proceedings of the Board of Directors, preserves all chapter-related correspondence, and maintains chapter files.

Treasurer: Manages and disburses the chapter’s funds as ordered by the Board of Directors; prepares monthly reports; and prepares a proposed budget for the annual retreat of the Board of Directors.

The nominating committee has named the following individuals to fill the respective positions for 2009-2010:

Joe Meche (incumbent) — President

Paul Woodcock (incumbent) — Vice President

Pam Borso — Treasurer

We are currently searching for a candidate for secretary and would welcome nominations from our membership for any of the officer positions. If you or someone you know would like to be secretary for the chapter, please contact Tom Pratum, Rae Edwards, or Lila Emmer. Contact information can be found on page 2 of this newsletter, or on our website.

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Shorebirds Are Coming!

Editor’s note: As you read this, spring migration will be well underway. As dramatic as any group of birds during migration are the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that move northward every year. The following are examples of the appreciation we have for these winged wonders.

I know of no more interesting shorebirds to watch than the stately Black-bellied Plover, as it runs hither and thither on the sand, dabbling here and there with its short bill, or standing pensively, slowly folding its great wings after alighting. In the spring one may study all phases of plumage in a single flock, from those in winter dress with pure white breasts and bellies, through the slightly and profusely spotted ones, to those with splendid jet black breasts that contrast well with their white sides and necks. Thus, on May 21, 1905, a flock of sixty-six of these birds ran by me as I lay concealed on the beach within a hundred yards, and I made the following census: nineteen were full black bellies; twenty-seven were in various stages of incompleteness; twenty were pale bellies.

Their whistle is somewhat like that of a Piping Plover, but is deeper and longer and varies somewhat in accent. As the flock flies over, their voices come down as a shower of sweet yet mournful sounds.

On the song of the “Peep,” or the Least Sandpiper

In the spring, one is sometimes treated to their flight song, a musical quavering trill, which the bird pours out continuously as it rises on quivering wings. The song ends with a few sweet notes that suggest some of those of the goldfinch, and, after the excited bird has fallen to the ground, it emits a few low clucks. The whole performance is altogether delightful and unexpected.

Charles Wendell Townsend
Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes, 1913

The Spotted Sandpiper, aside from the charm of his voice, is one of the most winsome of birds, and graceful in every movement. His use of the wings is particularly expressive. They never seem to be mere means of flitting, like wings in general; they are far more, they almost take the place of speech. By his movements he expresses his emotions, his sentiments, till, in watching him one realizes how much may be said without words, and longs for ability to interpret. On alighting, he holds them far above the head for a moment before carefully folding them down in proper position. Sometimes when singing he keeps them vibrating rapidly, adding wonderfully to the effect upon the listener.

Again, he will glide down through the air, holding them almost straight up, forming a pointed V. To drive away intruders or to meet an enemy he spreads the wings while ruffling up the plumage and making himself as formidable as possible;

and in courtship he drags them on the ground. I have once or twice seen one of these birds express emotion — alas, I could only guess what — by holding one wing up while looking with clear, calm eyes, full in the face, “scanning me with a fearless eye.”

The “tipping,” which everywhere gives the sandpiper his local name of “tip-up,” is not graceful. It reminds one of the rocking of a light canoe near the shore as the waves rush by.

There was never a prettier sight than a little flock of sandpipers flying over the edge of the water in zigzag fashion, moving as one bird, as if animated by one will.

Sandpipers have a curious habit when they alight on the shore in a flock, of standing a few seconds perfectly still as if turned to stone, then suddenly with one accord beginning to run around for food. Once I caught a young family out with their mother foraging for their supper. They were about half the size of the mother, and she stood perfectly still while the little flock ran about in the liveliest way, catching, or at any rate chasing, insects, with jerky motions like a grasshopper, and never intermitting for a moment the “teeter.” When the mother wished to go she called, and the obedient little ones followed her away.

Oliver Thorne Miller
With the Birds in Maine, 1904

Listen again to a band of small shorebirds — stints, dotterels, knots, and dunlins — conversing together as they run about on the level sands, or dropping bright twittering notes as they fly swiftly past: it is like the vibrating crystal chiming sounds of a handful of pebbles thrown upon and bounding and glissading musically over a wide sheet of ice.

A-W.H. Hudson
Nature in Downland

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