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November/December 2009 Issue (vol 40, number 8)
      (Previous Issue October 2009) - (Next Issue January 2010)

General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, November 24, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Owls and Woodpeckers of the Northwest

Paul Bannick will take us on a visual journey of Northwest habitats through the needs and interrelationships between owls and woodpeckers. With updated photography and stories from his widely acclaimed book, The Owl and the Woodpecker, Paul has created a brand new presentation for this evening with hundreds of new photos.

Paul’s first book, The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America’s Most Iconic Birds has been one of the top 10 best selling bird books and top 15 best selling animal books for much of the past year. The book was recently recognized as one of the five finalists for the Washington State Book Award. His work has appeared in numerous publications in North America and in Europe.

“The Owl and the Woodpecker is a monumental work of photojournalism by one of America’s top wildlife photographers. The images you’ll encounter in this book are the result of an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and their habitats, an intense love of nature, and endless patience. For anyone who appreciates wild things and wild places, each of Bannick’s stunning photographs is worth ten thousand words.”
—Ted Williams
Editor at Large, Audubon magazine

Join us for an evening of visual delights 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

On a Sunday in mid-October, Cindy and I said farewell to the prime time for hiking in our beautiful backyard — the North Cascades. It was a perfect day for hiking with a little chill in the morning that never really warmed too much as we hiked the Damfino Lakes Trail to Excelsior Ridge and stupendous views of Mount Baker and the rest of the world. I remember my first trip up to that ridge almost 34 years ago — I just sat and stared for most of an afternoon before I came to!

We crossed numerous patches of fresh, compacted snow on the trail where it winds its way up the north-facing slopes to the ridge. As we gained elevation and sunshine, we were treated to great views of a quartet of Sooty Grouse in the headwaters of Damfino Creek. It was interesting to watch the grouse walk across the iced-over stream — almost like they were walking on water. We saw crossbills, robins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, goldfinches, as we traversed slopes still covered with blueberries. The berries were numerous enough to make us keep an eye out for black bears fueling for their upcoming big sleep. Gray Jays were present near the ridge and so was a lone Merlin — probably doing a little birding of its own.

It was a lovely day and a great workout in the high country. I recommend that you get outside every chance you get and head into the mountains whenever the urge moves you. Get to know your backyard and you’ll be continually impressed with where we live.

And now, as November rapidly approaches, the rainy season is well upon us and reminding of us of the list of to-dos that haven’t been attended to all summer for one reason or another! Oh well, I hear that spring will be here soon!

But first, there are holidays to navigate and we at NCAS wish you good friends, good food, and the best of times throughout the season.


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Bellingham CBC

December 20

On the Sunday before Christmas, local bird-counting aficionados will spend the day rollicking over hill and dale participating in the world’s longest-running citizen science program — the annual National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Nationally, the CBC has taken place since 1900, while the local version has been going strong since 1967.

It’s always a good count, regardless of the weather, which adds a bit of spice to the conversations at the post-count potluck.

I will begin to make preliminary calls to last year’s party leaders sometime in early November. If you’re interested in participating, call me at 739-5383 or if you’d prefer, send me an e-mail at mechejmch@aol.com

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NCAS Late Fall Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
NCAS Field Trip Chair

That most wonderful time of year is almost upon us. I’m not referring to the holidays even though the Christmas Bird Count is only about six weeks away. Winter is a very exciting time for birds. We find loons, grebes, scoters, and other sea ducks on the salt water; raptors, swans, and other waterfowl in our fields; and kinglets, juncos, Fox Sparrows, and Varied Thrushes in our yards. It is also the time of year when a rare migrant like a White-throated Sparrow, Gyrfalcon, or King Eider can add some spice to a birder’s life. Take some time during this busy season to tune in to what’s happening out in the world of nature. Plan your own outing or feel free to join one of the NCAS outings listed below.

As always, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at vp@northcascadesaudubon.org with your feedback, ideas, or to volunteer as a field trip leader. NCAS field trips are open to all, members and non-members, FREE of charge. We often require advance registration with the field trip leader to limit the number of participants in order to reduce negative impacts and assure a quality experience for all. Participants should remember that warm clothing and rain gear are usually necessary in the field at this time of year.

Take care and good birding!

Saturday, November 7. Semiahmoo Spit.

Bird the beaches at the only designated Important Bird Area in Whatcom County. These monthly trips are co-sponsored by NCAS and Whatcom County Parks. Semiahmoo is one of our area’s most scenic, biologically-rich and environmentally-challenged places. We will see shorebirds — October is outstanding for shorebirds — waterfowl, and other seabirds, as well as raptors and songbirds. Meet at the county park at 9 AM. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock. No registration required.

Sunday, November 15. Whatcom Creek Walk.

This easy trip, formerly known as the Urban Bird Walk, follows the same general theme as its precursor. We’ll walk both sides of Whatcom Creek in the heart of downtown; first we‘ll travel downstream to its mouth and then back upstream on the opposite side of the creek to get a better view of what we might have missed. The new meeting place will be in front of City Hall. Lots of potential as winter birds begin to arrive and make their presence known.

10 AM. Trip limit, 12. Trip leader: Joe Meche. If you’d like to be part of this urban expedition, call me at 739-5383 or send me an e-mail at mechejmch@aol.com.

Saturday, November 21. Blaine, Semiahmoo, Birch Bay, and Lake Terrell.

This trip will be a half-day tour of one of our favorite local birding spots and a few stops in between. Emphasis will be on ducks, shorebirds, gulls, and other seabirds, as well as raptors. Take binoculars, scopes if you have them, wind and rain gear, and a lunch or snacks as needed. No pre-registration is required. Meet to carpool at the southeast corner of the Sunset Square parking lot. Call Andrea at 734-9881 if you have any questions. 8:30 AM. Trip leaders: Andrea Warner and Joan Bird.

Saturday, November 29. Samish Flats, Samish Island, & Padilla Bay

This is a full day trip (half-day option) exploring upland, island, and marine habitats of the avian-rich Samish Flats. Farmland, estuaries, open bays, and towering forests provide wintering homes for eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, waterfowl, and more. This trip is suitable for all levels of experience.

8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leaders: Dave Schmalz and Diane Birsner, 671-1537.

Saturday, December 3. Semiahmoo Spit.

This is another edition of Birding the Beaches. See the previous first-Saturday walk for details, but keep in mind that every month is different so please come out and join us!

Saturday, January 2, 2010. Semiahmoo Spit.

This edition of Birding the Beaches begins a new year on the beaches of Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor. Meet the group at 9 AM at Semiahmoo Park. Trip leader: Ray Nelson. No registration required.

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Christmas Bird Count Feeder Watch

As part of the annual Bellingham Christmas Bird Count (CBC), Valeri Wade of the Wild Bird Chalet (WBC) will monitor a feeder count, with those results added to the total for the regular count on December 20. If you wish to participate at home and count birds at your feeder(s), call Valeri to see if you’re within the CBC circle and sign up if you are. Call her at the WBC at 734-0969.

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NCAS Annual Holiday Potluck

December 15
Lila Emmer
Board Member at Large

Please come and enjoy our annual holiday get together. NCAS will provide the setting: the Lairmont Manor. But you will need to provide a potluck contribution as well as your preferred beverage and utensils for you and your guest(s).

This year we are very fortunate in that the local singing group, Calyx, has offered to entertain us!

Mark the date on your calendar: Tuesday, December 15, 6-10 PM.

If you have any questions or need directions, call Lila at 201-6486.

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NCAS Bluebird Trail

Joe Meche
Birding Programs Coordinator

Paul Woodcock and I have been discussing the possibility of creating a trail of nesting boxes in the western part of the county. Following the concept of “build it and they will come,” we’re considering a rough draft for a layout of boxes to attract Western Bluebirds, primarily along Lake Terrell Road between Slater and Mountain View Roads.

A couple of the industries in the area have expressed an interest in providing funding for such a project and would allow us the necessary use of their property for installing, monitoring, and maintaining the boxes. And that’s where you come in.

At this point, we’d like to know how many people might be interested in participating in the project. Help will be needed in the field to make this work. Call or e-mail Paul or me if you’d like to join us. Our numbers can be found on page 2 and our e-mail can be accessed through the chapter web site. We know there are bluebirds out there looking for nesting cavities and we can provide them....with a little help from our friends.

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NCAS on the Road

Notes from the Heartland
Paul Woodcock

This past July I had my first opportunity in many years to return to the Great Plains to do some birding. We actually just touched the edge of the plains in eastern Colorado, Wyoming, and western Nebraska, but it did give me the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with species I had not seen in a long time.

It was on of those traditional American road trips to which I am addicted and which are getting more costly to both my conscience and my pocketbook. We proceeded quite directly to our first destination, which was Greeley, Colorado, just north of Denver. My most memorable bird sighting along the way was of numbers of Sandhill Cranes visible to the west, in wetlands near the Great Salt Lake, as we drove south toward Ogden, Utah, on I-84. Greeley is a college town situated between two rivers: the South Platte to the south of town and the Cache la Poudre to the north. For a devotee of early western history, could a river have a more evocative name than Cache la Poudre?

The weather in Greeley was hot and damp with regular rains, sometimes accompanied by impressive thunder and lightning. The luxurious, irrigated lawns of the University of Northern Colorado had the feel of steamy marshes during the heat of the day with hundreds of dragonflies darting and dancing about. Each evening, I was surprised to see small numbers of Snowy Egrets flying north over the city, probably headed home to roost. You could sense the presence of the surrounding rivers and wetlands.

After a few days, we headed northeast into the Pawnee National Grasslands and the prairie birding I had been anxiously awaiting. We kept to the main roads as the roads in the grasslands can be treacherous in wet weather. But even on the main roads, it was easy to find Dickcissels, Lark Buntings, Western Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Lark Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, and Swainson’s Hawks. As we continued into Nebraska and then west into Wyoming, I added Golden Eagle, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Brewer’s Sparrow to the trip list.

The small towns we passed through on the western plains also contained interesting avifauna. Blue Jays were common and I was very pleased to find that Common Nighthawks and Chimney Swifts patrolled the skies overhead each evening, just as I remember them from my youth. Mourning Doves are plentiful in town and on the countryside, but in town they have a new companion — Eurasian Collared Doves are now common in urban and suburban settings. They exist side by side with Mourning Doves and the other suburban wildlife — shades of things to come on our coast.

The daily rainfall, often in the form of dramatic thunderstorms, continued as we headed northwest across Wyoming. The western plains experienced record rainfalls this past summer and standing water appeared where it had never been seen before. Waterfowl collected on many of these temporary ponds often accompanied by American Avocets and Wilson’s Phalaropes. These are not birds that I’m used to seeing on the side of the road. We exited Wyoming through Yellowstone where the birds were more familiar — Evening Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills, and Pine Siskins. Again we saw many Sandhill Cranes as we drove west through the Lamar Valley. Bison, elk, and black bear also graced us with their presence but I was already missing the prairie. I have crossed the plains many times but have never been there long enough to get to know the inhabitants well.

Our final stop was at Big Fork in western Montana. Three species of vireo — Cassin’s, Warbling, and Red-eyed — were common in the forest where we stayed. These and other birds such as Wilson’s, Townsend’s, and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes were familiar enough to let us know we were almost home.

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An Evening with David Sibley

Paul Woodcock

At 4:30 PM on October 15, about 25 of us gathered at Village Books in Fairhaven to go on a field trip with David Sibley. The event was a benefit for NCAS and many in the group, perhaps about half, were chapter members. Quite definitely, most of the participants knew of David’s reputation as the writer and artist who created the most popular bird guides of our era, and the one who is considered by many to be the successor to Roger Tory Peterson. It was a privilege to go out in the field with him and that was the reason most of us were there.

But the quarry of our excursion was leaved, not feathered. David was in town to present his new book, The Sibley Guide to Trees, a 426-page guide to “the identification of 668 native and commonly cultivated trees found in the temperate areas of North America, north of Mexico.” In the field David seemed to be a somewhat reluctant botanist but more than able to identify all the trees, native and introduced, as we walked south on 10th Street and down the trail along Padden Creek. He spoke with his characteristic humility and was more than willing to admit that he is not a botanist. When questions exceeded his range of knowledge, he would ask if someone in the group knew the answer and often someone did. Birds were not ignored but were only mentioned when a few common species impinged on our botanizing.

Later that evening, probably about 130-140 members of the public came to Village Books to attend Sibley’s presentation. This was a crowd at least three times larger than the one assembled at Village Books in 2000 when he first came with his new guide to birds. There David explained how he had been moved to write and illustrate his guide to trees. He had been searching for a new project and had first focused on butterflies, but after getting started he realized how difficult a project it was because of the seasonality of butterflies. Trees, however, are always around and easier to pursue. Trees are also the organisms birders find themselves most often studying through their optics as they search for their quarry or after it has flown. So David gathered literature of general botany and trees in particular and began to study. He also began to paint trees, at first around his home in Massachusetts and finally around the entire continent. He stated that there are only a few species in the book that he did not paint from life.

It struck me that this was a direction which required some courage for him to pursue. Certainly, David Sibley could have rested on his birding laurels. After creating his two bird guides, Roger Tory Peterson did the illustrations to his Field Guide to Wildflowers in 1968, but he relied on Margaret McKenny, past president of the Olympia Audubon Society, to do the text. George Petrides authored Peterson’s tree guide. Peterson remained content to largely limit his publishing to birds and bird-related topics. In no way do I mean this to be a negative reflection on R.T. Peterson. What he contributed through his art, photography, ornithological writings, and his conservation efforts would be hard to eclipse.

So, what of the results of David Sibley’s efforts in botany? I am convinced that what he created is the best guide to trees that I have ever used. This is, of course, because it works for me. It is a very visual guide arranged in taxonomic order, like a bird guide. Sibley has illustrated, in his simple but clear style, the leaves of each species in a variety of possible forms. For many species he has also illustrated the bark of the tree, and there is usually a sample of the twigs, fruits, or blossoms — whatever he felt best helped to make a positive identification. Where it seemed useful he included a sketch of the whole tree. Because of its taxonomic approach this guide definitely works best for those who already possess some basic knowledge of trees — the ability to at least guess the family to which the tree belongs definitely narrows the search. The first 30 pages of the book are an excellent introduction to trees and their biology, taxonomy, ecology, and identification. If you are interested in trees, do check it out.

At the end of the evening, about 50 people lined up to have David inscribe their books, myself among them. As he signed books, he looked tired — this had been a long day for him. He had done a radio interview in Seattle that morning and had probably done a presentation and book signing there the evening before. Then he traveled to Bellingham to take us on a walk and spend another evening talking about his new book. He was not the same open and talkative individual he was when he first came to Bellingham in November of 2000. His fame and the numbers of people he attracts have made that difficult for him. It will be interesting to see where David Allen Sibley next applies his considerable talents. I do hope that he has not given up on the butterfly idea.

We at North Cascades Audubon particularly wish to thank David Sibley for his willingness to volunteer hours in his busy schedule to help raise funds for our chapter. Also, a big thanks to Village Books for bringing David to town, for facilitating this event, and for all they do for our community. Support Village Books!

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Blanchard Mountain Still Needs Our Help

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

Our chapter has long been involved in supporting efforts to preserve the DNR trust land on Blanchard Mountain in northern Skagit County. In early 2007, an agreement between the DNR and a few interested parties was drawn up — the Blanchard Strategies Group (BSG) agreement. We were not a party to this agreement, and disagreed with many of its facets. For example, the agreement greatly fragmented the area currently enjoyed by recreationists and wildlife watchers.

Later in 2007, the DNR issued the agreement a SEPA determination of non-significance (DNS). This was challenged in King County Superior Court by the Chuckanut Conservancy and the North Cascades Conservation Council, and was overturned. The DNR, instead of performing the now-required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has gone to the Washington State Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the superior court judge’s ruling. This case is to be heard soon—please visit http://www.chuckanutconservancy.org to find out how you can help.

It is certain that the BSG agreement, if it were adopted, would have significant environmental impact. It seems that, rather than waste the taxpayers’ money fighting those who want to save the area, the DNR should work to improve the plan for the good of all.

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Forest Practice Issues in The Lake Whatcom Watershed

Tom Pratum

Our chapter has monitored forest practices in the Lake Whatcom watershed since the late 1980s. Recently, we noted a 60-acre forest practice proposed near the watershed boundary on Squalicum Mountain, and notified the local community association. The community association president then contacted our local state senator to express concern. Through miscommunication with the DNR, our senator was lead to believe that the forest practice had been stopped — seeming to be a victory for those concerned about these issues.

Unfortunately, only “through miscommunication” did it seem this issue had been addressed. This forest practice and others in the watershed continue on — presumably in compliance with current state laws. A thorough discussion of these issues defies the space and time for writing it; however, one thing is clear: much confusion reigns regarding forest practices in the watershed and their impact on our local quality of life.

At one time an open forum was available to discuss these issues. This was the Lake Whatcom Forestry Forum — an entity started by former Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas, to help defuse some of the tension surrounding these issues in the late 1980s. The forestry forum consisted of a group of elected officials, foresters, municipal staff, and citizens who discussed forest practices proposed for watershed areas. The DNR could not require forest practices applicants to submit their proposals to the forum, but they were recommended to do so, and most of them did. It was not uncommon for applications to be changed in response to concerns raised at these open meetings.

So, what happened to the forestry forum? It was unceremoniously disbanded by Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen and former Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson in about 2005. At that time the forum clearly needed “freshening,” but certainly did not deserve termination.

All forest practices in Washington state are approved or denied through a relatively closed process that must be completed by law within 30 days of application. This includes forest practices covered by the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan adopted in 2004. Clearly the process needs to be opened up, and the forestry forum was one way to do that. We encourage local leaders to once again make this available to our community.

For current information on local forest practice applications, see

http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/index.php?other_fpa .

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