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February 2010 Issue (vol 41, number 2)
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General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, March 2 (note unusual time), 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries

Over 500 million birds migrate over Israel each spring and autumn. Where do they come from and where are they going? Why over this skinny piece of land? Israel is about 70 miles wide at its widest and most of that part being desert. Within its narrow boundaries the migratory routes are even narrower.

Ancient tectonic shifts, upheavals, and rifts have created the shape of the land from Madagascar to Turkey and put Israel at the junction of several major bird migration routes among three continents — Europe, Africa, and Asia. This, plus Israel’s location at the edge of those continents provides a large variety of habitats in a small area ranging from Mediterranean in the north, through semi-arid in the center, to the arid zone in the south. The result is a great richness of bird species — 540, including 34 species of raptors.

During the last three spring migration seasons, Wilma Totten has spent several weeks in various parts of Israel. In her presentation, she will explore with us some of the migration background and offer a look at amazing birds with a particular focus on the soaring birds — the raptors, storks, pelicans, and cranes. She will also share with us the places and the people that have made these visits a fascinating journey.

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From the President

OK, February is upon us and we can no longer blame the holidays for any lingering malaise we might be suffering. With an incredibly long list of to dos between now and a summer that seems so far away, we must emulate the great white shark and keeping moving....forward. And here we go; but where to begin?

For starters and given that it’s February, we’re that much closer to seeing a few birds returning from their southern sojourns. As always, I’d like to hear from the individual who makes the first swallow sighting. The general rule-of-thumb has Tree Swallows returning sometime around Washington’s birthday — his real birthday on Feb. 22. With considerably milder weather on hand, we could see a few swallows sooner than later. Check Lake Terrell and Tennant Lake.

What that means is that they will soon thereafter be scouting for places to nest! And it just so happens that the NCAS nesting box program is in full swing and boxes are available now. We have expanded the program to include not only the kits for two types of boxes but we also have boxes fully assembled and ready to hang. Additions to the program are the Wood Duck boxes now on the assembly line. Any of these boxes can be obtained and even delivered, if you’re not too far away. We offer these boxes for a nominal, tax-deductible donation to NCAS, and we use all the money that comes in to buy new materials to keep the program going. If you’re interested, give me a call or send me an e-mail. Natural cavities are increasingly harder to find for the birds that utilize them so we need to lend a hand.

Excitement has already begun to build for our 3rd Annual Dungeness Weekend Campout in May. If you’re interested in participating, turn to page 6 for all the details. I suspect that as soon as word gets out, the list of campers will grow so sign on now!

Please continue to attend and support our NCAS field trips as the seasonal changes take place and the gray and often rainy winter birding evolves into colorful spring birding. Why just the other day, in January no less, spring was in the air! Perhaps it was just a tease from Mother Nature but we’ll take all the nice weather she gives us.

If you have new ideas that we might incorporate into our day-to-day operations here at NCAS, always feel free to let us know. If you’d like to volunteer to assist in any number of projects, let us know. Contact information for all the officers and board members is just to the left of this column, so stay in touch. We’re just the crew here, steering a course for YOUR Audubon chapter.

Don’t look now, but spring really is on the way!


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NCAS Winter Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
NCAS Field Trip Chair
Saturday, February 6. Semiahmoo Spit.

This is another edition of Birding the Beaches of Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor. 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, waterfowl, and other seabirds, as well as raptors and songbirds. Meet the group at 9 AM at Semiahmoo Park. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock. No registration required.

Sunday, February 14. Whatcom Creek Walk.

We’ll walk both sides of Whatcom Creek in the heart of downtown. We’ll amble downstream to its mouth and see what we might in the Whatcom Waterway. Then, we’ll return upstream on the opposite side of the creek to get a better view of what we might have missed. The meeting place will be in front of city hall. There is potential for a variety of winter birds where fresh water meets salt. 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, February 20. George Reifel Sanctuary, B.C.

This will be a full-day trip to one of our favorite Northwest birding destinations west of Ladner, B.C. The Reifel Sanctuary is located on Westham Island and is home to wintering shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, and outstanding concentrations of watewfowl. There are often surprises such as owls and nomadic winter species. 8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356. Please do not call to register until after February 1. Passports are required to cross the border into Canada.

Saturday, February 27. Blaine, Semiahmoo, Birch Bay, and Lake Terrell.

This trip will be a half-day tour of some of our favorite local birding spots with a few stops in between. Emphasis will be on ducks, shorebirds, gulls, and various 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. Trip leaders: Andrea Warner and Joan Bird. Call Andrea at 734-9881 with any questions.

Sunday, March 14. Whatcom Creek Walk.

Details are the same, but we could begin to see the arrival of a few spring birds along the creek.

Sunday, April 11. Whatcom Creek Walk.

As before but more green than gray will be the order of the day.

Sunday, May 16. Whatcom Creek Walk.

This will be the last creek walk until September. Odds are great that we’ll see nesting birds and possibly even some young of the year. These walks are planned to remain consistent with the details on previous walks.

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NMT Birding

I’ve recently signed on to participate in a unique approach to counting bird species during the year. The idea is to establish your home as your base of operations and you may count any species that you see from your home utilizing only Non Motorized Transportation.

If you leave home on foot or on your bike, you can count birds and add new species to your total. You cannot use motorized transport to go someplace to see birds to add to your list. If you pedal your bike to Ferndale, for instance, you can count all the species you see. If someone gives you a ride home from Ferndale, you cannot add any species you see when you utilize motorized transportation.

Simple enough and something to make you think before you hop into your car to go birding. You save fuel and get exercise and fresh air as a bonus. As of the end of January, my NMT 2010 list is up to 60 species. The leader so far lives in North Vancouver and he is up to 84 species, including a Great Gray Owl.

If you’re interested in participating in NMT 2010, send an e-mail to bcvanbirds@yahoogroups.com and enter your numbers to your posts as you go. The moderator will pick up on your posts and add your name and numbers to the list of participants. You can view the ongoing results at the site listed below.


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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.

*As of this printing, we have a total of four people who have expressed an interest in lending a hand. Another project is afoot to place nesting boxes for Wood Ducks at both Bug Lake and Sunset Pond. From the perspective of “thinking like a Wood Duck,” the nesting habitat at Bug Lake looks more promising so we’ll start there and eventually cross the freeway to Sunset Pond (known to some as Lago Kmarto). Both of these impoundments are fed by Squalicum Creek and are upstream from Cornwall Park. Stay tuned for more news on that front.

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13th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

February 12-15

This month, take part in a family-friendly, educational activity that doesn’t cost anything, makes a difference, and is lots of fun. Each year, tens of thousands of people throughout the U.S. and Canada take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). You can count the birds you see in your backyard, off your balcony, at your local park, or from your window.

People of all ages and levels of bird watching experience are welcome. The GBBC is a great way to learn more about the birds in your backyard and neighborhood. It’s also a fun and engaging activity that encourages kids to get outside and connect with nature. You can count by yourself, or with your family, community group, school, or friends! It’s an ideal way for more experienced birders to introduce children, grandchildren, and others to the wonderful world of birds.

Whether you are new to birding, or an expert birder, your counts count! Your checklist will contribute valuable information for conservation when you enter your tally online at www.birdcount.org. Short or long, your list will help scientists understand more about how the distribution and abundance of birds are changing through time.

Last year, participants identified 619 species and submitted a record-breaking 93,600 checklists. Their reports tracked the locations and numbers of American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and other familiar birds as well as a massive surge of Pine Siskins over much of the eastern United States. The siskins moved southward because of seed crop failures in their usual wintering grounds in Canada and the boreal forests.

Anyone can explore which species have been seen in the community, state, or province and see maps showing where specific species have been found on the GBBC website.

To get involved, visit www.birdcount.org for easy-to-follow instructions on how to count the birds you see and how to report your data. You can count birds at the same place on each day of the count, or you can visit other locations.

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Grizzly Bears Are Coming!

Be sure to join us for the General Membership Meeting on March 23. Sharon Negri, Co-director of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Program (GBOP), will discuss grizzly bear biology, ecology, behavior, safety, conservation, and recovery of this endangered species. Sharon will also talk briefly about GBOP’s plans in 2010 to expand its focus to include wolves and cougars. With over 25 years working to advance conservation of cougars, Sharon will share a few insights into this remarkable cat, and share a clip of film that she helped produce, On Nature’s Terms, an inspiring film showing how people and predators are learning to coexist in harmony.

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Although it’s not a hawk, Americans often still call the American kestrel a “sparrow hawk.” Its name Falco sparverius means “sparrow falcon,” because this small falcon was thought to eat sparrows. The European sparrow hawk isn’t a falcon, but an accipiter.

In fact, kestrels eat fewer sparrows than they do insects and mice. Cones in their eyes that can detect ultraviolet light to help them catch voles. They can perceive the iridescent reflection of the urine squirted by the rodents to mark their trails. Kestrels have the long, pointed wings, brown eyes, and notched upper bill of other falcons. Their common name refers to their harsh call, deriving from the Latin crepitare, “to rattle,” which in Middle English became kastil, and in French crecelle. The European kestrel, F. tinnunculus, gets its name from the Latin tinnio, “I ring.” They were traditionally kept near dovecotes because, as a sixteenth-century writer put it, “they fear away other haukes with their ringing voice.”

From 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names

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Telling the Truth

Birdwatchers routinely believe the information they get from their birding peers, and this sets bird watching apart from many other activities.

We live in an untruthful world: perpetrators of crimes regularly lie about their activities; advertisers tell us things about their products that aren’t true; we are increasingly cynical about statements by our elected officials; and even our friends have been known to stretch the truth. There are few realms in which we can be pretty sure that information is full and accurate.

We hope to get the truth from our doctors, and from our most intimate friends — and from other birders. In fact, there are not many situations in which something that matters to the participant is based entirely on individual statements without external monitoring. Of course, no money (usually) is involved in birding success, so that may account for our willingness to accept what others tell us as true — and perhaps for the fact that generally it is true.

I find this fidelity to the truth to be one of the most attractive aspects of bird watching. We all like to brag about the birds we see and hear, but we are also united in our rueful admissions that this or that bird has escaped us for this season, this year, or even all our lives so far.

We look forward to the moment when we can truthfully lay claim to a particular bird or to a higher tally of birds seen this month or this year, or in this place or that. And when we finally reach our goal, we will tell our friends and fellow bird watchers, who will share our gratification, because they will have every reason to believe us.

Alice Morgan
An excerpt from Bird Watcher’s Digest

The Master said,

little ones, why is it that none of you study the songs? For the songs will help you to incite people’s emotions, to observe their feelings, to keep company, to express your grievances. They may be used at home in the service of one’s father; abroad, in the service of one’s prince. Moreover, they will widen your acquaintance with the names of birds, beasts, plants, and trees.

The Analects of Confucius

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3rd Annual NCAS Dungeness Campout

May 14-16

The enthusiasm generated by our first two ventures to the Olympic peninsula indicates that we need to carry on, so we have begun the process to continue what is sure to become an NCAS institution. We have reserved the group campsite at the Clallam County Park at the Dungeness Recreation Area, just above the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.

This is a fantastic place for bird watching and beach-combing and we’ll be able to combine the two into one package. The group campsite is roomy enough for as many as 40 campers, so sign up early to reserve a spot. On our two previous trips, we had good weather, although some might disagree as to what exactly constitutes good weather. To that I say that even bad weather is better than no weather at all. Nothing tops off a good day of birding and camaraderie like a good campfire and a bit of live, acoustic music — and we’ll have both!

Once again, Paul Woodcock and I will lead two field trips. We’ll hike down to the Dungeness Spit and to the historic Dungeness Lighthouse on Saturday. The round trip to the lighthouse covers approximately 11 miles and there’s potential for good birds all along the way. The highlight just before we reach our destination is the large nesting colony of Caspian Terns. There might be as many as 750 breeding pairs on the adjacent Graveyard Spit, well within viewing range. Last year, we had an extra bonus when a Last year, we had an extra bonus when a Peregrine Falcon came by and caused every tern to take flight at once.

On Sunday morning, we’ll have sufficient cups of coffee with breakfast as we strike camp and head for the Dungeness River Audubon Center. The habitat at the center and the birds we’ll see there and along the Railroad Bridge Trail will be perfect contrasts to those we’ll experience on the spit.

We encourage carpooling and tent camping, but there will be space in the parking area for a few small RVs/campers. This is a wonderful place to spend a weekend birding, relaxing, and socializing with your NCAS cohorts. If you’d like to join in the fun, call Joe Meche at 739-5383 or send an e-mail to mechejmch@aol.com.

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Seabird Deaths Highlight the Need for More Ocean Research

In only the second incident of its kind reported in scientific journals on the West Coast, thousands of seabirds died on the Washington coast as a result of the effects of a harmful algae bloom.

Foam generated from a brown algae (Akashiwo sanguinea) acted as a detergent, stripping the birds’ feathers of their waterproofing protection. Unable to dive to feed or keep warm, the birds dies. Nearly 10,000 scoters perished, representing up to 7% of the total West Coast population, along with hundreds of loons, murres, and several other species.

Tribal members and technical staff from the Hoh, Makah, and Quileute tribes, and Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) were among those who helped record the magnitude of the problem. They counted and identified bird carcasses and gathered water samples for testing. Results were used by ocean researchers to assess the event.

For some tribal members, the bird die-off wasn’t anything new; they’d seen similar events in the 1950s and 1960s. “We would get that foam nearly up to our shoulders — every year — and the birds would die then, too,” said Gerald “Juke” Ellis, a QIN tribal member who has fished for decades.

“We had really good ocean conditions back then too — like we have out front in our fishing grounds now,” said Ellis, 65. Other signs of those times are being seen now, too. Anchovies and other small baitfish are showing up in large numbers in the waters near Taholah.

Scientists have been tracking West Coast algal blooms for only about 30 years, but tribal members have stories about them that are hundreds of years old.

“It’s kind of an interesting thread to follow when you talk about this recent event,” said Joe Schumacker, marine scientist for QIN. “There are signs that the ocean conditions in QIN’s traditional fishing grounds are becoming colder and more productive in terms of feed for fish, like they were in the 1960s and early 1970s. Maybe these algal events are the double-edged sword of productive ocean conditions. You get improved fish feeding conditions, but you also maybe get more of these kinds of algae events.”

“Large numbers of seabird deaths were probably not as noticeable in the 1960s because the populations were so much larger,” Ellis said, “now there aren’t as many birds — so when a lot of them die, it’s a big deal.”

Some of the largest bird losses occurred between Neah Bay and LaPush on the Olympic Peninsula. In those waters, the algae was found in high densities. Heavy surf caused the algae cells to break down and create foam. The brown algae was so thick that the ocean looked like the muddy waters of the Mississippi River, said Jonathan Scordino, marine mammal biologist for the Makah Tribe.

Additionally, Scordino said he typically observes about 1,000 sea lions in the waters around Neah Bay in the early fall, but during the algae bloom, he counted fewer than 300.

“In fact, most of the marine mammals seemed to have gone elsewhere during the peak of the algae events,” Scordino said.

For the tribes, recent algal events underscore the need for additional research that will help predict when these events occur and understand what causes them.

“This is an example of why we need to continue to do data collection and add additional ocean moorings,” said Ed John-stone, fisheries policy representative for QIN.

“We know that gathering just temperature and salinity isn’t enough. Ocean currents and wind play a big part in some of these events.”

D. Preston
Winter 2009/10

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Aloof in the icy-cold waters off Alaska’s rugged southern coast, a solitary bird — dark head, chubby body, stubby tail — paddles frantically against the waves as it moves toward shore. In one swift and sudden gesture, it lifts its pointed bill into the air, stretches its neck, and dives. Stroking its wings as if flying, it moves rapidly through the water. Within seconds, it catches a fish, swallows, and returns to the surface. Shaking droplets off its feathers, it begins preening, stopping only to glance in all directions, ever alert to changes on the water.

As spring turns to summer, the bird will lose its black-and-white feathers and don its breeding plumage, which — at a distance and in a word — is brown. Close up, though, brown becomes sooty brown, brownish black, chocolate, rufous, rusty-buff, light tan, and cinnamon on the bird’s back, head, and wings. Brown becomes light brown marbled with soft whites on its throat, flanks, and breast. When its new set of summer feathers is fully grown, the bird flies closer to shore, where it joins others of its kind loosely scattered across the water, some in small groups, most in pairs, some remaining ever aloof.

Summer evenings at dusk, birds with one or two small fish held crosswise in their bills ruse up off the water and fly toward the forested hills. Some mornings before dawn they return to the water, uttering strange calls as they fly through the fog hanging thickly along the coast. The calls are high-pitched, piercing, and plaintive.

One morning, after a spate of rough storms along the rocky coast, dawn breaks clear and dozens of birds stir up from a sheltered cove. There, in the cove, is a large ship — a wooden sailing ship at anchor. Three men have lowered a small skiff into the water alongside the ship and are rowing toward the birds. As the skiff nears, the birds scatter — diving quickly or darting off. The men in the boat curse, laugh, and then stop rowing. They let their boat drift slowly toward a pair of foraging birds that seem oblivious to their approach. But with a sudden, loud noise from the boat, the birds plunge beneath the water. As the gun smoke clears, the men are left gaping at rippling rings on the surface and a trail of bubbles below — an ephemeral trail that leads down to two birds they no longer see.

The year is 1778. The pursuit has begun for a bird then too abundant to be considered rare, yet too tantalizing to ignore.

From Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet
Maria Mudd Ruth

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