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October 2003 Issue (vol 34, number 7)
      (Previous Issue September 2003) - (Next Issue November/December 2003)



OCTOBER Meeting

Tuesday, October 28, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
Program:
Galapagos Islands: A Magical Name for a Magical Place

The Spanish called them Islas Encantatas, Enchanted Islands. Could they have thought of the magic of science that would set Charles Darwin’s foot on the road to evolution?

It was in the Galapagos that the thought of adaptive radiation first occurred to Darwin. Subspecies of the giant tortoise, land and marine iguanas evolving.....just imagine the likelihood of two animals of the same species _ one male and one female _ drifting along on ocean currents, ending up on the same island!

Darwin’s lengthy journey by ship to the islands has been replaced by a short plane trip. All the wonders of this fragile environment are available to us. Accompanied by a resident naturalist, we will wander along the narrow trails, wondering what will await us around the next corner.

Who has not heard of the dance of the Blue-footed Booby? The booby also skypoints and it’s such a fast diver that it will pop back out of the water like a cork!

Marine iguanas soak up the sun on dark red beaches, cling to black lava rock, and dive in the clear green sea to graze on marine algae.....all but the ones hanging out in Puerto Ayora where they dine on bananas until they are too fat to walk!

Join Christine Burkhart on a photographic journey through the Islas Encantadas and marvel at land and marine iguanas, observe Blue-footed Boobies, and be on the lookout for the rare Galapagos Penguin.

Christine Burkhart’s passions include traveling, kayaking, and photography, especially wildlife photography. In 1999, she traveled through South America for six months. She spent six weeks in Ecuador and two of those weeks were spent in the Galapagos Islands on a tour boat with a naturalist guide and some additional time “hanging out” in Puerto Ayora. Christine will be happy to share money-saving travel tips and answer photography questions.

Join us for an evening of exceptional photographs by a passionate photographer. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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From the Editor

There’s no doubt about it, fall is upon us and already it’s become difficult to remember those 80 degrees-plus days of July and August. What we look forward to now are the heavy-duty holidays of fall and winter and a slate of activities to warm the days and increase our appreciation of nature and the natural order of things.

Dave Schmalz, NCAS Vice President and Field Trip Chair, has prepared a wonderful list of field trips available into the month of December. For details on these field trips, see the listing on page 4 of this issue.

NCAS volunteers will be out doing their part in the very important swan survey again this year, for the third year in a row. Tom Pratum, our Webmaster and Conservation Committee member and all-around good guy, coordinates this survey. Read his article on page 5 and get involved in the survey. Swans are pretty big and easily identified and it’s a good excuse to get out and participate. We need to get to the bottom of this lead-poisoning problem that continues to deplete the wintering populations of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans before it’s too late.

You might also consider joining in the Bellingham Christmas Bird Count. Details for the count and how you can participate, even at your home feeder, can be found on page 5.

You can always call or e-mail me with any questions or comments you have about YOUR newsletter. Happy fall to all! October has been the mantra that saved me from August!

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NCAS on the Road

Editor’s note: This column is open to chapter members who wish to share their adventures from the field. You don’t have to travel far to have been On the Road. A trip to George Reifel or the Samish Flats qualifies, so let me hear from you!

Over the Mountains......
.....and through the woods


by Joe Meche

As we crossed the passes on the North Cascades Highway on September 15, we were stunned by the lack of snow in the mountains and the most exposed rock that I’ve seen in 27 years and at least 50 crossings on that spectacular highway. Drought conditions were never more evident to us than they were in the high mountains. The usual roadside waterfalls were down to a trickle or, in some places, nothing at all.

Mid-September is the time of year we usually set aside to spend a few days at Hart’s Pass for the raptor migration. As we neared Early Winters Creek this year, the huge plumes of smoke from up the valley did not bode well for the week ahead. Inquiries at Mazama answered our #1 question _ Hart’s Pass was indeed CLOSED! The Needles fire was started by lightning in the first week of August and was still creating problems in mid-September. The battle being waged by firefighters in the rugged valleys made our forced change-of-plans seem quite small.

We adjusted our week accordingly and headed for Alta Lake State Park, near the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers. The state park is a wonderful place for birds and best to visit when the crowds are not present like they are from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It was a delightful surprise to find that we were the sole campers in this huge campground for our entire three-night stay.

We were not totally alone, however, since at least 500 California Quail were patrolling the entire campground, calling almost constantly with their distinctive Chi-ca’go.

During the day, we hiked to the top of the ridges above the lake and enjoyed the spectacular views of the lake below, as well as the lake that was once the Columbia River. Our view took in the bends of the big river all the way to another confluence with the Okanogan River, upstream from the town of Brewster. The elevation also provided eye-level views of soaring Red-tailed Hawks.

The wooded areas along the trails were filled with numerous passerines that we expected to see, although their numbers exceeded any estimate I would have made. Most numerous were the Ruby-crowned Kinglets, with impressive numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and Say’s Phoebes. Also present were Mountain, Black-capped, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, White-crowned Sparrows, and Cassin’s Finches. Steller’s Jays and exceptional numbers of American Robins were all over the campground along with Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Northern Flickers, and Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

The lake itself was extremely quiet, possibly enjoying the respite after another busy summer. The lone birds on the lake were a pair of Ring-billed Gulls and Belted Kingfishers.

At one point, I set up a water-drip attraction hoping to photograph a few California Quail, but the main attraction as they gathered near the water was the explosive entry into the picture of an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk! Quail scattered, like you can’t imagine, and didn’t return to the water.

Every evening brought on a chorus of Common Poorwills from the hillside above our tent. During the night, coyotes yipped and howled and even ambled right outside the tent on one occasion. Great Horned Owls performed an intriguing duet one night and a Long-eared Owl made its presence known on our last night at the park.

We changed venues on the fourth day and went up into the Methow Wildlife Area northeast of Winthrop for the last two nights of our trip. From one of our favorite campsites on the first night, my calls were answered by a pair of immature Great Horned Owls, and later an adult. More coyotes could be heard during the hours of darkness, along with a Barred Owl.

A trip highlight came on our last day as we returned to our campsite from a walk on a day punctuated by a brisk northwest wind. As we neared our tent, an adult Golden Eagle launched itself from a tall Ponderosa pine snag not fifty yards from our tent! The eagle soared up and into the wind and performed several spectacular stooping dives _ just for us, perhaps?

Throughout the week, the weather was spectacular with nighttime temps reaching into the 30s with daytime highs in the upper 60s and low 70s. The fires that closed Hart’s Pass were certainly beyond our control, but our stops at Alta Lake and in the Methow bear closer scrutiny for future trips.

Alta Lake State Park is best for birding in early spring when the breeding birds are active and the crowds and yellow jackets have yet to arrive. The Methow Wildlife Area is also best in spring and my main admonition is to check to see if ANY kind of hunting is in season. It’s a little disconcerting to be looking for birds and happen upon a couple of guys in camouflage and face paint, with BOWS AND ARROWS!

With the good rain and snow of winter, the area around Hart’s Pass will heal and possibly be ready for next year’s visit. The east side of the mountains has many great places for birds and the people who watch them. Start planning your spring visit now. Maybe we’ll see you at Alta Lake in May.

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Little – known Birds

Editor’s note: You might not see these birds on local field trips, but keep an eye out for them anyway.

Vowl. A nocturnal bird identified by its call of A-E-I-O-U.
Long-billed Curfew. A quiet bird, rarely seen after nightfall.
Purple Flinch. A nervous, twitchy little bird.
Purple Martian. The bird with the longest migration route.
Ring-necked Pleasant. A bird much nicer than other species.
Red-tailed Gawk. A large bird that stares at the landscape.
Baltimore Oreo. A bird that eats the middle of its food first.
Stuffed Grouse. An elusive, oven-ready game bird.
Pleated Woodpecker. A bird with uniquely-folded feathers.

Thanks to Captain Trivia for these new and very interesting bird species.

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Consider this......

“O let me ride to the ridge where the west commences,

gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,

can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences,

don’t fence me in.”

Cole Porter

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Swan Survey - Volunteers Still Needed

by Tom Pratum
NCAS Swan Survey Coordinator

As we mentioned in the last issue of the Avalanche, our chapter is again participating, along with WDFW, USFWS, Canadian Wildlife Service, and other concerned non-profit organizations, in the investigation into the source of the lead poisoning that is killing many of our wintering Trumpeter and Tundra Swans. This year, as in past years, we are responsible for performing twice-weekly car surveys of the Whatcom County area between the start of November and the end of December to determine the overall swan population and foraging locations. There is also likely to be some radio-tracking work.

A number of our past volunteers have offered to help out again this year (thank you!), but we could still use a few more surveyors. If you can help out, or have any questions about this project, please contact the coordinator, Tom Pratum, at water@northcascadesaudubon.org or at 715-8244.

There is also information on our website showing what we’ve done in the past years: http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/swan_survey.

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Scudder Pond - Volunteers Needed for Projects

by Jeanie Johnson
Scudder Pond Stewardship Coordinator

This fall, the Scudder Pond Stewardship Program is gearing up its activities and project opportunities in which volunteers can participate. If you like to walk, watch wildlife, watch people, or restore native habitat, this program needs you. NCAS needs additional new volunteer stewards and now is a good time to begin. All you have to do is choose a schedule for visiting the pond that best suits your needs and record your observations while at Scudder Pond onto a survey form. This gem of a wetland preserve is located across the street from Bloedel-Donovan park on Lake Whatcom. The trailhead to the pond starts at the corner of Alabama Street and Electric Avenue.

Some of the projects that will take place this fall and on a year-round basis include:

Construction of swallow boxes.

Relocating/monitoring Wood Duck boxes.

Trapping/identifying amphibians in and around the pond.

Planting native plants and eradicating invasive plants.

Leading bird watching or botany field trips.

These are just some of the activities in which you can participate while learning more about this fascinating wetland owned by NCAS. Come and join the fun while contributing to the wildlife enhancement of this special place.

To find out more about the program, please call Jeanie Johnson at 752-2876.

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Education Committee - Interns and Members Wanted

by Jeanie Johnson
Education Committee Chair

The NCAS Education Committee is the umbrella committee for educational outreach for community and particularly children’s programs and events. In addition, teachers and families rely on educational resources and referrals that our local chapter has to offer, funneled through the education committee. Historically, we have hosted a number of programs and events, including the Environmental Poster Contest, Audubon Adventures, home and classroom presentations, library presentations, parks and recreation camp activities, senior center presentations, and college internships.

These examples are just a sampling of how you can share in the fun of participating in your local chapter and bringing the wonders of our natural world to the community and the children of Whatcom County.

For more information, call Jeanie Johnson at 752-2876.

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Bellingham Christmas Bird Count

While it might seem a bit early to think about anything to do with Christmas, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The Bellingham CBC has been in business since 1967 and is one of the oldest counts in the state.

This year’s version plans to include more feeder watchers, so you’ll be able to participate from the comfort of your living room. Of course, the diehards will be out in whatever weather we’re dealt on December 14.

For more info, contact Joe Meche at 738-0641 or by e-mail at joemeche@aol.com.

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