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January 2011 Issue (vol 42, number 1)
      (Previous Issue November/December 2010) - (Next Issue February 2011)

General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, January 25, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: American Alps Legacy Project

The American Alps Legacy Project (http://www.americanalps.org) is an initiative to complete the conservation vision for the North Cascades National Park. A consortium of non-profits, including multiple Audubon chapters, is evaluating lands adjacent to the park to determine whether they should be included in the park. This rugged and remote area has long been known as the American Alps.

Jim Davis, Executive Director of the North Cascades Conservation Council, will provide more details on the project and offer an opportunity for questions and suggestions on how to improve the plan. During the past 18 years, Jim has developed and managed several non-profit community organizations to address conservation and public health issues, such as wilderness, water quality, endangered species, environmental tobacco smoke, etc. From 2003-2006, he was co-director of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Program, based in the North Cascades.

Join us for an informative evening and remember that meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public, so 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

Whenever a new year rolls around, it’s common practice to reflect on the year past, just in case there might have been a highlight or two to remember....or maybe even forget! As I reflect on my own year past, I can’t help but focus on how fast it all seemed to fly by! I look around and the Christmas dust is just beginning to settle, and it’s time for another New Year’s getaway!

I do know that I spent the better part of four months monitoring the Caspian Tern colony on the waterfront, and found out just recently that between 1,500 and 2,000 chicks might have fledged from the site....right here in downtown Bellingham! It was a true phenomenon that we witnessed through the summer and I can hardly wait to see what next year will bring. Of course, not all are on board with excitement about the prospect of large numbers of terns coming back to the waterfront. Stay tuned for news as we hear it.

Two days after my last visit to the colony site, Cindy and I left on a 3-week fall road trip and rumor has it that we’re still on the road. The pre-trip rhythm certainly hasn’t returned! I guess the entire episode catered to the inner nomad and we’ll just have to deal with that....until the next time!

And then, just a day before my birthday, a Tropical Kingbird made an appearance and occupied my focus (no pun intended) for 16 days before fleeing in the face of cold weather in mid-November, just in time for me to begin making calls for the Christmas Bird Count.

And of course, there was the rush of holiday gatherings, potlucks, etc., leading right up to Christmas and beyond. I believe it’s time for all of us to stop for a while and catch our collective breath.

At NCAS, we never stopped working throughout the summer and the holidays; and we’re currently in the process of lining up great programs and field trips to entertain all the way into next summer! So stay tuned and begin with a Happy New Year!

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NCAS Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
Field Trip Chair

Welcome to the season of very little sun, short days, rain, and near-freezing temperatures. After the holidays, it’s easy to allow yourself to slip into that negative state of mind one might call the winter blues. NCAS is here to offer you an alternative. Nothing helps more than engaging in some outdoor activity with like-minded people who are excited about what they’re doing. And nothing helps to brighten a day more than the sight of a flock of Trumpeter Swans or a Harlequin Duck, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a few Evening Grosbeaks at the feeder, or maybe a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

All of us here at NCAS wish you a happy winter and urge you to get out, get some exercise, and appreciate our splendid Northwest environment. You can do this on your own or join us on one of the outings listed below. We have even listed an indoor field trip for the less adventurous birders.

If you have feedback or questions on our field trip program, you should feel free to contact me by e-mail at paulwoodcock@comcast.net. We appreciate your feedback!

NCAS field trips are FREE of charge and open to members and non-members alike. We often require advance registration with the trip leader to limit the number of participants, reduce any negative impacts, and to ensure a quality experience for all. If you are going out this season, remember to dress for the weather. Raingear is usually necessary.

Please look for more winter field trips in the February issue of the Avalanche.

Saturday, January 22. John James Audubon’s Birds of America at WWU’s Wilson Library.

We will meet and carpool to Western to view the works of J.J. Audubon. This is not a set of the rare originals, one set of which recently sold for $11.5 million, but it is a limited edition of perfect photographic copies of those originals, made in 1966. This complete set was donated to Western in the 1970s and is appraised at $40,000. Join with a limited group of Auduboners for a close-up view of our namesake’s artwork. This is as close as we can get to the originals without a great deal of effort. Please be prepared to request your favorite Audubon images as we will not be able to see them all in our two-hour session.

1 PM. Trip limit: 20. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Our thanks go to WWU Librarian, Paul Piper, for his invitation on the whatcombirds list serve.

Sunday, January 23. Whatcom Creek Walk.

We’ll meet in front of city hall at 10 AM and take a leisurely stroll along trails down Whatcom Creek to the waterfront and return upstream to our starting point. Unexpected birds, like owls and loons are the highlight of this unique inner city walk. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Joe Meche, 739-5383.

Sunday, January 23. Bald Eagles of the Nooksack.

This is a half-day trip to explore winter concentration sites of Bald Eagles along the Nooksack River. The field experience will focus on observation, age discrimination, behavior, and natural history of our region’s most emblematic species. 8:30 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, February 5. Semiahmoo Spit.

Bird the beaches at the only designated Important Bird Area in Whatcom County. These monthly, three-hour trips are co-sponsored by NCAS and Whatcom County Parks and are meant for birders of all skill levels. Semiahmoo is one of our area's most scenic, biologically rich, and environmentally challenged places. We will see shorebirds, loons, grebes, sea and dabbling ducks, and other seabirds, as well as raptors and songbirds. 9:00 AM. Meeting Place: Semiahmoo County Park. Trip Leader: Paul Woodcock. No Registration Required.

Sunday, February 13. Whatcom Creek Walk.

Same details as the January walk.

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Swainson’s Thrush - Prelude to a Cat Hunt

Jim Cool

In spring, I always listen for the first song of the Swainson’s Thrush, that snail-shell of a sound, spiraling upwards, seeming to fade to space or some other dimension. The bird itself, hiding amongst the alder leaves, is hard to spot while singing; its voice much bigger than its form.

In November of 2010, while walking in my yard, I came upon a Swainson’s patrolling the grass and leaves for lunch. It wasn’t fearful, though I did freeze and only moved my eyes to follow it. Then I sat in a chair to watch all of the other birds doing the same. There were Varied Thrushes, Steller’s Jays, Oregon Juncos, and one of those “no concern for up or down” birds, a Winter Wren, busily gleaning through my garden.

As I sat quietly, legs crossed, quickly around a corner flew the thrush and lit on my knee. It looked me in the eye for a moment, then flew down, touched the top of my calf-length boots, and lit again on my toe, looked back at me, then gave a little chirp like a “thanks” or “goodbye” and flew to the ground again to continue its search.

I sat for a moment more. Stunned but feeling spiritually warm and blessed. Then I went off to brag to my wife about my encounter and to look up the bird and read about them.

Later that day, I went back to that area to see if the bird was still around. In the direction the bird had flown, not thirty feet from where I had been sitting, I found a scattered pile of its feathers left from a stray cat’s meal.

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Tropical Kingbird Visits Bellingham

It was a lovely Halloween Sunday morning when I decided to walk to a restaurant on James Street for a family brunch. I was late in arriving and the entire family speculated that I had probably “run into some kind of bird.” It wasn’t just any bird, however. As it turned out, it was a Tropical Kingbird — a common resident of southeastern Arizona and Mexico.

The flash of its yellow breast in the bright sunshine caught my eye and delayed my progress. I had seen this species before but I knew that this was a special visitor to be here, in Bellingham. On the first day of the sighting, I posted the news on three separate list serves and the bird had many visitors for the 16 days it was here. There was always the natural buffer of Whatcom Creek between the bird and its admiring public throughout its visit and it was never threatened.

Though this species has been known to stray up the Pacific Coast as far as British Columbia, it seems that this was a first Whatcom County record.

As a side note, comparison photos provided evidence that this bird was the same bird that was sighted in lower B.C. during the first part of October. The telltale sign was the broken tip of its upper mandible. When the big November freeze came to town, the bird apparently came to its senses and headed south.

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CBC 2010

Those of us who participated in the most recent Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) certainly can’t complain about the weather. After the November deep freeze and the December rains, count days were uneventful for both the Bellingham CBC and the CBC that took place on the Washington State Ferry between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C.

Overall numbers were low on both counts and the consensus is that the unusually cold weather in November pushed many birds farther south, and they had yet to return. The initial tally at the Bellingham count put our species total at 120. Additional Count Period birds (seen three days before and/or three days after Count Day) raised the total closer to 130 species.

Be sure to check the February Avalanche for final species counts. Thanks to all who participated and be sure to mark your calendars and plan on joining us next year, on December 18, when we put forth our best effort for citizen science!

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J.I. Kleinberg

A small drama unfolds in the gnarled juniper bush outside my front door. A bird, gray, unremarkable but for a white eye-ring, is using the plant’s feathery branches as a launching pad in repeated attacks on my living room windows. Fluttering and flapping, gulping down berries from the juniper and adjacent cotoneaster and fertilizing the soil prodigiously, the bird stays. Two days. Five days.

I leave on vacation, sure that it will be gone when I return a week later. But at first light I hear the distinctive bump of feathered body against glass. This has been going on for nearly two weeks.

Except for one high-speed attack that sounded painful and left a sad splash of downy feathers on the glass, the bird is on close approach, hurling itself against the window from inches away. Again and again and again. I try the usual interventions: cover the windows, run outside and wave my arms. Nothing drives it away.

Not a birder, I speculate on its plain appearance: mockingbird? Juvenile robin? But it doesn’t seem to match the images in my bird book. After three weeks I post a blurry photo on Facebook, where previous postings have helped me identify unfamiliar plants. Friends offer guesses and their ideas lead me back to my bird book and finally to a likely suspect: Townsend’s Solitaire.

I take a second, better photo and offer it up with my new guess. Circulated among local birders, the identity is confirmed: Myadestes townsendii (named for ornithologist John Kirk Townsend) — a rare winter resident in the thrush family that’s normally found in higher-elevation coniferous forests.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says, “The Townsend’s Solitaire sings throughout the fall and winter to set up and hold its winter territory. Violent fights may break out in defense of the winter territory....” A friend sends an article by Scott Staats from Creswell, Oregon, in which Staats describes “Solly,” a Townsend’s Solitaire that’s been visiting his yard and flying against his windows each winter for several years.

The timing is perfect for the weekend’s Christmas Bird Count. My friend Jane warns me that my yard will become a pilgrimage site, like when someone sees an image of the Virgin in an oil stain on their driveway, and I should put out a coffee can for donations.

Joe Meche shows up with his camera...several times. Unimpressed by the fuss, the bird continues its assault on the windows, chirps its single note from atop the juniper and occasionallly launches into a thrilling, melodious song from a nearby tree. My days are punctuated by its feathery thump against the glass.

By Sunday, December 19, the bird has been in residence for more than a month. Joe shows up for the Official Count and Portrait.

At 2:30 pm on Monday, December 20, a sudden silence: the solitaire is gone. Taken flight in search of a second chance at being counted? Off to sunnier climes? Who knows? But surely, come November I’ll be watching, listening and hoping for the return of my small celebrity houseguest.

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January 20

we ponder

and work so hard

our raveling of this world

comes down to:

eagle flies

fish dives

but sometimes

not fast enough

Luther Allen
The View From Lummi Island

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