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November/December 2003 Issue (vol 34, number 8)
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NOVEMBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, November 25, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Jeanie Johnson and Steve Irving’s group of trekkers. The journey starts along the Kongakuk River at Caribou Pass. The pass is in the far northeast corner of Alaska, ten miles west of the Yukon Territory and about fifteen miles from the Arctic Ocean. As the name implies, Caribou Pass is located on the migration route of the Porcupine Caribou herd as they travel from the mountains to the rich tundra to calve. Perils along this migration path include predators such as grizzly bears and wolves and the natural perils of the turbulent river crossings.

“Trailheads” are actually primitive airstrips along gravel bars. The bush plane drops you off in this vast wilderness and you begin to adjust to the reality that you are now far removed from communication and support from the “civilized” world. The trek and day hikes from base camps take us over miles of tundra, along rivers of aufeis and north to the Beaufort Sea with its icebergs.

Wildlife abounds and is well-documented by Jeanie Johnson and Stan Walsh, and also by Steve, who developed an uncanny knack for locating the nests of both a jaeger and a Semipalmated Plover.

Join us for an evening of laughter, beautiful images, and a passionate message about our responsibility to help protect this fragile natural wonder.

As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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NCAS on the Road: Baja.......or Bust!

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!

by Joe Meche

We decided, somewhat spontaneously, to leave the rain and chill of the Pacific Northwest behind and take our first trip ever to Baja California. It was a commitment to a round-trip of 5,000 miles + to reach our destination but we decided it was worth the effort. The lure of the tropics was strong and we knew there would be great birds to enjoy along the way and certainly south of the border.

On our second day, we detoured into the Sacramento Valley in California to search for a bird that had eluded us on two pre-vious visits. Our rewards for a chilly crossing of Siskiyou Sum-mit, on the Oregon-California border, were the Yellow-billed Magpies that we found in an orchard just north of the Sacra-mento NWR.

We found sunshine and much warmer temperatures for a couple of days at the Salton Sea, along with an interesting mix of birds in large numbers. I had read that Eared Grebes num-bered between 1 and 1.5 million in winter at the Salton Sea and, given the number that we could see in our limited area, I’m a believer. Eared Grebes were everywhere!

The expanse of the Salton Sea hosts incredible numbers of birds in winter, including large flocks of American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Western Grebes, American White and Brown Pelicans, and good numbers of Snowy and Great Egrets. On morning walks from the state park campground, we ob-served roosting Black-crowned Night Herons, Cactus Wrens, Gilded Flickers, Verdins, Black Phoebes, and Blue-gray Gnat-catchers. American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Log-gerhead Shrikes were on the prowl as well.

We awoke on our first morning south of the border at Bahia de Todos Santos, south of Ensenada, Mexico. At sunrise, we could see that the mudflats were teeming with birds. Wandering Tattlers, Whimbrels, Long-billed Curlews, and Marbled God-wits stood out among the large numbers of shorebirds, while a large flock of Black Skimmers was quite vocal in the early morning light. Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds were beginning their morning rounds in the palm trees in the campground.

After two more days of driving farther south and east across the barren landscape of the Baja peninsula, we arrived at our primary destination on the Sea Of Cortez, south of the village of Mulege&#;. We nosed our Vanagon into the open end of a palapa, just about 20’ from the hide tide line on the white sand at Playa el Requeson.

A brisk northwest breeze blew for the first two days and it seemed that Magnificent Frigatebirds were constantly overhead, soaring into the wind, along with impressive numbers of Turkey Vultures. This wonderful campground sits on a protected lagoon and the water inside the lagoon was calm, compared to the whitecaps farther out in the open water. We took short hikes to a small island that was accessible at low tide, and observed Snowy and Great Egrets in the mangroves, American Oystercatchers on the rocky beaches, and Reddish Egrets doing their incredible dances in the shallows. In the scrub uplands above the campground, the place was alive with birds, including Vermillion Flycatchers, Sage Thrashers, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Phainopeplas, Pyrrhuloxias, Hooded Orioles, and Costa’s Hummingbirds.

Incredible sunrises and moonlit nights were peaceful and daytime was filled with wonderful birds. Right outside our front door and quite tame and approachable were beautiful Heer-mann’s Gulls and a Baja specialty, the Yellow-footed Gull. Brown Pelicans cruised by our front yard looking for handouts.

After seven superb, relaxing days, we headed west by northwest, albeit reluctantly. Our crossing back to the Pacific side of the peninsula was much easier and punctuated by occa-sional sightings of Harris’, Zone-tailed, and Common Black Hawks, as well as the Mexican national bird, the Crested Cara-cara.

We reached the west side of the peninsula and another great campground in the dunes at Playa Pabellon. On the Sea of Cortez, the water gently lapped at the beach, but it was great to fall asleep to the sound of the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. We were still far south of home, but we could feel the connection to the Pacific Northwest.

Numerous species of shorebirds prowled the beach while pipits and meadowlarks entertained us as we rested in the dunes, out of the wind. Long-billed Curlews and Marbled Godwits were active throughout the day, feeding and preening along the water’s edge.

We were sixteen days on the road, and could not have found more of a contrast to western Washington than the Baja Penin-sula. If you choose to make the long drive, put all your energy into getting past and well south of the border. If you want to see exotic species, your efforts will be rewarded.

Editor’s note: This month’s installment of NCAS On the Road is an excerpt from an article that was written for the newsletter of the Washington Ornithological Society in 1996.

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The Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Every year since 1900, the National Audubon Society has conducted its annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Originally started as a gathering of 27 conservationists protesting the tradi-tional Christmas “side hunt,” the Audubon CBC has turned into a hemisphere-wide conservation institution. This year, almost 50,000 observers from all fifty states, every Canadian province, Central and South America, and the Caribbean and several Pa-cific islands will count and record every bird species encountered during one calendar day between December 14 and January 4.

More than 1,700 individual counts will be held during the two and a half week period. Each count has a designated circle, 15 miles in diameter, where they cover as much ground as possi-ble within a 24-hour period.

The count has become much more than a social gathering and the results have been vital in assessing the status and health of continental birds as well as the general state of the environment. Since birds are one of the first groups of animals affected by en-vironmental threats such as pollution and habitat destruction, CBC data has provided indispensable information on the long-term health of bird populations.

The CBC is the longest running ornithological database. At over 100, the count continues to grow in importance as a way to monitor the status of resident and migratory bird populations across the Western Hemisphere. Results from the count are inte-gral in assessing the Watch List, a record of birds that are in de-cline or in potential danger. The CBC has brought attention to more than 115 species of birds that have significantly declined and been added to the Watch List. The Watch List has become the centerpiece of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society.

With more than 550,000 members in over 500 chapters throughout the Americas, the National Audubon Society ad-vances its mission to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the bene-fit of humanity and the Earth’s biological diversity.

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Bellingham Christmas Bird Count 2003

The Bellingham Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the oldest CBCs in Washington state, with the first count taking place in 1967. Since Terry Wahl and Jim Duemmel started the count 36 years ago, the number of observers has increased and the subsequent number of exciting stories has increased, as well.

After a long day in the field counting birds and enduring whatever nature has dealt in the way of weather, the post-count potluck/unofficial tally is a warm and friendly end to the day.

If you’re interested in joining in the fun this year and being part of one of the oldest citizen-science efforts in history, call Joe Meche at 738-0641, or Geri Walker at 734-8563.

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Washington State Ferry CBC

by RB Porter - Compiler

What kind of day will we have this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but the Christmas Bird Count on the Anacortes to Sidney, BC run of the Washington State Ferry will go on regard-less of weather conditions. This year’s count will be on Friday, December 19 and, as always, we will leave before dawn. To par-ticipate, you must make reservations. To do so, contact RB Por-ter at 360-332-6799 and you may also make a reservation by e-mailing him at rbdemo2@worldnet.att.net .

As in the past, the North Cascades Audubon Society has gra-ciously offered to foot the bill for the ferry passage for the first eight people to register, if you need that subsidy. The cost will be $5 for registration in the CBC. Don’t wait, sign up early!

So, grab your binoculars, pack a lunch and some warm clothes and have some fun doing what birders love doing most....BIRDING!

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Washington Brant Foundation - Join in the effort

by Maynard Axelson

The Washington Brant Foundation (WBF) is a non-profit organization involved in education, research, and habitat en-hancement programs for marine waterfowl. Our focus is Brant geese, due to their dependence on specific and dwindling es-tuarine areas during their long spring and fall migrations along the Pacific Coast.

This maritime bird has been an important resource in many native cultures for centuries, yet remains a low profile species. Although most people recognize swans and Snow Geese, few can identify Brant. These small, timid geese are more difficult to observe than other birds and are often disturbed or displaced by people who are unaware of their presence. Their specialized ecological requirements are difficult to address with common enhancement measures, such as creating freshwater wetlands or growing forage. Most Brant are restricted to a marine envi-ronment, which is often limited by food availability, distur-bances, and development. Their preferred waterfront habitat is at a premium for many other uses and is usually irreplaceable once it is lost. Brant use of an area is often considered a ba-rometer for the health of nearshore habitat and other species that depend on it.

No other goose species has such a dependence on a single plant food. This is very evident in our Pacific Flyway, where Brant winter and stage only near the best remaining eelgrass beds. Their spectacular migration has inspired an international classroom education program involving students from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The wintering flocks here in Puget Sound contain birds from many areas and include a rare high-Arctic population.

In addition to their endearing qualities, Brant have a unique characteristic to consider. Most waterfowl have adapted to human development; i.e., Canada Geese live on golf courses; Snow Geese feed in fields; Wood Ducks nest in man-made nesting boxes. Brant, however, have resisted change and are still using the same historical habitats and food sources in one of the few waterfowl ecosystems that, although reduced, still functions as it has for thousands of years.

In 2002, the WBF launched a website which has received more than 3,000 visits in its first 240 days. In April of 2003, the WBF hosted the first Washington Brant Festival in Blaine to mark spring migration through this important staging area. Presentations at local schools, conservation groups, and the Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Preserve have also been ongo-ing. Future goals of the WBF include specific research on Brant, as well as habitat preservation and/or enhancement pro-jects here in the Puget Sound area.

The WBF board believes that heightened awareness of Brant and their habitat needs will lead to less degradation, disturbance, and loss of habitat. Improvements for Brant would have mutual benefits for other waterfowl, including sea ducks, which are in serious decline.

Please consider joining in our quest to preserve and en-hance this distinctive part of our maritime heritage. For more information visit our website at www.washingtonbrant.org.

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Ducks: An Update

A wet spring produced more ducks in North America this year, according to official estimates. The number of breeding ducks jumped from 31.2 million in 2002 to 36.2 million this year. Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails showed the largest percentage gains (56 and 43 percent, respectively), but each of the most common duck species boosted their popula-tions this year.

The Mallard, the most common species, jumped 6 percent to 7.95 million birds, and the number-two duck, the Blue-winged Teal, increased 31 percent to 5.5 million birds. De-spite the pintail’s gains, biologists say the species remains 39 percent below its long-term average and 54 percent below managers’ goals.

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Winter Birds: The Black-capped Chickadee X 2

I

There is nothing that gladdens a winter’s day like a Black-capped Chickadee. The more bitter the wind, the deeper the snow, and the darker the day, the more its youthful exuberance seems to bubble forth to soften the scene.

The chickadee appears to have the acrobatics of youth built into its makeup. He weighs only about an ounce, but he cer-tainly has bounce in that ounce. He seems just as happy explor-ing the world upside down as right side up. Rarely does he sit still for long. There is too much going on for that. He interviews every passerby and pries into every nook and cranny. Someone has called him a feathered question mark.

His curiosity, however, is not offensive, for he nearly always appears good-humored as he searches his surroundings. He gen-erally retreats gracefully from the scene when he is seriously challenged, although occasionally he does not hide his displeas-ure at being displaced from a choice spot at the bird feeder.

His willingness to make friends with humans is outstanding. The chickadee is one of the most enthusiastic about what he is offered at the feeder. Furthermore, he is probably the first to be willing to eat trustfully out of the hands of those who are patient enough. It seems to help if we talk softly to him about the world’s problems as we hold out the seeds (preferably sunflower) to him and if we are able to stifle that sneeze at the critical moment.

Members of the chickadee family are with us all year long, so it should not be hard to get to know them. The Black-capped is said to move north and south with the seasons, but there are some individuals of the species with us all the time.

To clinch the matter of identification, the black-cap comes about as close as any bird to telling us his name with his chick-a-dee-dee-dee. He also has a plaintive two-note call sounding something like fee-bee. The first syllable is a note or two higher than the second.

His garb is an exquisite combination of black, white, and gray, which he always keeps neat as a pin. His black cap and black bib are set off to perfection against the white sides of his head. His sides are generally washed lightly with brown.

His diet consists largely of the things we would just as soon do without: spiders, tent caterpillars (along with their moths and eggs), along with other destructive insects. When he turns to fruit and berries, these are usually the kind not especially useful to humans.

All of this adds up to the fact that in the chickadee we have a perky, trustful, useful, and generally attractive friend —a good friend to have around.

Richard H. Wood
Wood Notes, 1984

II

The little Black-capped Chickadee is the embodiment of cheerfulness, verve, and courage. It can boast no elegant plumes, and it makes no claims as a songster, yet this blithe woodland sprite is a distinctive character, and is a bird masterpiece beyond all praise. It is spruce and smart in its plain black, gray, and white livery; and its cheery, cordial notes are the “open sesame” to woodland secrets. Follow the call of a chickadee and it will introduce you to its brethren and to a sociable gathering of kinglets, nuthatches, a Downy Woodpecker or two, and a creeper. In the proper seasons, migrating warblers may also join the group. A born leader is this little “scrap of valor.” The other birds seem to know of the chickadee’s superior intelligence and prying eyes will guide them to places where insect food is most abundant.

Let the north winds howl, let the snowstorm rage. It may be bitter cold, but the chickadee worries not as he hustles about to keep his little stomach filled with insects. Only the ice storm which envelops the trees and conceals the insects beneath its crystal cloak is likely to have an intimidating effect on the chickadee’s otherwise deep-rooted self-confidence. Then it will come to human friends for food and care, or else hie away to some snug refuge in a hollow limb or deserted bird’s nest, there to abide till the storm has run its course.

At this season, chickadees are the prevailing birds and one usually finds them roving the woods in small bands. Move qui-etly, imitate their fee-bee call or suck in gently on the back of your hand. This ruse will not fail to attract our little friends, for they are innately inquisitive. Soon, they flit and flutter about the twigs right over your head, come close at arm’s length and peer down at you with their keen eyes and scold or mock you with a voluble chattering of chic-chic-a-dee-dee. If you are patient and still, perhaps one or more of these bold birds will want to satisfy their curiosity by alighting on some part of you, when you will experience “the thrill of a lifetime.”

Edward Howe Forbush
Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States, 1929

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All That Noise Isn’t Natural

Sounds of civilization endanger wild things
from the Associated Press

Someday, you might not be able to hear frogs croak and the crickets chirp at your favorite nature preserve, argues sound re-cordist Bernie Krause in Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World.

Noise from airplanes, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, motor boats, jet skis, boom boxes, and other paraphernalia of modern life are not only drowning out what he calls the natural soundscapes of wild areas, but are making it harder for the creatures who live there to survive.

An example he makes is through spectrograms of his re-cordings of the mating choruses of spade foot toads at Mono Lake, east of Yosemite National Park.

The choruses are synchronized in such a way that the sound moves in waves, making it difficult for a predator to specifically locate the toads.

But when a plane flew over during his recording, a number of the toads stopped vocalizing, and the synchronicity was bro-ken for nearly 45 minutes before the toads resumed their cho-rusing.

In the interim, Krause says, he and his assistant saw two coyotes and a Great Horned Owl feeding at the edge of the pond.

“We discovered that the relatively intense noise produced by low-flying aircraft can cause dramatic changes in the biophony. Certain creatures seem to momentarily lose the life-saving pro-tection of their vocal choruses.”

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Birding in the United States

A new federal economic report found that 46 million bird-watchers spent $32 billion in 2001 pursuing one of the nation’s most popular outdoor activities according to a report from the Interior Department’s US Fish and Wildlife Service. The report, Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, is the first of its kind analyzing data from the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

“Nearly one in five Americans is a bird watcher,” said serv-ice director Steve Williams. “This report recognizes what we always thought to be true. Birdwatching is very popular and contributes greatly to our economy, so it is important that we continue to work with our partners to restore and protect habitat to ensure healthy bird populations.”

Montana, Vermont, and Wisconsin led the nation in birding participation rates as a percent of the total state population. Cali-fornia, New York, and Pennsylvania had the most birders.

Birders spent $32 billion on gear such as binoculars, travel, food, and big ticket items such as canoes, cabins, and off-road vehicles. This spending generated $85 billion in overall eco-nomic output and $13 billion in federal and state income taxes, and supported more than 863,000 jobs.

To be considered a birdwatcher, an individual must take a trip a mile or more from home for the primary purpose of ob-serving birds, or must closely observe or try to identify birds around their home. Those who notice birds while mowing the lawn or picnicking at the beach were not counted as birders. Trips to zoos and observing captive birds also did not count as birdwatching. Watching birds around the home is the most common form of birdwatching. Taking trips away from home counted for 40 percent (18 million) of birders.

Editor’s note: This article was sent by Mike Patterson of Asto-ria, Oregon. The full report is available as an actual file at http://library.fws.gov/nat_survey2001_birding.pdf.

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A BIG Thanks!

Thanks to all of you who gave generously to our fall appeal letter! To date, we’ve been able to sponsor 29 classrooms with the Audubon Adventures environmental education program in Whatcom County. There’s still time to send in your gift today, if you so desire. It’s $42 for full sponsorship of one classroom or you may give any amount toward sponsorship of one.

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Annual Christmas Potluck

December 15

Join us for the annual NCAS Christmas Potluck at the Fairhaven Library’s Fireplace Room on Monday, December 15, from 6 to 9 PM. Along with all the good food that’s sure to be on hand (in hand?), Joe Meche will offer a slide presentation and maybe even regale us with a few highlights from his recent road trip to south Louisiana.

Please bring your favorite potluck dish, along with plates, cups, eating utensils and a beverage. See you there!

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