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January 2004 Issue (vol 35, number 1)
      (Previous Issue November/December 2003) - (Next Issue February 2004)



JANUARY General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, January 27, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Grizzly Bear Outreach Project

Our January program will feature Chris Morgan, Director of Insight Wildlife Management (http://www.insightwildlife.com) an ecology and education consulting company based in Bellingham. Chris will discuss his work with the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (GBOP) in Washington’s North Cascades.

The GBOP proactively provides information to the public on grizzly bear ecology, behavior, sanitation, safety, livestock compensation, and the recovery process well in advance of significant recovery steps by government wildlife agencies.

The project’s goal is to promote an accurate understanding of grizzly bears and their recovery through community education and involvement so that residents can make well-informed comments that reflect their opinions on grizzly bear recovery.

Washington state’s North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) grizzly bear population occurs on one of only six recovery zones in the lower 48 states and is contiguous with the grizzly bear population of south central British Columbia (BC). Grizzly bears, and even verified grizzly bear sign, are very rarely observed. The United States NCE population is estimated at less than 20 individuals. Public perceptions of grizzly bears in the NCE therefore vary considerably from those in other lower-48 recovery zones.

For the recovery process to proceed effectively in Washington, educational outreach efforts must carefully address public concerns and help to ensure that public perceptions and attitudes toward bears are based upon reliable, factual information. The NCE has also received renewed interest due to BC government plans to consider augmentation of the contiguous grizzly bear population north of the Canadian border.

The pilot project was initiated by Insight Wildlife Management and the Conservation Partnership Center in April 2002, with a focus on nine recovery zone communities on the eastern slope of the North Cascades. During 2003, the GBOP team continued their efforts on the eastern slope and initiated a community-based sanitation program. The project will also expand to encompass selected communities on the western slope, thus providing coverage for the entire recovery zone.

Join us for this fascinating, insightful program about these magnificent creatures and the plans to aid in their recovery. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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From the Editor

Even though it might be difficult to imagine, in just a couple of days, we’ll flip the pages of our calendars and it will be January 2004! In ’54, ’64, and even ’74, it was a stretch to picture exactly what 2004 would look like. Nevertheless, I’ll have to paraphrase Minnie Pearl and go along with her philosophical approach to life by saying that I’m just proud to be here!

Many things have happened for the better leading up to this newest of New Years, but I do believe there’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ve made great strides in many areas of environmental concerns, for instance, but substantial threats still exist, both locally and globally. And we must deal with them in our lifetimes.

Have you made a few those typical New Year’s resolutions that are certain to fade and be forgotten by, say, mid-February? Do you have big plans for calendar year 2004? While you’re pondering these questions and considering your answers, perhaps you might give a little thought to becoming more involved with your local Audubon chapter.

North Cascades Audubon is always looking for inspired, energetic souls to bolster its ranks of volunteers for a number of projects, and we’re also looking to the membership to offer suggestions on how we might best serve the community.

If you fit into any of these categories, phone or e-mail any of the officers or committee chairs and give us your opinions. It’s 2004 and tempus certainly does fugit!

Happy New Year from the Avalanche staff!

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NCAS on the Road: Wheeled Migration

by Joe Meche

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!

It was dark and early when I rolled out of Bellingham on November 16. It was also raining and continued to rain all the way to Redding, California, where I stopped for the first night of a road trip that was motivated by one bird in particular — the turkey that would be on my Mom’s table for Thanksgiving! In the past, when I’ve driven cross country, I’ve had a tendency to connect-the-dots between here and southwest Louisiana with planned stops at several National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) along the way.

Not only would I get to enjoy (?) a large family gathering, but I would also be able to simulate the southbound winged migration and meet a few of the birds that had already made their way to warmer climes. The early morning of the second day, however, proved that I was probably bringing up the rear on the migration scene.

In lieu of a long-winded (Who, me?) narrative about places visited along the way, ALL the birds I saw, and the few-and-far-between coffee shops for refueling, allow me to appeal to the birdwatching vagabond within and regale you with a few of the highlights from my 6,700 mile + junket.

•Sacramento NWR (CA). Just after sunrise I observed tens of thousands of Snow Geese and a variety of ducks, whose numbers peak in the hundreds of thousands and millions respectively in mid-winter.

•Sonny Bono/Salton Sea NWR (CA). I didn’t expect to run into Cher, but I was able to locate some of the millions of birds that winter at the refuge, including one of the Burrowing Owls that can be found at this intriguing place. Between one and 1.5 million Eared Grebes winter on the Salton Sea. The history of this body of water is unique and the bird numbers there in winter are quite impressive.

•Arizona/Sonora Desert Museum (AZ). Located in the low, saguaro-covered mountains west of Tucson, this unique, living museum offers a variety of flora and fauna for close observation. From a campground above the museum, near sunset, I observed Elf Owls, Phainopeplas, and Pyrrhuloxias.

•Davis Mountains State Park (TX). This little-known and well tucked-away gem in west Texas is a splendid place for birds and birdwatchers. In the campground, I observed Montezuma Quail, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Western Scrub Jays, not to mention billions of stars, deep in the heart of Texas.

•Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park/Santa Ana NWR (TX). These two magnificent areas on the Rio Grande in south Texas attract birds and birders alike. Mexican species are likely to be found here. My early morning visit began well before any other humans were present so I had Green Jays, Plain Chachalacas, Great Kiskadees, and a first-ever Altamira Oriole to myself. The sole UNappealing aspect of these refuges would have to be the heat, so be sure to visit in the winter; although, it was 92 degrees at 10 o’clock on November 20!

•Aransas NWR (TX). The big attraction at Aransas is always the wintering flock of approximately 200 Whooping Cranes. This refuge is quite large and the only cranes visible were the family of 3 that I could see from the observation tower as white specks in the marsh. Good numbers of other large wading birds were easier to see, however, and included Great, Cattle, Reddish, and Snowy Egrets, as well as Great Blue Herons. Both pelican species were well represented and Black Skimmers provided the entertainment with their unique feeding technique.

•Bolivar Flats (TX). Ten thousand American Avocets, 2,000 Black-necked Stilts, Willets, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Black Skimmers literally covered the flats on the eastern shore of the Galveston Ship Channel.

•Cameron Prairie/Sabine/Lacassine NWRs (LA). The big attraction at these Louisiana refuges would have to be the presence of large alligators that are easy enough to find as you pursue the varied bird life. While watching where I stepped, I managed to observe wintering Ospreys, Roseate Spoonbills, egrets and herons aplenty, early flocks of Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese and other waterfowl species.

•Bosque del Apache NWR (NM). One of the preeminent NWRs in the country, the Bosque straddles the Rio Grande south of San Antonio, New Mexico. This refuge is renowned for its large wintering populations of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, both of which can be seen feeding and foraging together throughout the day. A spectacular display took place in the evening when thousands of these birds returned to their shared night roosts. An equally spectacular event is the literal explosion of the birds when they leave to feed for the day in the surrounding cornfields.

To fully appreciate the magic of bird migration, get behind the wheel and do a little quasi-migration of your own. After 13 road days and 7 days of family gatherings, it was good to return to my year-round range in the PNW.

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Winter Field Trips

by Dave Schmalz
NCAS Field Trip Chair

At last! The season of abundance for birdwatching is upon us. Whatcom County and nearby environs are the wintering home for tens of thousands of migratory birds that breed during the summer months in more northern latitudes. From the high Arctic, the Yukon, and occasionally Eurasia come shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, owls, and raptors to the unique and critical habitats of our marine waters and nearshore uplands.

It’s time to pile on the layers, pack a steaming thermos, and head outdoors to catch one of nature’s amazing spectacles - right here in our own backyard. NCAS offers a variety of half-day and full-day outings this winter to help you learn about and celebrate our wintering birds and their place in the natural world.

All NCAS field trips are led by experienced guides and are FREE and open to chapter members and the public. For more information about a particular trip or to make reservations, contact the individual trip leaders or NCAS at 671-1537.

Saturday, January 24: Skagit Flats.
Explore the scenic Skagit Flats in search of Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans, and Short-eared Owls. This area is also the winter home of five species of falcon, eagles, and more than 12 duck species. 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427.

Saturday, January 31: Reifel Island, British Columbia.
Travel north across the border to one of the West Coast’s premier birdwatching areas. Habitat diversity is the magic of the Reifel sanctuary, with a large variety of waterfowl species, woodland birds, and Sandhill Cranes. Five owl species are possible here in a single day! 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Victor Burgett, 392-8899.

Sunday, February 8: Boundary Bay, British Columbia.
Tour the expansive shoreline of Boundary Bay, nominated as a World Biosphere Heritage Site. Waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, owls, and raptors highlight this trip. Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews? Are they there again this year? 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Sunday, February 15: Marine Park, Blaine.
What makes dabbling ducks and diving ducks different from one another? How deep can cormorants dive? Have you ever seen a loon swim underwater? Enjoy an early morning walk with great birdwatching and learn about some of the amazing adaptations of our avian friends. 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537.

Saturday, February 21: Reifel Island, British Columbia.
See previous trip description. Every trip to Reifel is exciting and different and this outing will include a stop at Roberts’ Bank, site of deepwater birds and seasonal oddities. 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427.

Saturday, March 20: Drayton Harbor, Semiahmoo Spit.
Shorebirds, waterfowl, seabirds, falcons, and eagles inhabit this spectacular scenic area. Find out why Blaine is pursuing becoming a regional destination birdwatching site. 8:00 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Andrew Craig, 671-8427.

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Protect Our Water Resources

Public Hearing: January 13
by Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

In June 2002, a downzone of the Lake Whatcom watershed was proposed by county council member Dan McShane. This action was taken in order to help protect the most significant drinking water resource in Whatcom County. The zoning that existed at the time dated from the 1970s and early 1980s – prior to the advent of long-term monitoring of the lake. This monitor-ing has shown ample evidence of the slow resource degradation that accompanies the residential development that has occurred over the intervening 20 years. In the past 18 months, this downzone has been tweaked and watered down by county staff and council members. While the original downzone would have reduced the ultimate bailout of the watershed by approximately 3,500 residences, the current proposal has cut that to approximately 1,700 – allowing the ultimate number of residential units to nearly triple from its current level. However, it will still be a very significant step forward in watershed protection in that a number of important watershed sub-basin areas are protected from high-density development.

Please come to the public hearing at 7 PM on January 13, in the county council chambers, in the county courthouse at 311 Grand Avenue, or contact your council members. Let them know that:

• This downzone is needed. Continued urbanization of the watershed will ultimately have dire consequences. Water is a precious commodity – there are no viable alternatives to Lake Whatcom as a drinking water resource for the majority of county residents. The economic interests of the very few property owners affected should not outweigh the public health and environmental interests of tens of thousands of county residents.

• This downzone should not be made dependent on the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program. TDRs are needed to help compensate owners of platted land that has a high potential for development, and should not be spent compensating owners with only speculative development rights (note that the development potential of the area being downzoned is largely unproven).

For more information, please go to http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/lake_whatcom or contact Tom Pratum at water@northcascadesaudubon.org.

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Swan Survey Update

by Tom Pratum
Swan Survey Coordinator

As of this writing, our survey of wintering swans, which took place on Wednesdays and Saturdays between November 2 and December 27, is not yet completed; however, it will be by the time you read this update. Our volunteers have logged over 300 hours of observation time and have counted and logged the location of over 15,000 swans in nearly 350 individual flocks. All this has been done in the hope that the source of the lead poisoning that is afflicting our local swan population can be found.

The information that we have gathered, thus far, has helped the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with their radio-collaring program this year. As of December 20, nearly 70 Trumpeter Swans have been collared to track their movements. I will have a more thorough summary of the survey results, along with an update of other aspects of the project, in a later edition of the Avalanche.

I would like to again thank our volunteers who have donated their precious spare time to this project: Michele Bodtke, Jim Duemmel, Scott Pratschner, Sally Hewitt, Steve Pratum, Liz and Steve Smith, Wilma Totten, Barry Ulman, Paul Woodcock, Joe Meche, Lila Immer, and Linda Smith.

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Bird Feeder Concerns

from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Poorly maintained feeders may contribute to the spread of infections among birds. The feeders themselves can sometimes pose hazards, too. Here are some helpful hints for successful bird feeding:

•Avoid overcrowding at feeders by placing numerous feeders several feet apart.

•Keep the feeding area and feeders clean.

•Keep food and food-storage containers dry and free of mold and fungus.

•Check your feeders for safety. Sharp edges can scratch birds and make them susceptible to infection.

Clean your feeders about once every two weeks, more often during times of heavy use. Another important maintenance activity is to periodically rake up birdseed hulls from beneath your feeders.

People wonder whether bird feeding causes birds to change their migratory behavior. The clue that most birds use to migrate is the change in the day length rather than the availability of food. Also, peak migration time is late summer and fall, a time when natural foods are readily available anyway. So, it is unlikely that feeding birds has any effect on their migration patterns.

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Dungeness River Audubon Center News

Enjoy birding at the Dungeness River Audubon Center and Railroad Bridge Park, an Important Bird Area within the lower Dungeness River riparian forest, near sunny Sequim, Washington. We have informative exhibits showing the birds of the north Olympic Peninsula, plus riverside trails and beautiful parklands filled with birds and their songs.

•Guided bird walks every Wednesday at 8:30 AM.

•Interpretive displays about local wildlife and the Dungeness River watershed.

•Natural history classes and presentations.

•Informative Saturday “River Talks” about birds, insects, native plants, etc., through July and August.

•Information about best local birding areas.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 AM-4PM,

Sundays Noon-4PM.

2151 Hendrickson

Sequim, Washington

360/681-4076

http://www.dungenessrivercenter.org

2004 Events
May 8 – Clallam County Migratory Bird Count
September 24-25 – Dungeness River Festival
December 20 – Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count

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Birds in Winter

When we go outdoors to watch birds this time of year, we tend to follow the advice of our venerable NCAS Field Trip Chair and “pile on the layers and pack a steaming thermos.” Since we have to leave our warm, humble abodes to get out and pursue our passion, this is always good advice for humans in the winter. But consider that while we’re going out into the often hostile weather, the birds are already out there. They’re literally scratching out a living and just trying to make it to another spring.

Naturalists have been observing birds and other wildlife for many years and it seems that their appreciation rises considerably during the winter months. The following stories might be considered old in some respects, but the sentiments can never be outdated.

Enjoy!

How winter emphasizes the movement of wildlife! The snow and the cold are the white paper upon which the print is revealed. A track of a mouse, a bird, a squirrel, or a fox shows us at a glance how the warm pulse of life defies the embargo of winter. From cracks and rents in the frigid zone which creep down upon us at this season there issue tiny jets of warm life which play about here and there as if in the heyday of summer. The woods snap and explode with the frost, the ground is choked with snow, no sign of food is there for bird or beast, and yet there are these tiny bundles of cheer and contentment in feathers – the chickadees, nuthatches, and their fellows.

John Burroughs
Birds and Bees, 1919



The truth is that birds are remarkably well guarded against cold by their quick circulation, their dense covering of down and feathers, and the ease with which they can protect their extremities. The chickadee is never so lively as in clear, cold weather – not that he is absolutely insensible to cold, for on those days, rare in this neighborhood, when the mercury falls to fifteen or more below zero, the chickadee shows by his behavior that he, too, feels it to be an exceptional state of things. Of such a morning I have seen a small flock of them collected on the sunny side of a thick hemlock, rather silent and quiet, with ruffled plumage, like balls of gray fur, waiting, with an occasional chirp, for the sun’s rays to begin to warm them up, and mean-while not depressed, but only a little sobered in their deportment, and ready, if the cold continued, to get used to that, too.

T.W. Higginson
Our Birds and Their Ways, 1857

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