e-Echo 2017 Nov Dec draft

Save the Date! Annual Dinner and Fundraiser is March 3rd, 2018 at South Sound Community College

Your Black Hills Annual Dinner committee is already busy meeting and planning our next delectable dinner and ways to raise funds to support our chapter programs. It’s not too late to join them, share your ideas, and help create a wonderful evening for our members. Please contact Sally Nole at sksnole@nullhotmail.com if you would like to get involved in preparations. Whether you are a new or long-time member, this is a great way to meet others and roll up your sleeves “for the birds.”

This year we will welcome Robert Marzluff as our keynote speaker. As a UW professor and a researcher of wildlife science, he has closely studied how birds are impacted by urbanization and habitat fragmentation. Discover his remarkable and award-winning work with crows and other birds in his books, Gifts of the Crow, with Tony Angell, and Welcome to Subirdia. You can look forward to hearing stories and insights into our complex relationship with these fascinating birds, while contributing to our programs that study and protect them in our local environment. Again, we will hold a sale of wildlife and bird themed items in addition to our raffle. If you have an item to donate, please contact Deb Nickerson at debranick@nullgmail.com. Watch our website for registration information as the date comes closer. See you there!

Armchair Birding: Witness Tree: Seasons of Change With A Century-Old Oak, by Lynda Mapes

Imagine slowing yourself down to tree pace. Plant yourself deeply in one place and then stretch higher than you can reach upward to the sun, flinging your fingers to the sky while feeling the action of nutrients coursing through your veins. Then go one step further and open your cells to light: photosynthesize sugars and exhale life-supporting oxygen. All right, a stretch too far. Instead, join Lynda Mapes as she delves into the life of a chosen tree and studies the meaning of its life from every conceivable angle, inside and out. Through her deep, thoughtful questing you can almost feel the roots pushing down into the earth and the great branches skimming the night-and-day sky above. A century is a moment gathered in leaf burst and leaf fall.


Industry Continues to Threaten Black River Watershed

After six years of hearings and litigation, the Washington State Court of Appeals denied a Hearing Examiner’s approval of a Special Use Permit (SUP) for Quality Rock Products (QRP) for an expanded gravel mine, asphalt plant, and concrete plant adjacent to the Black River National Wildlife Refuge a few miles south of Black Hills High School. Since 2001, BHAS has been arguing that it is inappropriate to have an industrial operation on the border of a unique riparian ecosystem that is home to rare wetland plants, spawning coho, and the Oregon Spotted Frog (now a threatened species under Federal law). In 2007, the Appeals Court agreed with appellants Thurston County and BHAS. The Court focused its conclusion on the need for more water studies, saying “Missing from this analysis, however, is any assessment of this withdrawal’s effect on the Black River’s flow volume, particularly during the peak production, dry summer months.”

Alas, in 2009, QRP reapplied—this time for mine expansion and a concrete plant. In September 2017, QRP submitted final technical groundwater and mitigation reports, the last requirement to complete its application. Jim Mathieu, the hydrologist for BHAS, quickly submitted BHAS’s response. Water is our key environmental argument. BHAS has recommended several reasonable ways to greatly improve QRP’s analysis of mine impacts. These recommended analyses (additional model scenarios) would better inform the monitoring and mitigation necessary to protect the nearby aquatic habitat. To date, QRP has not directly acknowledged BHAS’ recommendations or comments.

BHAS’s two requests are (1) that QRP run computer models now for conditions where the mine excavation pit lakebed is less effective than QRP assumes, and (2) use the model results to equip select monitoring wells and creek stage gages with computer sensors both on and near the mine site. QRP has already installed monitoring wells, but they only take water-level samples at each site every three months and have no plans for continuous data collection. Computer sensors in wells and at creek stage gages provide much more reliable data by registering water levels continuously. With respect to point 1, BHAS is also concerned that disturbing the lakebed sides and bottom layer during on-going future excavation over the life of the mine would damage any protective lakebed silt layer. QRP suggests this protective silt layer would mitigate the altered water-seepage pattern from wetlands, streams and groundwater caused by the artificial lake. BHAS also questions the assumptions upon which the stated rate of lakebed silt-layer development is based.

Geoengineers, a consultant group retained by Thurston County, will examine the QRP groundwater memo and mitigation. If they agree with QRP, the State Environmental review (SEPA) and SUP land use hearing may take place in late fall or early winter. (by Sue Danver, photo Capitol Land Trust – Jodie Dubois)

Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: The Bird Surveys

In March 2016, Black Hills Audubon Society supported an appeal of a proposed cell-phone tower due to its location next to waterfowl-concentration areas and a high potential for bird collisions with the tower. The Thurston County Hearings Examiner remanded the proposal back to the County for further review. The proponent, Verizon Wireless, then hired a contractor to study bird movements near the tower site. In January through April this year, BHAS partnered with several dedicated neighborhood volunteers, and—guided by a local wildlife researcher—did their own citizen-science study to assess bird populations and flyways near the tower site.

This effort got an overwhelming response, with 25 volunteers including BHAS members Anne Mills, Sue Danver, Bob Wadsworth, Al Hultengren, Sally Nole and Bill Yates. Several hundred hours of observation time produced thousands of bird counts, and many species were identified, including several on State and Audubon birds-of-concern lists. A large wetland mitigation project next to the tower site attracts significant numbers of waterfowl, even though restoration work has not been completed; results show daily waterfowl migration between Lake Lawrence and wetland areas in the Deschutes River floodplain next to the proposed tower site. Neighborhood volunteers were engaged and enthusiastic to learn about local birds from BHAS members. Many voiced a desire to continue this survey next winter and after the wetland restoration project is completed to see how that project will further enhance habitats in this beautiful area, rich in birds and other wildlife. (by Sue Danver)

The Problem of Ocean Acidification

As I indicated in the last issue, several of this year’s climate-change articles will address the impacts of global warming on the Puget Sound region. (Other articles will focus on practical tips to reduce your personal carbon footprint or to make lifestyle changes to positively impact birds and other wildlife.) Here I want to focus on the problem of ocean acidification. Although many of climate change’s effects are caused by increased carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere, ocean acidification results from more CO2 dissolved in seawater. While we are sheltered from many of the worst effects of atmospheric CO2, we who live in the coastal Northwest will be especially hard-hit by changes in the acidity of the ocean.

What is ocean acidification? Some portion of the CO2 in the atmosphere—25-30%—is absorbed by the ocean, lakes, etc. where it combines with water, H2O, to form carbonic acid: CO2 + H2O → H2CO3. Carbonic acidic is an acid by definition because it dissociates (comes apart) and releases hydrogen ions, H+: H2CO3 → HCO3– + H+. We use a 14-point scale called pH (from “power of Hydrogen”) to measure how acidic or basic a liquid is. A liquid with a pH of 7 is neutral, with equal concentrations of hydrogen and hydroxyl (OH–) ions. A pH of less than 7 is acidic and more than seven is basic; each number means 10 times as many hydrogen ions per liter as the next larger number; thus human blood, with a pH of 7.4, has 10 times as many hydrogen ions per liter as a pH of 8.4. Before the Industrial Revolution, the pH at the surface of the ocean was about 8.25 and had been so for many millions of years. Over the past 150 years, about 500 billion tons of CO2 has entered the oceans, and the average ocean surface pH has shifted to about 8.1; estimates are that it will drop to between 7.7 and 8.05 by the end of the century if we do not act to reduce atmospheric carbon levels. So although maritime waters remain basic, they are less so than they used to be. And, because our northwestern coastal waters experience atypically large amounts of upwelling—water from lower levels rising to the surface—the effect is magnified because deep sea water is already more acidic than surface water, due to decomposition of sinking organic matter.

What does this have to do with birds? Unfortunately, it ultimately harms them. The increased acidity disrupts the ability of many forms of sea life directly or indirectly important to birds (mussels, oysters, clams, some forms of plankton) to form shells. Marine organisms’ shells are made of calcium carbonate, CaCO3; however, as the pH falls and more hydrogen ions are present, the carbonate preferentially bonds with hydrogen ions to form carbonic acid, so less calcium carbonate is formed. The consequences of this altered chemistry can already be seen in the bleaching of the world’s coral reefs. Similarly, it is predicted that by the end of the century mussels and oysters will be able to grow only 75% and 90% as much shell, respectively, as they do today, making them more vulnerable to predation and requiring them to expend energy to constantly replenish their shells. Acidic conditions also greatly decrease the survival rates of shellfish larvae. Especially well-documented is the harm being done locally to the shells of pteropods, or sea butterflies. These small, free-swimming snails are major food sources for herring, mackerel, squid, and shrimp, which are in turn eaten by salmon, tuna, and walleye, and, of course, seabirds. Disruption low in the food chain works its way up to organisms on the top.

Many who are reluctant to act to reduce climate change rely on an economic argument: “It’s too expensive to reduce carbon emissions—it’s bad for business.” Fighting fire with fire, one could reply that increased ocean acidification has enormous economic consequences. In 2012, Washington determined that shellfish farming contributed $270 million to the state’s economy and provided more than 3,000 jobs. In addition, $1.7 billion dollars is generated annually by the commercial fishing industry in this state, which employs 42,000 Washingtonians. These jobs and that revenue stream will be imperiled if the ocean’s food chain became sufficiently disrupted. And to that can be added the $27 million contributed to the economies of coastal communities by recreational shellfish harvesting. In 2006 we began to experience massive oyster and scallop die-offs in the Northwest; this is reality, not a prediction. Although the situation has improved due to efforts to enhance local water pH and cleanliness, it is clear that the future of shellfish farming (and salmon and other fish harvests) depends upon carbon emission control. Reducing carbon emissions makes sense for the health of our environment, the wildlife we love, and for our wallets. (by Kim Adelson, photo – Wikimedia Commons)

Bird of the Bimonth: Townsend’s Warbler

If you keep a suet feeder, you’ll expect to see a small variety of birds—chickadees, nuthatches, some sparrows, flickers and small woodpeckers—regularly coming to get their share of the food. But every now and then, especially in the winter, you may be delightfully surprised by a beautiful flash of bright yellow mixed with patches of black, and you may take the time to enjoy the rare beauty of a Townsend’s Warbler. They primarily breed in the very tall trees of the coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests of the mountains from Washington through B.C. to Alaska. Like most other warblers, most Townsend’s participate in a long-term migration to the tropics for the winter and do not return until April and May. But a few remain in the coastal lowlands for the winter where we may see them more easily.

Townsend’s are easily distinguished from the relatively common winter warblers, the Yellow-rumped, by their bright yellow triangular head pattern surrounding a dark cheek patch, darker in males than in females; birders-by-ear know them by their simple very-high-pitched song coming down from the canopy of the forest where they primarily feed, almost entirely on insects. They have been described as very chickadee-like: searching actively along twigs and sometimes hovering briefly to take insects from leaves. Pete Dunne says, “Hops, looks quickly left, right, then hops again.”

Their nest is typically built on top of a horizontal conifer branch, by both sexes. Males arrive on the breeding ground in late May and establish their territories. The first eggs, usually 4-5, are laid by late June. The young, fed primarily by the female, leave the nest 8-10 days after hatching. Townsend’s hybridize to a degree with the closely related Hermit Warblers; all these yellow-faced Dendroica warblers are a delight for birders. (by Burt Guttman, photo – Francesco Veronesi)

2017 Christmas Bird Count

This year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC)—held annually between December 14 and January 5—will be on Sunday December 17 in the Olympia area. According to the National Audubon Society it is the “nation’s longest- running citizen science bird project,” now in its 117th year. Beginning on Christmas day 1900, it was proposed as an alternative to the “side hunt,” a holiday tradition that basically involved venturing afield with guns to shoot as many birds and other animals as possible. Early conservationists proposed counting species as an alternative. Participation has grown from those humble beginnings to more than 70,000 participants in over 2,300 counts world-wide, 1,850 in the U.S. alone.

Each count takes place during a specified 24-hour period within a designated count circle 15 miles across. The boundaries are well established and do not change from year to year. The Olympia CBC circle is centered at 47° 04′ 20.0892″ N and 122°51′ 11.87″ (off of South Bay Road). The count area is divided into 16 sub-areas, each covered by a team of observers with a leader who has usually covered that area for many years. Some teams spend the day walking most of the assigned area and can be on their feet all day; others do less walking and/or split into smaller groups. A map of the area can be found on the Black Hills Audubon webpage under the CBC tab.

Those interested in participating have several options. If you are interested in joining the count, please contact me by email at georn1@nullhotmail.com. Most participants contact the count coordinator for assignment to one of the teams. Other options include feeder watching or recording birds on your own property. The count is traditionally followed by a countdown and compilation of the species seen that day, rewarding participants with a chili-feed dinner at dusk at Gull Harbor Lutheran Church, 4610 Boston Harbor Road NE. (by Bill Shelmerdine)

IRA Contribution Rules Allow Donations to Public Charities

Individual Retirement Account (IRA) owners and beneficiaries who are 70-½ or older and required to take a minimum distribution (RMD) may make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) directly from their IRA to any Internal Revenue Service (IRS) approved public charity. The amount donated is then excluded from taxable income.

You get no itemized charitable write-off on form 1040, but that’s okay because the tax-free treatment of QCDs equates to an immediate 100% deduction without having to worry about restrictions that can delay itemized charitable write-offs. A limit of $100,000 is allowed per year, and the contribution must be dispersed directly from the IRA to the charitable organization; it cannot go to the donor to pass on to the charity. Other restrictions may apply. One needs to obtain and keep substantiation of the donation and not have received any benefit in return for making the contribution. There are other tax advantages too. BHAS is not qualified to give tax guidance; PLEASE TALK TO YOUR TAX ADVISOR IF YOU WISH TO PURSUE THIS NEW OPTION. Our chapter is very appreciative of any donation; it allows us to continue our good work. With added monetary support, we can reach more of our dreams of education and conservation projects in our service area. We have the committed individuals; it is only our budget that constrains us.

Planning Black Hills Audubon Field Trips for 2018

Come to Bonnie Wood’s house on Friday, December 15, at 6:00 to help plan field trips for our chapter for 2018.

You may be someone who has never led a field trip and feels a lack of confidence. Banish that insecurity! As many of us will attest, to lead a field trip one does not have to be an expert birder. In fact, what usually happens is that everyone in the group helps to see, listen, and identify birds. Or we just all make our best guesses! At the least, we have all practiced our birding skills and, perhaps, explored a new birding site.

You may be someone who has lots of ideas about where Black Hills Audubon field trips should go. Please come to share these ideas. Or e-mail them to me.

I will have snacks and libations to sustain you.

My house is at 2800 Aberdeen Court S.E. in Olympia. From Boulevard Avenue, turn east on 28th Street. My beige house is on the lower corner of the second cul-de-sac, Aberdeen Court. RSVP to bwood2800@nullgmail.com to give me a sense of numbers.

I look forward to seeing you!


Ongoing Conservation Projects at Black Hills Audubon

Preserving and enhancing wildlife habitats, especially habitats for birds, has long been a cardinal pillar of the Audubon mission at national, state, and chapter levels. Your Black Hills Audubon chapter continues to be very active in these efforts, ranging from protecting wildlife habitats to advocacy for climate-change solutions. Here are some of the actions that BHAS has taken through its Conservation Committee.

Along with National and State Audubon, we strongly support a carbon tax or fee to address climate change—a threat to our environment that is already making severe storms, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and sea-level rise more likely. A study by National Audubon scientists has determined that climate change is the greatest danger to avian wildlife, identifying 314 North American bird species that are expected to lose more than half of their habitat by 2080. On the state level, 189 Washington State species are similarly at risk, about half of the species found in the state. From the Audubon perspective, two major aspects of addressing climate disruption are (1) implementing measures to reduce the release of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and (2) preserving or managing habitat so more species of birds and other wildlife can adapt to an ever-changing environment. Using a grant from National Audubon, BHAS launched the “For the Birds” campaign in 2015, to help participants adopt more energy-saving life styles and keep track of their actions. BHAS and Audubon Washington actively supported the Carbon Tax Initiative I-732, as well as the proposals from the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy and the Governor that were under consideration during the 2017 legislative session. We continue to seek incentives to shift to renewable energy by advocating for fees on the use of carbon-based fuels that reflect their true cost to the environment.

To protect rare prairie habitat, BHAS manages the Maytown Conservation Fund, which permits monitoring the water level and status of species of concern on the West Rocky Prairie tract in southern Thurston County, currently owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW researchers, in their final report on Oregon Spotted Frogs funded by the Maytown Conservation Fund, recommend reforesting the uplands and supporting beavers in the lowlands to preserve these threatened frogs. In a letter to the Port of Tacoma, BHAS has urged them to accept WDFW’s offer to purchase an adjacent 745-acre tract owned by the Port, and we also urged the Port of Olympia to write a similar letter to the Port of Tacoma, which they have done.

The Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project, planned by the renewable-energy company RES-America, proposes 51 wind turbines on a site along the Thurston-Lewis County border. Because wind energy contributes to reducing fossil-fuel carbon emissions—thus reducing the threat of global warming to wildlife, including birds—we are willing to support wind energy projects as long as sufficient mitigation is provided for the protection of birds and other wildlife. The turbines will have high-tech sensors that can detect Bald and Golden Eagles and stop blade rotating when these very large birds are near. Smaller birds, however, would not be identified and risk suffering mortality from blade strikes. The site is on two prominent ridges near the Skookumchuck Reservoir and in immediate proximity to occupied Marbled Murrelet sites; as the project is expected to result in the loss of 2-3 Marbled Murrelets per year, we are seeking appropriate mitigation.

Continuing a competitive scholarship program for bird-banding training, offered by BHAS for the last three years, we awarded $400 scholarships this year to two of the eleven applicants: Michael Szetela and Erin Tudor. The training is arranged by the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM). Michael was in his fourth year at Evergreen, has done field studies in Argentina and avian travels in Peru. Erin has a B.S. in biology with focus on ecology, evolution, and conservation, was a field intern for Bird Populations, and is in AmeriCorps with CNLM.

Along with a statewide Marbled Murrelet coalition, BHAS advocated for the Conservation Alternative developed by that group, testifying at hearings of the Washington Board of Natural Resources. Many components of this alternative have been given serious consideration by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and have helped strengthen the murrelet protections of the existing alternatives under consideration by the DNR.

To help protect the Black River watershed in the vicinity of the Black River National Wildlife Refuge, we are working with a hydrogeologist and an attorney to ensure that environmental effects of mining are sufficiently taken into account before permits are issued. See Sue Danver’s article on the Black River on page 3 for more in-depth discussion of this work.

BHAS advocated for the purchase by the City of Olympia of the Trillium and Bentridge parcels of the LBA woods, which are now officially parkland. Bird walks along with work parties to remove invasive plant species such as Scot’s Broom and Himalayan berries have been arranged.

Black Hills participates in stakeholder meetings concerning the Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan, the Thurston County Mineral Lands Comprehensive Plan updates, the Olympia Critical Areas Ordinance, and restoring Sequalichew Creek near Dupont. Our chapter testified in support of the State Wildlife Action Plan.

Winter surveys of waterfowl were conducted under BHAS supervision in the vicinity of the proposed cell tower near Lake Lawrence in southern Thurston County, as hearings continue about the advisability of locating the tower in this area.

Additional discussions of BHAS conservation projects are available on the Conservation page of the BHAS website blackhills-audubon.org. (by Sam Merrill, wind turbine photo – Martin Pearman )