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Armchair Birding: Raptors in Focus

(by Anne Kilgannon) – Have you ever been hawk-watching? Standing on a ridge overlooking a stretch of country created just right for an updraft of warmed air, forming a highway in the sky for the soaring of raptors? Some Fall day I will be there, thrilling to the sight of big birds streaming by, the urgency and tug of the migratory season pulling them through the sky. The Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival on the dry side of the North Cascades is within reach—and a likely adventure some day—but the epitome, the dream trip, would be Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, so heroically saved for us by Rosalie Edge in 1938 when she purchased the land under the migration path.

Oh my, what a story! If you enjoy gripping page-turners and unlikely champions battling great odds—and winning—get a copy of her life story, Hawk of Mercy, by Dyana Furmansky, for an eye-opening history of a dark chapter in Audubon. It’s a passionate and inspiring biography of a woman wholly taken with birds and their protection, who threw herself and her fortune into conservation work almost alone, but who through persistence and sheer chutzpah created a movement and galvanized a quiescent public to stand up for birds. From a traditional norm of seeing hawks as vermin fit only to shoot and let rot in their thousands as they attempted their annual migration over the mountains of Pennsylvania and other infamous spots, Edge transformed the reflexive killing to awakening a sense of awe in the majesty of the birds responding to the seasonal imperative. In time, binoculars replaced shotguns, respect and understanding ended the wanton slaughter.

The villainy assigned hawks as “chicken killers” was, in part, ignorance of the crucial balancing role of predators in general and the raptor’s place in the natural order. Society still struggles with the notion of wolves and grizzlies taking their rightful places. Hawk-viewing festivals are part of continuing public education, as are banding programs, annual counting and mapping of bird populations, and other programs to gather data, establish patterns, and learn the intricacies of bird life.

An excellent window into this work and the fascinating people who make it their life’s purpose is Jack Connor’s Season at the Point: The Birds and Birders of Cape May. Connor describes in gritty but affectionate terms what it means to participate in the annual tallying of raptors as they pass over this spot on the eastern flyway. As you read his account, your back will ache in empathy, your eyes will want to be there scanning, straining to identify smudges and streaks of sky-high birds as they stream by. You will be moved by the Cape birders’ dedication and their dogged strength as they struggle each year to add to our store of knowledge—still rudimentary, still a new science of migration and population.

Should you be pulled to join in, either at the Cape or more locally at Chelan, it would be best to study the classic work Hawks in Flight, by three noted graduates of Cape May: Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton. Their book is dedicated to Maurice Broun, who got his start when Rosalie Edge hired him as the first “curator” at Hawk Mountain. Roger Tory Peterson wrote the Foreword, adding another link to the chain of bird knowledge passed hand to hand, having himself stuffed envelopes for Rosalie’s conservation crusades in her New York apartment in his early days. It was Peterson’s “method” of bird identification system, first published in the 1930s, that helped turn bird study to field study, not “bird in the hand” by way of the shotgun. All these steps we now take for granted are but one or two generations of birdwatchers in the making. Hawks in Flight takes the Peterson method even further as the authors explore the visual frontiers beyond field marks and feather colors. Watching and identifying raptors calls upon the birder to develop new skills involving “a number of hints and clues: the rhythm and cadence of a bird’s flight; its overall color, shape, and size; plumage characteristics; and behavior under given conditions. All form a composite picture of a bird that may be flying at the limit of conjecture.”

It’s startling to realize that the tips offered for hawk identification were painstakingly assembled from experience at Cape May in the near past: Pete Dunne conducted the first season-long migration count just in 1976. This is still an evolving story, one we can participate in and advance if we have the time and skill. Bird watching is a relatively young pursuit and one heavily dependent on citizen science. With climate change and habitat loss threatening, we all feel the urgency of the moment, but seeing how far we have come in such a short span is also encouraging. We are giant strides from the massed killing of hawks, Passenger Pigeons, and other birds shrugged off by public indifference; our challenges are subtler if no less deadly. Rosalie Edge’s campaigns will not be our way, but with new tools and knowledge, we will join our pioneer forebears and marshal awe and wonder “for the birds.”

Deadline for public comment extended to December 6th

Help Protect the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State.

The DNR and USFWS extended the deadline for public comment on the Long-Term Conservation strategy to December 6th.

In 2013, the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee (WSACC) adopted a resolution to support science-based murrelet conservation strategies, planning, and policies to protect Marbled Murrelets in our state forests. Since then, individual Audubon chapters and Audubon Washington have been constant and strong advocates for our resolution. We have made a difference.

Now, DNR is asking for your input in the development of a revised set of conservation alternatives for their Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet. There are currently eight alternatives being considered and, unfortunately, most do not support murrelet recovery on state-managed lands and result in smaller populations after 50 years, even under the most optimistic conditions. Under these weaker strategies the murrelet will continue on its trajectory toward extinction in Washington within the next few decades and hinder chances of recovery across its range.

This is where your voice matters –The deadline for comments is Tuesday, December 6, 2018, at 5 p.m. Your comments will be received by both the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Submit your comments via the official comment portal: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MMLTCSRDEIS

Or mail your written comments to: SEPA Center, PO Box 47015, Olympia, WA 98504-7015

The Murrelet Conservation Coalition has developed a set of talking points for you to consider in your comment letters. Please choose one or more of the talking points below, personalize them, and/or write your own letter. For more information on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy information: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/mmltcs

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To: Washington Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,

I’m writing to comment on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan Amendment for the Marbled Murrelet Long Term Conservation Strategy because I support recovery efforts for the endangered marbled murrelets in the state of Washington.

As a Washington resident, I believe we can provide sufficient conservation for murrelets that will actually result in larger, viable populations of murrelets in the state over the next 50 years while also developing solutions that reduce financial impacts on timber-dependent communities.

A meaningful conservation plan and HCP amendment should and must help meet the long-stated biological goals for this species: to stabilize and increase its population, to expand its geographic range, and to increase resilience of the marbled murrelet to natural and human-caused disturbance.

  • DNR’s preferred alternative (Alternative H) doesn’t do enough to support murrelet recovery primarily because it permits the harvest of too much of our mature and old forests over the next 50 years and does notconserveenough habitat as mitigation.
  • Applying the most recent data available, DNR must protect all occupied sites, increase existing interior forest habitat, and establish buffers that will protect vulnerable murrelet chicks from predators.
  • No Long-Term Conservation Strategy should include a net loss of habitat. In the North Puget region, Alternative H anticipates a net loss of over 1,000 acres after 50 years. The LTCS should include a net increase in habitat for murrelets across our landscape
  • The LTCS should include more and larger murrelet-specific conservation areas to broaden the geographic distribution of murrelets in western Washington. Isolated conservation areas create and exacerbate murrelet population gaps that hinder the species’ survival and recovery.
  • The LTCS should lead to more murrelets across more of our landscape, not fewer murrelets in smaller forest patches. Broader geographic distribution helps reduce the risk that major human or natural disturbances (logging, roadbuilding, wildfire, increased nest predation) will wipeout significant portions of the murrelet population.

The plan must look to the future and protect murrelets from natural disturbances. DNR should more thoroughly evaluate the potential impacts of tree mortality, wildfire, windthrow, and our warming climate. Habitat loss and degradation from such disturbances should be accurately calculated and properly mitigated.

The LTCS should also better protect murrelets from the impacts of human-caused disturbance, especially in areas where murrelets are known to nest (occupied sites), the forest buffers around those sites, and the “special habitat areas.” Disturbance such as road construction and the use of heavy equipment may result in “take” of murrelets that is not properly mitigated.

A meaningful Long-Term Conservation Strategy must set aside enough current and future old forest to not only offset the habitat the DNR plans to log but also to improve forest habitat conditions for the murrelet, without putting the existing population at further risk. The Long-Term Conservation Strategy must truly support real conservation for the murrelets for the long-term.

 

Sincerely,

<<Your Name>>

The Olympia Christmas Bird Count – December 16th, 2018

This year marks the 119th year of the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National Audubon Society. Locally, the Olympia Count will take place on Sunday, December 16th. This count has been conducted since the 1970’s with 50 to 90 volunteer counters participating. Each count takes place within a pre-determined “count circle” that is 15 miles in diameter. Most participants join 1 of 16 count teams that cover a designated area. However, some choose to contribute by counting birds coming to feeders on their own property. Over the years, we have recorded between 117 and 134 different species of birds on count day.

After the count, at about 4:30pm, participants gather at Gull Harbor Lutheran Church for a chili feed followed by a compilation of the day’s results. Dinner is sponsored by Black Hills Audubon (BHAS). If you are interested in participating in this year’s count, contact count organizer Bill Shelmerdine at geron1@nullhotmail.com.

Conservation Challenges in Thurston County

Black Hills Audubon faces several conservation challenges in Thurston County this fall, for which member participation is invited.

Mineral Lands Policy

Thurston County is considering radical changes in the code of the Mineral Lands chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.  BHAS seeks your help in sending emails to the Planning Commissioners and/or County Commissioners.  By coordinating with other environmental organizations, we hope to generate many more than the 120 emails (to the Planning Commission) that we elicited last March.

This fall, the Planning Commission (PC) will have two mandatory public hearings on new Comprehensive Plan language and code changes: one on Mineral Lands Policy, likely in October, and another, very critical hearing, on code changes in November.  Public comments on code will be crucial, because protective critical areas code, implemented in 2010 after years of exhaustive research, could be seriously weakened.  Although the Board of County Commissioners will have the final vote in 2019, it is important to focus now on comments to the PC.  We plan to alert BHAS members of our recommended comments.

On a positive note, the County hydrogeologist has produced a comprehensive memo in which he summarizes the problems that sand and gravel mines can create on surface waters and the County’s aquifer.  He recommends that mining companies produce reports that address some of these water concerns as part of their permit process.  BHAS supports this effort.

Lake Lawrence Cell Tower

In 2015, Verizon proposed a cell tower to be located immediately adjacent to the Smith Area wetland that is intended as mitigation for the McAllister water rights.  Following appeal by the Deschutes Neighborhood Group (DNG), the Hearing Examiner remanded the project for a more thorough bird study.

In December 2016, BHAS’s Deb Nickerson and Anne Mills trained DNG members concerning local birds, and Sally Nole, Bob Wadsworth, and Sue Danver assisted with the survey in the winter of 2017.  After review of surveys by Verizon’s consultant and by DNG, the County again approved the tower.  And again, the DNG appealed.  At a recent hearing BHAS members Sally Nole and Bob Wadsworth testified about their efforts and their analyses of the two bird survey reports.

The Mitigation Area is publicly owned by Yelm, Olympia, and Tumwater and worthy of refuge status, as suggested by Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.  Dikes were removed this summer and birds moved in immediately.  County code requires that a cell tower must be 1,000’ from a refuge so the tower project would have to be denied.  The County has taken the position that it is not an official wetland.  The decision date is October 5.

Proposed Tumwater 1,000,000 Square Foot Warehouse

A proposed million square foot warehouse across from the truck stop of I-5 and 93rd Avenue in Tumwater has met the city’s application requirements.  A major concern is its location in the Salmon Creek Basin, an area prone to serious floods.  With heavy rains, this basin could experience groundwater flooding, such as occurred in 1999.

Because this area is part of the Black River watershed, pollution carried by floodwaters from the Salmon Creek Basin could affect not only residences, but also the thousands of conservation acres along the Black River, including the Black River National Wildlife Refuge and Glacier Heritage Park.  We are seeking hydrological review of the developer’s water report and Tumwater’s response to that report.  Early participation in the process is the best time to achieve success.