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Discuss It With Denny: Taking on the Threat of Climate Change

Date/Time: Wednesday, August 23 at 10am (Doors open at 9:30am)

Location: South Puget Sound Community College, Lacey Campus (Building 1) – 4220 6th Ave SE, Lacey, WA 98503

Details: Join Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) and climate policy experts for a discussion about global, national, and regional plans to tackle the urgent threat of climate change. After short policy briefings, constituents are invited to ask questions of Rep. Heck and the other presenters.

Rep. Denny Heck is a vocal advocate for combating climate change and protecting the environment of the Pacific Northwest. Rep. Heck and Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) co-founded the Congressional Puget Sound Recovery Caucus in 2013 to push for greater attention and federal funding of Puget Sound cleanup projects. Rep. Heck is also a leading voice in Congress for reducing stormwater runoff, a nonpoint source pollution gravely endangering Puget Sound orcas and salmon.

Armchair Birding: The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science, by Akiko Busch

While I was not quite ready to walk ocean beaches in search of dead birds for Dr. Julia Parrish and the COASST team, our Annual Dinner speaker inspired me to learn more about citizen science projects and what ordinary people can do to help our increasingly imperiled world survive. Instead of just worrying about climate change and habitat loss, what could I do to make a difference? I don’t have a background in science or natural resource work and consider myself to be a mere beginner as a birder. More heart than head, really, but keen to learn.

So I hitched a ride with Maria Ruth early one morning to get a firsthand look at a citizen science project. We headed for a little-noticed dock by the port to monitor one of the clusters of Pigeon Guillemots that populate lower Puget Sound. I found these birds in my guidebook but had never noticed them on the water before. Their name was puzzling: a pigeon that swam?

Maria instructed me on survey protocol and introduced me to her teammate, Woody Franzen, who came equipped with a spotting scope. We found the birds here and there in the water. Counting Guillemots involves a steady murmur of, “There’s one, now two. Look over there, another one. Try to find where it bobs up. Does it have any fish in its beak? One just landed on the dock. Oh, it dove.” The hush was punctuated only by loud cries from the resident Osprey, guttural croaking from a Blue Heron, gentle lapping of water against the pier posts, and a hum of machinery in the port area. It was a perfect clear morning. The Guillemots were busy: bodies low in the water, or flapping to new spots, bright red legs thrust out for landing, distinctive black and white plumage catching the light. Now I’ll know them anywhere, and I began to get interested in everything about them. The beauty of this work is you don’t have to be an expert with a string of science degrees, just willing to show up. You’ll be welcomed and trained.

Writer Akiko Busch relates how she stumbled upon a local science project when a biologist studying bats asked permission to search her Hudson River property for a radio-tagged bat. She went along and discovered a hidden world of nocturnal neighbors she did not know were there, and also a community of scientists who study and protect these fragile creatures. Busch began to explore how she and others could participate in this work to gather the raw facts and numbers that help programs track the whereabouts of birds, amphibians, butterflies, and plants. Also, to measure water quality and flow, map and remove invasive species, chart weather fluctuations and migration patterns. She found people of all walks and ages who bring patience, persistence and dedication to protecting the nearby lands, water and local wildlife dependent upon their health. She discovered active programs tracking bats, ridding the Hudson of invasive plants, counting herring, addressing insect infestations threatening trees, monitoring eagle and coyote populations, and even helping support the migration of eels. Busch waded in to pull water chestnuts choking the river and pondered the complex role of loosestrife in local marshes. She tabulated, measured, got wet and dirty, made some mistakes but learned an impressive amount of natural history. And she met new friends and deepened her own relationship to her home ground.

Each chapter of her book examines a different program and brings us along for the adventure. She shares with us her interior dialogue as she learns new science concepts and experiences these salvage efforts firsthand. Her approach is deeply philosophical and wide-ranging, infused with her own insights from the world of art and design. She asks provocative questions and lets ideas filter down through layers of thought and experience, open to change and insight. She muses as she investigates. And she has fun! Glass eels delight her. A day on the river is a joy. Everything is deeply interesting and worth poking into. Busch is an engaging amateur; that is, she brings her affection—her amore—to whatever activity calls to her. This is the true beating heart and strength of the citizen science approach: inspired by this affection and concern about one’s local flora and fauna, and the desire to know the world more intimately and constructively, ordinary people can help do extraordinary work to protect and defend the world.

Akiko Busch shows us almost a dozen imaginative ways to get involved in important projects, highlighting her own Hudson River ecosystem. Closer to home, the Pigeon Guillemot study is but one example. You can learn more about the original study on Whidbey Island here: http://pigeonguillemot.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/nwn15-312E1.pdf and see a Bird Note posting here:  http://birdnote.org/blog/2013/08/studying-pigeon-guillemots-citizen-scientist. Read the latest posted monitoring report on the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve for which we were gathering data, explained and compiled here: http://www.nisquallyestuary.org/pigu.pdf by BHAS member Anne Mills for the Citizen Stewardship Committee with Jerry Joyce of the Washington Environmental Council in 2014. (by Anne Kilgannon)

Update on Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy

August 2017: The Board of Natural Resources has made a decision not to analyze the Conservation Alternative in a supplemental EIS as we had hoped, but will consider it along with other public comments and those of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In their comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, these agencies criticized the existing alternatives (labeled A-F) as inadequate for protecting marbled murrelets on 1.4 million acres of forested state trust lands where these birds breed.

Thanks to your support and advocacy during the development of the Long Term Conservation Strategy. And thanks to the excellent and ongoing work of the Washington Environmental Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Northwest, Olympic Forest Coalition, Sierra Club, Seattle Audubon, Washington Forest Law Center, and individual experts who created the Conservation Alternative. Many components of this alternative are being given serious consideration by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As a whole, the Conservation Alternative has been responsible for helping strengthen the murrelet protections of the existing alternatives proposed by the DNR.

BNR plans to select a preferred alternative at its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 5th. This alternative will likely be a modified version of one of the existing alternatives. Once the board selects a preferred alternative, the DNR will submit a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement. There will be a public comment period on this (details will be posted here when available). After the public comment period, the USFWS will complete a Biological Opinion, then the Official Findings (a statement that issuing the take permit will “have no effect,” “may affect, but not adversely affect,” or “may affect and is likely to adversely affect” Marbled Murrelets survival). These findings are stated in a Record of Decision, the public record published by the USFWS, often in the Federal Register. The DRN will then submit its final EIS and then the BNR will decide whether or not to adopt the Long-Term Conservation Strategy, a required component of its Habitat Conservation Plan, which will remain in effect until 2067.

Paul Harris Jones

Why is the Long Term Conservation Strategy so important? Based on the age and location of the DNR’s state forest lands (in closer proximity than federal lands to marine waters, especially in murrelet “hot spots” in Southwest Washington and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca) the DNR forests are biologically significant for the survival and recovery of Marbled Murrelets in Washington.

BHAS has been actively engaged in this important murrelet conservation plan for several years and will likely continue for many more to help protect the Marbled Murrelet in Washington’s coastal forests and marine waters graced by these marvelous, imperiled seabirds. (by Maria Ruth, illustration courtesy Paul Harris Jones)

If you are new to conservation advocacy and unfamiliar with the many acronyms, please take a moment to read 11 Acronyms to Save the Murrelet.

Surfrider is hosting its second Washington Coast Leadership Academy

Surfrider is hosting its second Washington Coast Leadership Academy, dedicated to building an effective leadership network for Washington’s coastal areas. People that complete the course will be able to: work with all people, no matter whose “team” they are on; build communities on the basis of shared values; put themselves in places where conversations are happening; etc. This type of work – building communities by cultivating relationships established through shared values – is essential along the path towards sustainable conservation success. The company that put the program together is Context Partners, based out of Portland.

Please consider nominating someone from your network who may be interested in this type of work; emerging leaders from varied backgrounds are in particular demand. The program itself requires a monthly commitment (July – December; some virtual, some in-person); the training is free.

Additional questions should be directed to Casey Dennehy, Washington Coast Program Manager, cdennehy@nullsurfrider.org.

Surfrider Leadership Application Form 2017

Surfrider Washington Region

Water in birds’ lives

As most of you know by now, six major avenues to making your yard (or other space) more bird friendly are to provide food, water, shelter, plus protection from toxins, from predators, and from window strikes. Water is perhaps the most important and beneficial of these needs, and one of the least costly, but one often overlooked here in the northwest; we always seem to have an abundance of water, so many bird lovers believe we don’t need to set out water for our local birds. That’s an unfortunate misconception, for our birds do need reliable water sources, especially during the summer and early fall. In addition, having a water source is probably the single best way to increase the variety of species frequenting your space, including species that feeders generally don’t attract—birds that don’t like seeds or are primarily insectivorous.

Birds, like most other terrestrial animals, need to drink to maintain adequate fluid levels in their bodies. Hatchlings, especially, need a lot of water, and frequently don’t get enough from their food, so parents must carry water to them, making numerous trips daily from water sources to the nest. To increase the water content of food, some birds, such as crows and ravens, commonly soak or “wash” food before feeding it to their young or eating it themselves. (Another reason that water attracts them.)

While everyone understands the need to consume water, we mammals may never have thought about the differences between avian and mammalian drinking. Since birds don’t sweat, they generally need to drink less water than mammals. But they do lose water when breathing, especially when panting to lose heat, and metabolic processes also use up water supplies. The mechanics of ingesting water also differ: with their soft, mobile lips and cheeks, mammals can suck up water and swallow it, but except for pigeons (who can suck up water), birds use one of two techniques. Most fill their beaks with water and then tilt their heads up so the water runs passively down their throats; those that frequently fly over water, such as swallows, scoop it up on the wing during a low pass.

Birds also need water for bathing; they bathe year-round, and during the summer may do so several times a day. Bathing seems to make preening more effective. Preening refers to the movements birds make when cleaning their feathers to remove dirt and parasites, distribute oils, and align the feathers and their barbs. Preening behaviors are common, and most birds preen several times a day. Most birds have a special gland, the preening or uropygial gland, that produces an oily, waxy substance that they spread as they preen; a few birds such as pigeons, owls, and raptors lack this gland and instead have special feathers that crumble into a powder that serves many of the functions of preening oil. Such preening powder doesn’t convey the same waterproofing benefits as oil, so birds that produce it are less likely to bathe in water than other birds. Research by Brilot and colleagues has shown that preening is more effective when preceded by bathing: birds who bathe before they preen are more agile when flying through an obstacle course than those who don’t bathe, and birds seem to be aware of this clumsiness: non-bathing birds are more reluctant to approach food in the presence of predator noises than cleaner birds, presumably because at some level they have less faith in their ability to escape danger.

Water bathing also helps birds keep cool. When they bathe, they lift their feathers so the water contacts their skin, and adding ice cubes to a bath makes the water a better cooling agent. Birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches will fluff their feathers in the rain to expose their skin to the drizzle. In dry seasons, you can provide “rain” by setting up a mister, which may be attached to a water bath or be free-floating.

Bird baths aren’t all created equal. The best are shallow and have a ramp, or contain stones or pebbles so that birds can choose the depth at which to stand. Wet plastic, ceramic or metal can be slippery, so scuffing the surface or putting sand on it helps the birds have sure footing. Water baths must be cleaned and sanitized weekly with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water. If predators are a problem in your yard, make sure the baths are raised on a pedestal and are placed where there is little concealment for cats and other hunters.

Bathing is important enough to birds that some even take dust baths, some because they lack standing water puddles or preening oil, but many others— such as California quail, pheasants, thrushes, larks and wrens—prefer dust baths even when water is available. In fact, wrens and House Sparrows will follow up a water bath by immediately taking a dust bath. To attract birds and watch dust-bathing, provide a patch of bare, clean, very dry, fine-grained soil, preferably in a sunny spot, surrounded by brick or stones to help keep the loose soil in place. And as with water baths, raise the dust-bath off the ground and don’t place it too near shrubs that might conceal a predator.

Let me know how well your new bird baths work and what new species you attract! I can be reached at kgdolgin@nullowu.edu.