Protecting Fauna and Habitat

The Effects of Climate Change

Although Black Hills Audubon members are nearly unanimous in believing that global warming is real, and are deeply concerned about it, not all our friends and neighbors agree. Data gathered by researchers at Yale University indicated that in 2016 only 73%, 68%, and 62% of Thurston, Mason, and Lewis County residents, respectively, accepted the truth of climate change; somewhat more than half the residents were worried about it. The PEW Foundation reported similar statistics last year, concluding that fewer than 2/3 of Americans are worried about global warming and that only 57% perceive it as a serious threat. Too many individuals persist in believing that climate change isn’t important and won’t directly affect them.

With the hope that some locally-relevant information can be used as talking points with the climate change
skeptics in your life, let me reflect on the many ways global warming might personally affect us in the South Sound. Since not all regions of the globe will be equally or even similarly affected, it seems prudent to begin by describing how the Puget Sound area’s climate is expected to change in the next 50-60 years. Although numerous climate models have been developed by different organizations and they anticipate varying amounts of additional atmospheric carbon – the driver of global warming – there is widespread, even unanimous, agreement as to how several key aspects of our area’s climate will transform.

The bullet points below are largely adapted from the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group 2015 Report.

  • First, the Puget Sound region is expected to become significantly warmer. By the middle of this century,
    we will likely experience average annual temperatures 4.2-5.5°F warmer than those in 1970-1999. By 2080, the increase is projected to be 5.5-9.1° F. All seasons, especially summer, are expected to become warmer.
  • Second, we will experience more extremely hot days, though we won’t see as many heat waves as most other parts of the U.S. We will also have significantly fewer extremely cold days.
  • Third, although total yearly precipitation is expected to remain at current levels, all models predict that we will encounter more frequent and more severe summer droughts as well as more frequent heavy winter and spring downpours.
  • Fourth, our weather will continue to regularly fluctuate over years and decades. This is because this region is greatly influenced by atmospheric conditions over the Pacific Ocean, such as El Niño and La Niña, whose cyclical variations profoundly affect our weather. Exceedingly strong “super” El Niños are expected to become more frequent, exacerbating summer droughts and heat waves.

These changes are not only anticipated but have already begun. Washington’s annual temperature has already risen 1.3°F since 1895, and 31 of the last 37 years saw temperatures above the 20th-century average. We have also already started to experience more frequent heavy rainstorms: as of 2009, the Pacific Northwest at large experienced 16% more extremely heavy precipitation events than in the previous 50 years. These changes matter and have real consequences. Climate disruption will impact our forests, prairies, wetlands, coastline, and oceans. It will affect our ability to generate electricity and will change the plants we can grow. It will pose hardships to birds and other wildlife. However, since nothing hits closer to home than health, consider some of the effects that climate change will have on our physical well-being.

The hotter, dryer summers will increase surface-level ozone concentrations and, because of more frequent air inversions (which are heat driven), more particulates in the air as well. Our air quality will degrade, directly affecting those with asthma or lung disease. (The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that by 2020 medical costs from ozone pollution alone will increase nationally by $5.5 billion.) People with pollen allergies will also notice a change for the worse: since plants produce more pollen when it is warm, pollen levels are projected to increase—in fact, to double by 2060 compared to 1900 levels. And the pollen season will be longer, extending the misery. The number of extremely hot days will surge as well; hospitalizations and heat related mortality both increase greatly during severe heat waves, and children, the elderly, diabetics, those with heart and kidney diseases, and people who work outdoors are especially at risk.

With higher temperatures and less summer rainfall, wildfires will become more frequent, destroying more habitat, killing more wildlife, and contributing to air pollution as well. Once again, this is particularly difficult on those with allergies or asthma. Finally, as water levels drop in the hot, dry summers, bacterial and chemical contaminants in water supplies become more concentrated and are more likely to cause harm. A reduction in the number of extremely cold winter days is not associated with increased hospitalization or mortality, but with higher winter temperatures, cold weather flooding becomes more likely as snowfall shifts to rain. Although (fortunately) few persons drown in Washington floods, the high water levels pose other health risks. Drinking and recreational waters are more likely to become contaminated during floods (and hence so do those who drink, wade or swim in them). In addition, the resultant dampness encourages mold growth in water-logged residences. Respiratory symptoms can be expected to rise in vulnerable populations, then, in the winter as well as the summer.

And we haven’t even considered the increasing spread of insect-born diseases, such as West Nile virus….

I know this information is bleak, but I hope it encourages you to act. Talk to friends and neighbors about climate change. Decrease your own carbon footprint. Vote for candidates who make this issue a priority. Provide water and shelter for wildlife. Although we can take some comfort that we Puget-Sound residents are sheltered from many of the worst health effects of unchecked global warming, we will not be completely immune from them. (by Kim Adelson)

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.

Maytown Conservation Fund

Oregon Spotted Frog – USFWS

BHAS is the Fund Manager (Capitol Land Trust is the Fund Administrator) for the Maytown Conservation Fund to monitor water quality and quantity and flora and fauna of interest (including Oregon Spotted Frog) on West Rocky Prairie, an 810-acre parcel in south Thurston County, adjacent to a gravel mining area. Using this Fund, which was provided in a settlement agreement, BHAS is working with WDFW, Northwest Land & Water, Center for Natural Lands Management, and Capitol Land Trust, on monitoring and restoration efforts. WDFW is currently seeking to acquire adjacent lands now owned by the Port of Tacoma.

Port of Olympia

BHAS is monitoring how incrementing expansion of the Olympia Airport by the Port of Olympia would impact the surrounding parks and conservation areas in the vicinity of the Airport. Millersylvania State Park, West Rocky Prairie, the Black River National Wildlife Refuge are all within five miles of the Airport, where flight patterns will persist; Glacier Heritage and Mima Mounds are within ten miles. Such impacts and possible effects on Thurston County farmlands near the airport should be addresseed in any Environmental Impact Statement. (Port of Olympia photo)

Marine Birds/Pacific Flyway/Forage Fish/Hydraulic Code:

Support increased study and better management of forage fish to benefit marine birds throughout the Pacific Flyway (Alaska to Mexico). Projects support conservation priorities of National Audubon and Audubon Washington. Monitor updating and implementation of the Hydraulic Code (WDFW), which regulates construction and other work in or near state waters to protect fish life, and track Pacific Marine Fisheries Council decisions.

Using Native Plants to Fight Climate Change

Click on pic to link to Audubon site.

As most of you know, the National Audubon Society considers climate change to be the number-one threat to birds; its scientists predict that global warming could result in the extinction or dramatic range-restriction of nearly half of North American birds by 2080. As birds in Western Washington face this danger, we are at risk of losing more than 40 species, such as Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, Northern Harriers, Varied Thrushes, and Brown Creepers. Most of the birds will decline due to loss of suitable summer habitat, although Red Crossbills and Black-headed Grosbeaks will primarily lose winter habitat.READ MORE

The Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: Onward to the Bird Surveys

On March 15, 2016, Black Hills Audubon Society (BHAS) supported an appeal of the proposed Lake Lawrence cell-phone tower at a hearing before the Thurston County Hearings Examiner. Due to the tower’s location next to waterfowl concentration areas and high potential for bird collisions with the tower, the Hearing Examiner remanded the proposal back to the County for further review. Verizon Wireless has now hired a contractor to study bird movements near the site; so instead of abandoning the proposed tower site and moving their tower to a less impactful location, Verizon insists that they can prove their tower will have no effects on local wildlife. Concerned about potential bias by Verizon’s contractor, the neighborhood group who appealed the tower has asked for Audubon’s assistance with bird surveys to have data in hand in the event of another appeal hearing.READ MORE

“FOR THE BIRDS” CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE

20074377463_6ffebe7ddc_kBlack Hills Audubon has received a grant from National Audubon to implement a personal climate-and-sustainability challenge, named “For the Birds.” It’s an opportunity for all of us to participate by making changes in the way we live.

Participants are offered an extensive list of possible personal actions what would help address climate change and/or promote environmental sustainability. Brochures, bumper stickers, and other materials are available. To participate, click here.

Why does BHAS Care About Marbled Murrelets?

The Marbled Murrelet’s sensitivity to changes in both the forest and marine environments make it an “indicator” species for the health of these ecosystems. The dramatic declines in murrelet populations indicate other species of animals and plants are also threatened and in decline.

The Black Hills Audubon Society is also interested in the Marbled Murrelet because this bird nests in our “neighborhood.”

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