Chirps 2019

Local Happenings

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Are Migratory Birds Keeping Up With Earlier Springs?

Climate Conversations Series – Stream Team of Olympia

Friday, April 5th from 6:30pm to 8pm

Olympia City Hall Council Room

Join us for this talk by guest speaker John Withey, Ph. D, faculty of the Evergreen State College.  John is a terrestrial ecologist who studies the responses of native wildlife to urbanization and climate change. He regularly works across disciplines in order to provide strategies for mitigation of and adaptation to environmental changes.

In this climatically changing world, the timing for migratory animals such as birds presents many challenges. Timing is integral to survival for migratory bird species. Learn about the relationship between the timing of spring time arrival of migratory birds and the peak abundance of their insect prey.

Dungeness River Audubon Center—An Invitation to help “Inspire Wonder”

The Dungeness River Audubon Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a capital campaign to expand the building and create better access to the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Railroad Bridge Park near Sequim. Thanks to the partnership between the Center, Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; we’re more than halfway to our fundraising goal of $3M.

We were recently awarded a “last-in” $300K grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust – which means we won’t get the money if we can’t complete the rest of the campaign. If you’ve been one of the thousands of people who have visited the Center and Park, for BirdFest or otherwise, we hope you’ll consider making a gift to help us meet this challenge.

View a video to see the Center and Park and how they interact with visitors…and contribute through the website at For more specific questions, please contact Center Director Powell Jones at 360-681-4076

South Sound Climate Action Convention – April 13

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Join Us at the 4th Annual South Sound Climate Action Convention

Saturday, April 13th | 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM

Olympia High School | 1302 North Street SE, Olympia, WA 98501

What can YOU do to stop climate change?

Black Hills Audubon Society is a proud co-sponsor of the fourth annual South Sound Climate Action Convention and we invite you to attend this event on Saturday, April 13th, at the Olympia High School.

Grab a friend and choose from over two dozen workshops throughout the day about cooperative actions we can take to protect our planet from the worst impacts of climate change. Check out the Agenda Overview and Program Details for our exciting lineup of speakers. To keep up the momentum, local Action Groups formed at the convention will continue meeting and acting in the months that follow.

Convention workshops will cover key areas covered in Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown, The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, including Energy, Food and Agriculture, Green Buildings and Cities, Transportation, Trees and Land Use, and Water, as well as a strong advocacy track from our Citizens’ Climate Lobby partners and sessions on Education, Youth, and Climate Justice.

Freshly catered food and refreshments will be provided for morning registration, lunch and at the post-convention reception from 5:00-6:30 p.m.

Registration and more info can be found below:

$30 Early-bird Registration until April 1st  | Student Scholarships Available  |  Registered volunteers receive half-off registration

Presented by Thurston Climate Action Team and Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Thurston Climate Action Team emails a weekly newsletter of climate news, events, and action alerts. Click here to subscribe.

Barb Scavezze

Convention Director, South Sound Climate Action Convention

Outreach Coordinator, Thurston Climate Action Team


Helen Engle -A Mighty Oak Has Fallen

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I first met Helen when National Audubon Society had their board meeting in Seattle about 15 years ago. What an impression she made on me! I cannot remember meeting an environmentalist with her fervor, dedication, and passion while being so down to earth and personable. She helped found most chapters in this state, ours being one of them. We called her “Mother Audubon” here in Washington. I still cannot imagine how she raised seven children and fulfilled all her work commitments while hiking and climbing with her husband, Stan. She touched all those she met and graced us with her depth of commitment to the cause of preserving spaces for birds and all wildlife. I grieve her loss while feeling blessed to have known her.  Below is a tribute to her from the Director of Audubon Washington.   — Deb Nickerson

Tacoma News Tribune Article about Helen

Dear Audubon in Washington – we pause today to remember someone who made, and continues to make, a difference to generations of people and birds, not just in Washington, but across the entire Audubon network. Our dear Helen Engle passed away late Monday afternoon, wrapped in the love of her children and grandchildren.

Helen provided something worthwhile to our world, and especially to the Audubon community. Along with Hazel Wolf, Helen is responsible for starting nearly every chapter in our state during the time period 50 or so years ago when Audubon put effort into building out the grassroots network that is still one of our major strengths today. Her own chapter, Tahoma Audubon, just celebrated its 50th anniversary in February. Helen was a fierce advocate for the birds, taking that passion everywhere, from the state capital to the halls of congress. She served on the National Audubon board and was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2013.

We are grateful to have known such a profound person as Helen. As recently as this past year, Helen was still emailing me to make sure we were working on the things she thought important. She was also a constant supporter, taking the time to write and point out the positive things she thought Audubon was doing. One of my fondest memories is from just about 4 years ago. The conservation community writ large had stopped organizing a big lobby day in Olympia during the legislative session. Audubon decided to hold one because our members wanted to have a voice in Olympia. Our national CEO, David Yarnold, was here for the occasion, and of course, Helen was there. It was Helen’s birthday and when we presented a card to her, she said, “There’s no place I’d rather spend my birthday than with my Audubon community speaking out for the birds.” I have attached a photo from that day that shows the joy Helen brought everywhere with her.

Kind wishes can be sent to Helen’s family care of:

Gretchen Engle

8502 43rd Street West

University Place, WA 98466

Best regards,


Gail Gatton

VP & Executive Director

206.652.2444 x101

Board Meeting Summary 3/7/2019

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  1. The Board discussed the success of the Annual Dinner held March 2 with Sally Nole, committee chair, and gave her their heartfelt thanks.
  2. The Board approved the final draft of the Strategic Plan for BHAS which began with the August 2018 Board retreat. The goals and strategies laid out will be our guide for the next five years.  Members will be able to view this on the BHAS website under “Operating Documents”.
  3. The Nominating Committee will be approaching members before our annual meeting in May to run for Board vacancies.
  4. Doing some native plant installation to better shield the LOTT Hawks Prairie Satellite from the huge, new warehouse will be investigated.
  5. There was discussion on the implementation of our monthly digital Echo. This will start in July and absorb the current monthly Chirps publication.
  6. The Adopt-A-School program is up and running with all needed volunteers at an elementary school in Shelton. Next on the agenda are Chambers Prairie and Mt View Elementary Schools in North Thurston School District.
  7. The Program Committee is working on hosting programs this spring and fall in Lewis County.

Northwest Natural Resource Group Featured Member: Still Waters Farm

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Sometimes it takes a lot of imagination to see the potential in a piece of land.

By the time Beth and Mark Biser bought Still Waters Farm in 1990, the 48-acres in Mason County, Washington was a shell of its former self. Its 20 acres of wetlands had suffered two major disturbances. (The Bisers host BHAS field trips on their farm each Spring)

According to Mark, “Way back in the 1920s or 30s, this property was part of a dairy farm. And the story, though it’s uncorroborated, is that the dairy farmer’s kids hand-ditched down through the forest to drain the wetland system so that they could pasture their dairy cattle out on the wetland.” Years later in the early 1960s, someone decided to remove the peat layer from about half of the wetland footprint so they could mine for clay. The clay mine left a five acre hole gouging the middle of the land.

Undoubtedly, these past uses were bad news for pretty much every plant and animal that considered that wetland its home. The damage was a disservice to the local ecology of the area given the important ecosystem services that wetlands provide.

Wetlands are the Brita filters of our ecosystems. They strain sediment, nutrients, and harmful pollutants from water as it moves through a watershed. They are also home to an abundance of wildlife; over 80 percent of western Oregon and Washington wildlife species use riparian zones or wetlands during some part of their life cycle. As if that’s not enough to convince us wetlands are wonderful, they’re also serious carbon sinks. World-wide, wetlands represent around three percent of total land area, but sequester nearly a third of all soil carbon.

The Bisers knew the land they’d purchased wasn’t the paragon of healthy wetland or forest. For one thing, it was quiet. Only the ghosts of wetland wildlife remained. But they saw its potential. “Having a pair of geese land here was a huge deal,” recalls Mark. The former mine was filled with water but contained little aquatic vegetation, and what vegetation existed on the drained land was monotypic, dominated by Douglas spirea and willow.

Armed with a vision of a healthy wetland and forest ecosystem – and informed by the best available science – the Bisers applied for and won a small grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service to start restoring the land in 1994. The project was unpretentiously titled Small Ponds for Wildlife. They used an excavator to dig a series of small ponds connected by channels of water, and built peat islands here and there. After mowing down the spirea, a more diverse community of sedges, rushes, and grasses moved in naturally. Ash and cedar were planted for additional diversity, and would make good beaver food in the future.

The Bisers continued to chip away at a long list of projects aimed to diversify the forest, restore the wetlands, and bring back wildlife; along the way they also joined NNRG’s Forest Stewardship Council group certificate. They applied for and won Natural Resources Conservation Service EQI Pand CSP funds to help with restoration work – extending the resources they were able to put into the habitat enhancement.

“We started with restoring the wetland hydrology and enhancing the wetland habitat. We built and installed LOTS of nest boxes–small and large. We planted thousands of trees and shrubs to diversify the forest. We created some structure with snags and brush piles. We dug ‘vernal pools’ for amphibians and insects. We created some habitat diversity by clearing some areas and creating open spaces/meadows. And we purchased some adjacent property to better buffer the wetland.”

The Biser’s advice for other landowners approaching a big restoration project: “It’s important to have some understanding of ecology and habitat, and the animals and their requirements. Read, or study, or learn about forest ecology and habitat. You can do that on your own or find somebody who’s an expert. We were lucky along the way to have a bunch of experts to provide technical advice to our projects.”

The hard work paid off. Almost immediately Beth and Mark began seeing more waterfowl on the property. Wood ducks filled the nesting boxes. The new waterways and increasing vegetation gave the ducks a place to land and, when they needed to, hide.

Now, Still Waters Farm is a haven for wood ducks and other waterfowl. Birds can choose from over 50 nesting boxes of various sizes.

Funny enough, says Mark, after all these years it’s still difficult to know what makes one nesting box successful while another fails. “The worst-looking box we have–built in 1994 from chipboard, and painted red because that’s the color of paint we had handy–gets used every year.”

Every few years, new nesting boxes are added and others receive facelifts. Mark uses a combination of cedar and other woodscraps, and his design changes over time. The bigger boxes are for wood ducks, the smaller ones for migratory songbirds like bluebirds and swallows.

Says Mark, “We monitor the success of our nest box program, mostly anecdotally. Last year was a really good year – more than half of the boxes were used. We can tell [when they’re used] because of the eggshells and down, and we see the clutches of ducklings.”

Birds aren’t the only inhabitants of Still Waters Farm. Cougar, black bears, beavers, otters, weasel, mink, and the occasional bobcat include the forest as part of their wider roaming lives.

Twenty years ago it took a stretch of the imagination to picture Still Waters Farm functioning as a healthy, rich ecosystem. Luckily, the Bisers were creative enough to take on the task and stuck to it. Their work demonstrates that the difference between a silent, degraded wetland and one teeming with native wildlife and plants might only be a landowner with a vision, a grant, and a little bit of patience.

LBA Woods Update

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Spring! Birds are chattering away and native understory plants are budding, blooming, and leafing out. The Friends of LBA Woods has co-hosted with Olympia Parks Stewardship office a few more work parties to work on removing scotsbroom and holly. We’ve hosted one Forest-Bathing walk in January and have another scheduled for April 13 at 10 a.m. (The leader, Kathy Jacobsen, also offered such a walk at the BHAS dinner-auction). A major community trail run has been scheduled for August 10. Here is the flyer on the event, being coordinated by a local trail-running group.

In June, the Parks Dept. will be starting community outreach for plans for LBA Woods’ trails, signage, etc. Since the Spooner’s property (strawberry farm) on Yelm Highway was purchased by the city for soccer fields, the LBA Woods is no longer being considered as a site for those. The funding for the Log Cabin Extension Rd has been taken out of the budget for now; the road is now merely a right-of-way, but it still lurks as a possibility down the road and will require a community campaign to remove it from the regional (county) transportation plan permanently.

Meanwhile…the Osoberry says Hello and Happy Spring!

Purple Martin Project

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(by Bob Wadsworth) On a densely foggy morning, January 13, Hank Henry and I joined the Olympia Harbor Patrol on a trip from Swantown Marina to Boston Harbor where we met Craig Merkel to do the annual cleaning of the purple martin nest boxes. (Harbor Patrol Captain Darlene flanked by crew members Janet Notarianni and Dave Palazzi)

On the way we soon discovered that our binoculars were useless as the fog was so thick we couldn’t see beyond to bow of the boat.  The Harbor Patrol got a good chance to instrument-navigate with radar and GPS.

Bob and Janet enjoying the view.

We had chosen this particular date because of the high tide (10:15 AM) during daylight hours which meant that we could reach the nest boxes attached to pilings at the marina from the deck of the boat without a ladder.

Working on the boxes.

We found that all six boxes were used by the Martins.  They had a thick mat of twigs and except for one box, all appeared to have birds fledged with no broken eggshells or dead nestlings. 

However, we did find one nest with five unhatched eggs and a dead martin which we could not identify as either juvenile or female adult.

This is the third season of monitoring purple martin nest boxes at Boston Harbor Marina.  Three years ago, we installed 22 boxes to supplement a dozen boxes already there.  As it turned out, those boxes were not used by the birds.  After the second year of not being used, we replaced them with six boxes that were built to meet a design more appropriate for purple martins.  This year’s results indicate these boxes are to the birds’ liking.

Reminder: Join the Great Backyard Bird Count: Presidents’ Day Weekend Feb. 15-18

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You are invited to participate in the 22th annual Great Backyard Bird Count during Presidents’ Day weekend, February 15-18, 2019.  Count birds in your backyard or anywhere to help make your love of nature create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. 

Join millions of bird watchers across North America and the world in a free, fun event that involves all ages.  Led by Audubon and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, you can count birds wherever you are and enter your tallies online at  More information is also available at

Count from wherever you are—at home, in schoolyards, at local parks or wildlife refuges.  Keep a count for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you wish.  These reports contribute valuable information for science and conservation.  Bird populations are constantly in flux, as they are affected by short-term weather and long-term climate change.  And while they are gathering data, participants – families, teachers, children — enjoy nature and have fun in the great outdoors! 

Update on Annual Black Hills Dinner

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Our speaker, Larry Schwitters, will not be available to give us a presentation on Swifts on the date of our gathering, but he has done the next-best thing by recommending two other speakers active in the Swift community in our area. Diane Yorgason-Quinn works closely with Larry and can incorporate his remarks with her own, drawn from her abundant experiences documenting Swift seasonal migration numbers and coordinating the JBLM program. She represented the United States last year at the international Swift conference held in Tel Aviv. She is an active member of Audubon in Tacoma. Also bringing us Swift news and stories of local activism will be Rachel Hudson who has discovered a new roosting site in Chehalis for Swifts. She spends her time counting and documenting their presence there, sure to be an encouraging development for us all. A big Thank You to Larry and a warm welcome to our new featured speakers, Diane and Rachel! Don’t forget to register for your Dinner tickets; use the form printed in the last Echo or find it online: Annual Dinner Tickets

Moving to Electronic Echo in July

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(by Deb Nickerson) Some people have wondered why we have not transitioned to all-electronic communication prior to this year; it is a difficult decision, since so many tell us they like having the paper Echo lying around their house at the ready when they want to reread an article or look up a field trip or event. So it is after much debate that the Board has made this the year to switch from paper to digital news. As a conservation organization, we should reduce our use of paper, and this helps fulfill that responsibility. It is also costly; we will save thousands of dollars, which will be used to further our education and conservation work. And believe me, a few thousand dollars a year means a great deal to us. 

We have an up-to-date website that contains everything in the Echo, so we often find that information printed in the Echo has already been “published” online and is not new to many members.  Because we understand the desire for printed versions, we will be using a format in our electronic newsletter that allows you to print a single article or the entire issue. We appreciate all you do to support our efforts and events, and we look forward to continuing our work. Your belief in the importance of bird conservation, habitat restoration, research-based legislation, and thoughtful community planning encourages us to hold fast to our principles and push forward on the many fronts in which we are engaged.

Hence, we are updating our email list and want your most current email address. Update your address on our website, using the button at the bottom of our home page or send it to Margery Beeler, Membership Chair .  If you are unable to access the internet and want to receive the paper newsletter, please leave a message on our phone line (360) 352-7299) with your name and request.

Thank you for your continued support,

BHAS Communications Committee