Echo July 2019

Preserving Rare Prairie Habitat: The NorthPoint Rezone Request … and How You Can Help

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By Sue Danver – As outlined in the June issue of Echo, the Missouri development company, NorthPoint, is seeking to rezone to industrial the 745-acre parcel owned by the Port of Tacoma (POT), but located near Maytown, Thurston County.  The company has made a contingent offer to purchase this parcel in order to build a 6-million square-foot warehouse complex and cargo transfer center adjacent to the West Rocky Prairie preserve owned by WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

In order to protect rare prairie, oak, and wetland habitat and species on this property, BHAS opposes this development. We plan to pursue both educational and legal efforts.  We encourage you to help by contacting the Thurston County Commissioners (see email addresses and phone numbers below; even if you signed the online petition, personal emails or phone messages can carry more weight), writing letters to the editor of The Olympian or other media outlets, and raising the issue at meetings and other gatherings of organizations with which you are involved.

Many citizens, including at least five of us from BHAS, testified at the POT Commission meeting on June 13 concerning a proposed postponement of NorthPoint’s purchase and sale agreement deadline — a postponement that would give Thurston County time to process NorthPoint’s rezoning application first.  All testimony, except one from NorthPoint, opposed postponement and/or urged sale instead to WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, which has sought to buy the parcel for over two decades.  Arguments ranged from expected damage to threatened and endangered species on the WDFW preserve, danger to water supplies for neighbors, and damage to the rural quality of life with a noisy, industrial hub.  Despite all the opposing testimony, the POT Commissioners voted, with only two brief comments, to approve NorthPoint’s request for postponement.

During the coming months we plan to provide information on the many reasons we believe this rare prairie land, situated in a rural setting, should be preserved and combined with that already preserved by WDFW rather than be opened to industrial development.  We are investigating enforcement of the Settlement Agreement that BHAS signed with the then owner of the land in question, as well as scientific arguments based on threatened species and the water levels to which they are sensitive.  At the same time, we expect that public expression of citizen concern supporting environmental protection and/or sale of the land to WDFW can be most effective in convincing the County to do what its citizens want: uphold the current, citizen-initiated zoning of the Rocky Prairie parcel.

Contact information for Board of County Commissioners:

Commissioner John Hutchings: kelli.lee@nullco.thurston.wa.us

Commissioner Gary Edwards: vickie.larkin@nullco.thurston.wa.us

Commissioner Tye Menser: thomasina.cooper@nullco.thurston.wa.us

Phones:

Comm. Hutchings: 360-357-2470

Comm. Edwards: 360-786-5747

Comm. Menser:  360-786-5414

Volunteer Opportunities July 2019

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All chapter work is done by volunteers for whom we are very grateful.  There are many opportunities to become involved at a level that is comfortable for you.  Please contact Kathleen Snyder (ksnyder75@nullgmail.com) if you are interested in any of the following:

Ways & Means Committee is looking for one or two persons (preferably with fund raising or financial planning experience) willing to help make decisions about our organization’s investment strategies and fiscal policy. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Kim Adelson at kgdolgin@nullowu.edu

Ways & Means Committee also needs someone with some artistic capabilities for a short term project involving the creation of a new BHAS brochure.  If you have knowledge and software that could help, please let Kathleen know.

Outreach Co-ordinatorThe purpose of this new position is to increase our visibility to the community and to reach diverse audiences who are not part of our traditional demographic.  First job will be to develop tabling materials, including a trifold display on Black Hills Audubon.  If you have some graphic design experience, we would love to get you going on this.

Get FREE Bird Alerts on Your Phone or Mobile Device

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Thanks to feedback from users like you, several updates have been made to the Audubon Bird Guide App, including free customizable bird alert notifications to find out when your target birds show up nearby. Using this social media toolkit, invite your members to access more than 800 species of North American birds and set up their own bird alerts. Download the Audubon Bird Guide App today via iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.

Board Meeting Review (6/6/2019)

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The Communications Committee gave the Board a synopsis of their current efforts:

1)  the Dennis Plank searchable bird photo gallery will be going live soon

2)  the Speak Out function has been used successfully and can be fine-tuned for future efforts

3)  the eEcho has been implemented and the Committee is continuing to improve it

4)  the data received from eEcho shows BHAS has a responsive readership (778 Echoes went out with 45% of them opened)

5)  our Facebook page has 389 followers; our Meetup has 372 followers.

6) Mark DeLaurier has volunteered to be our new Facebook administrator; he has a PhD in Environmental Communications

Details of the June annual picnic and the August Board retreat were discussed.  The Board will need to find a new meeting place starting in September.

The Industrial Arts classes at Adna High School have completed the construction of 20 bird boxes for us which will be installed on the perimeter of a tree farm owned by the City of Centralia.  Installation will be this summer.

The Conservation Committee continues to oppose on the zoning change needed for the construction of a warehouse on Maytown property owned by the Port of Tacoma.

The Education Committee is expanding their Adopt-A-School program in the Shelton and North Thurston School Districts.  The backpack program for Timberline Libraries is on-going but needs an infusion of funds from grants and donations.

Proposal to Expand Hunting Access at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

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By Kim Dolgin – In 1974, land and water acreage was set aside to create the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Renamed the Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, the Refuge straddles portions of the Nisqually River Delta and Nisqually Reach (an offshore area that includes areas of deeper water). The Delta is primarily composed of estuary, but also houses fresh water marshes, grassland, and both coniferous and deciduous forest. It forms one of the largest estuaries remaining on Puget Sound, is home to thousands of waterfowl and is a significant stopover point for migrating shorebirds. The Reach is prime habitat for juvenile salmon and forage fish and provides feeding grounds for grebes, loons, gulls, and alcids. Because of this, the Refuge has been recognized as one of Washington State’s Important Birding Areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed opening an additional 380 acres of the BFJNNWR to hunting. (Currently 192 acres of Refuge land may be hunted in season; in addition, 625 acres of water adjacent to the Refuge may be hunted as well.) The proposed additional hunting area is north of and next to the area in which hunting is currently allowed and consists of water and tidelands that would be accessible only by boat. (See map below.)  Details of the proposal can be found on the Refuge’s website; alternatively, you can access the plan by clicking here:  https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/BFJ%20Nisqually%20NWR_Draft%20WF%20Hunt%20Plan_CX_CD_June%202019.pdf.

We wished to alert you to this proposed change because many of our members regularly visit the Refuge.  Public comments will be accepted only until July 8, 2019, and hence time is of the essence if you wish to make any opinion you might have considered before a final decision is made. Comments can be submitted in writing to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia, WA, 98516, or by email to glynnis_nakai@nullaol.com. If you choose to write, please put “Hunt Plan Comment” on either your envelope or in the subject line of your email.

South County Bird Binge Trip Report

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By Paul Hicks – Our  South County  “bird binge”  found more than 80 species by 12:30 — not bad for a long morning’s work!  We added several more in the afternoon extension. I thought I’d try to capture some of the highlights, at least those that struck me.

At our first stop (Scatter Creek behind the rail trestle) three Wood Ducks flew over. We found five Turkey Vultures roosting high in a cedar tree — not a common sight. We saw several vultures throughout the day. I’ve seen more around this year than ever before.

Along Scatter Creek behind the high school our attention focussed on two dark swifts. At least one lacked the typical pale contrast in the throat, appearing more like Sibley’s depiction of Chimney Swift, a dark chocolate brown in coloration.  A lovely pair of chattery Bullock’s Orioles made a brief appearance. Two male hummingbirds, Anna’s and Rufous, duked it out for territorial dominance.

A quick stop at the city park produced the day’s only Yellow-rumped Warbler singing high up the fir trees and a Red-breasted Sapsucker working a maple. Towhee, junco, and siskin were vocalizing, plus a Swainson’s Thrush in full song.

At the Mull Street marsh we were treated to the sight and sound of a Wilson’s Snipe’s “winnowing” flight display, a first for several. A Virginia Rail sounded off from somewhere in the tall grasses. A Red-winged Blackbird was observed apparently “hiding” the orange-red shoulder patch and showing only the yellow. A Willow Flycatcher was heard, likely a migrant that had just arrived several hours earlier. The big surprise here was a single Red Crossbill giving its characteristic “kip kip kip” call as it flew high overhead.

Vantine Road offered tons of diversity: warblers, sparrows, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers, chickadees galore. Perhaps the highlight here was getting a good listen and decent view of the skulky MacGillivray’s Warbler. I was surprised how many were singing. Plus an Olive-sided Flycatcher struck a nice long pose atop a conifer. Further up we coaxed a Downy Woodpecker to pay a visit.

We took the opportunity to study some birdsong: The erratic, burry notes of Warbling Vireo versus the smooth, rich warble of Purple Finch; the simple and straightforward slurred-together couplets of the Robin compared to the Black-headed Grosbeak’s delightfully creative and complex improv.

Bob and Sally Sundstrom’s garden is like nature lovers’ eye candy. A feast for birds and birders and gardeners alike. Lots of colorful (and vocal) Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and the occasional Steller’s Jay and Black-headed Grosbeak came to the feeders. A House Wren sang his little heart out near the doorway of his birdhouse. Perhaps the “best” bird here was a Cassin’s Vireo delivering its leisurely “question-and-answer” song from the ridge above. Our only Cliff Swallow for the day was spotted nest-building on the well house in the back fields. An unexpectedly “late” Golden-crowned Sparrow looks to be still recovering from an ambush at the hands (talons) of the local Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We were surrounded by active Yellow Warblers in the swampy area a short distance out the Yelm-Tenino Trail. (This connects with the Chehalis-Western Trail to Lacey and beyond.) Gorgeous birds! Here we found the only Cedar Waxwings of the day.

After encountering Brown Creepers singing nearly everywhere the day before, we couldn’t come up with a single one until a pair showed up right at our cars parked at the bottom of Blumauer Hill.

A Lazuli Bunting put on a grand show out Skookumchuck Valley. This was the consensus must-see bird for this trip, and no one was disappointed. Two or three Bald Eagles showed up, probably attracted by the freshly mowed hayfields revealing a crop of rodents to eat. A side-by-side comparison with a Red-tailed Hawk showed just how huge these majestic birds of prey really are! At the bridge we found some very cooperative Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a Red Crossbill.

Our biggest surprise of the day was a thrush foraging like a bluebird on open ground from a wooden rail fence across a pasture field from us. The uniform, warm reddish-brown above, lack of spots below, and the “uncharacteristic” foraging and habitat point toward Veery (!).  I will probably make a report.

Update: I reported our observations to the Washington Rare Bird Committee. The initial response is positive; however Veery is not subject to review because it is common in other parts of the state. This would be only the second sighting in Thurston County. Very (Veery?) cool!

We added a few nice species at our final stop on 180th: Chipping Sparrow, Western Bluebird, and an American Kestrel stooping onto a meal from a snag.

Armchair Birding: “The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab and An Epic Journey”, by Deborah Cramer

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By Anne Kilgannon – The narrow edge of the title has multiple meanings: the small wedge of shoreline that nourishes these birds—the red knots—as they migrate from one end of the world to the other and back again; the same small edge that provides the breeding ground for one of their principle food sources, the horseshoe crab, whose eggs laid on these shores provide an energy rich infusion gobbled by the birds desperate for fuel to finish their vast migratory trek; and the perhaps even smaller edge of time we have to save them both from extinction. It’s a harrowing story Deborah Cramer has to tell as she follows the red knots on their migration route from the farthest tip of South America to the far Canadian Arctic where they nest and raise their young. If they are lucky enough to make it that far.

Cramer herself experiences some of the dangers of the journey. Describing her travel adventures as she traces red knots on their annual flight as “exhilarating to hair raising,” she ponders: “Slogging through isolated, remote areas looking for birds, I have a compass, GPS, and a radio to keep track of myself. The birds have—what? By the end of this journey I am more in awe than when I began.” Certainly part of this story is the courageous, persistent, dedicated work of researchers and conservationists who endure every kind of weather, mosquito-infested marshes, hungry polar bears, storms, and other goes-with-the-territory conditions to count birds, monitor their stopping over places, and try to protect their food sources so they can keep on living their lives. If the birds are powered by horseshoe crab eggs and tiny mollusks they probe from the wet reaches of shorelines, the scientists and other concerned birders are unabashedly drawn to this work by love of red knots; it’s the love that shines through this book and makes the reading of such a poignant tale bearable. There is fear and worry and anguish here too, but the red knots’ tenacious hold on life keep readers and advocates turning the pages and showing up to search the beaches for these elusive birds.

So little is really known about red knots. Their migratory feats were a mystery until quite recently. The work of saving them was made more complicated by the difficulty in counting them, knowing where they went, where they fed, where they raised their young. For the most part, red knots prefer remote hidden shores, but in the course of their travels they are also in plain sight, flocking in to feed on beaches near some of the most frequented sea-sides. The knowledge that they depended so heavily on the eggs of horseshoe crabs was either ignored or unrealized. As the crabs were decimated for use as fertilizer, bait, and lately, medical purposes, the numbers of the birds fell with them. Cramer takes us deep into the world of this ancient race of crabs and traces human uses and abuses of this essential species. Red knots are not the only birds closely connected with the crabs but they seem especially vulnerable to whatever fate the crabs are subject to. To protect one is to protect both species.

And to protect red knots and crabs, the beaches that both need for survival must also be protected. The birds depend on a long-stranded necklace of beaches stretching from pole-to-pole of the earth for places of refuge and refueling. If any bead on the string is threatened or destroyed, the whole enterprise of bird life is put in jeopardy. Development, that catch-all word that covers all the reasons humans find for building on or taking over wild areas, encroaches on shores desperately needed for birds, turtles, shellfish and near-shore life as it erodes and destroys habitat. Joy-riding on ATVs—the most heartless and thoughtless of activities—crushes the life of shelled species as well as eggs laid on beaches just under the surface and forces flocks of birds into the air again and again, preventing them from feeding when they need it most. Loose dogs running on beaches do the same. Intense education programs addressing these behaviors in tourist areas and in especially critical habitat is making some difference. Wanton hunting of endangered birds is also the focus of efforts to awaken interest and a sense of wonder that may protect these small but amazing birds.

The more we learn about red knots and their incredible lives, the more we too will be in awe of their strength and concerned about their vulnerability. Deborah Cramer asks the most important question—for red knots, for horseshoe crabs and for all beings: Are we willing to share the Earth, to make room for all the species that share the planet with us? Or will we spread ourselves, our buildings and streets and use of resources, so thickly and relentlessly over every nook and cranny, every beach and prairie, forest and lake, that in the end we will stand alone, bereft of all that brings joy and wonder to our lives? The red knots are still with us, ruddy-feathered, long-beaked wanderers; it’s not yet too late.