eEcho 2018 Sept-Oct

Library-Based Family Backpacks

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We all know that birding is a wonderful hobby: it is fun, educational, and gets you outdoors. However, unless you are watching birds that happen to alight very near you, binoculars are required to see them well. And, even if you can see the birds, how can you know what they are without a field guide or phone app? If you are a novice, how can you know where to go to maximize your chances of seeing birds?

In partnership with the Timberland Regional Library, we at Black Hills Audubon have begun a project designed to help individuals and families who would like to experience birding but who are unwilling or unable to invest the funds to equip themselves—especially, as beginners, on an activity they aren’t certain they will enjoy. We have committed to provide Family Birding Backpacks to each of TRL’s 27 branches; for their part, the Library has agreed to circulate them, monitor and replenish their contents, and publicize their availability. Each backpack contains two pairs of good-quality binocs, a basic and a more comprehensive field guide to birds, copies of the three Audubon Great Birding Trail maps that correspond to our region, and a self-designed instructional booklet that briefly explains how to bird and use binoculars, providing information on lesser-known local birding sites. The packs also include laminated fields guides to local wildflowers and trees, birding checklists and feedback forms.

Currently these backpacks are available at six of TRL’s branches: Chehalis, Lacey, Mountain View, Olympia, Shelton, and Yelm. Some of them were paid for out of Board monies, others by donations. Special thanks go out to Bob Morse, who donated a case of his field guides for this initiative. We are currently writing grant applications to fund additional packs, which cost about $350 each.

The feedback we have gotten about these packs has been very positive: Library patrons have checked out the backpacks and have indicated they enjoyed using them. We have heard from some that the experience increased or renewed their interest in birdwatching.  Please help spread the word about these backpacks to anyone who would benefit from borrowing them!

Snag Some Birds with Snags

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(by Kim Adelson) – Though some of my friends think it weird, I have a tremendous fondness for snags:  standing dead or dying trees. They result when trees become diseased, get struck by lightning, find themselves in too much shade, are outcompeted by their neighbors, succumb to drought, or simply reach the end of their lifespan. In a healthy forest, 5-10% of trees are, in fact, snags.

Snags are incredibly important for wildlife. They are used by birds (think owls, Brown Creepers, woodpeckers, wrens, and hawks), mammals (squirrels, porcupines, racoons, bats, and mice), reptiles, and amphibians (for example, tree frogs). Some birds, such as Hairy Woodpeckers, won’t move into an area unless snags are available. They serve numerous functions:

  • Cavity nesters either create holes in them (primary excavators, such as Northern Flicker and nuthatches) or use holes created by others (secondary cavity nesters: Wood Duck, Tree Swallow, and Great Horned Owls). In Western Washington alone, 39 species use tree cavities for nesting.
  • Snags are insect magnets, and birds including kinglets, woodpeckers and chickadees search them for spiders, ants, bark beetles, termites, as well as other insects’ eggs, larvae, and pupae.
  • Hawks, eagles, and owls use them to survey the surrounding terrain when hunting.
  • Swallows, pigeons, hummingbirds, and others use them as preferred resting perches.
  • Birds such as Clark’s Nutcrackers employ them as larders, and store food in holes they make for that purpose.
  • Because they are leafless or needleless, snags provide visible spots for territorial and mating displays. Many passerines use them as song posts, while woodpeckers drum on their resonant wood.
  • In my yard, at least, they appear to be preferred after-bath preening sites for numerous bird species.

Different types of snags serve different purposes. Cavity nesters prefer snags with hard sapwood (outer wood) and decayed, soft heartwood (inner core); these easily-excavated trees provide good shelter and insulation. Conversely, foragers—like the insects they feed upon—tend towards snags with soft outer wood. Having a variety of snags, from different types of trees at different stages of decay, will attract the most wildlife. Large snags tend to attract more species than smaller ones.

Since snags are so useful, seriously consider retaining them on your property. Sometimes it even makes sense to create them by hastening a tree’s demise. If you have a diseased or badly damaged tree (heavy fungus cover is a good indication of distress), or if one is simply in the wrong spot (for example, it shades your vegetable patch or has grown too near your septic system’s drainage field), rather than removing it altogether you could turn it into a snag. Take care, of course, that it isn’t placed so that it could eventually fall onto a building or walkway: trees downhill from houses or tilting away from structures are especially good candidates.

There are several methods for creating snags. One of the best is to remove the top third of the tree and about half of the remaining side branches. Alternatively, conifers can be killed by leaving the top intact but removing most of the side branches. With either method, it is best to make jagged rather than smooth cuts as you prune, to provide a more natural appearance and help speed decay when water and debris collect in the furrows. Deep, downward-slanting slits into the heartwood will also hasten decomposition. Girding the tree—removing a ring of bark around its circumference—is not as good a snag-making method, as it encourages rotting from the outside in rather than the inside out.

You can enhance your snags in two ways. First, create some upward-slanting vertical slits along its sides. These provide roosting sites for Brown Creepers as well as bats. Secondly, you can plant a native vine such as trailing blackberry or orange honeysuckle at the base of the snag to replace the color provided by leaves or needles.

I created two deodora pine snags three years ago. They didn’t attract much action for the first two years; this third year, however, although they are surrounded by living trees and shrubs, they are the most active bird sites in my yard. I’ve seen as many as a dozen species using them in a single 10-minute session, and often there are two or three species on the snags at once. If you have a little patience, I am sure snags will pay off for you as well!

Zeno and the Marbled Murrelets

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Photo: courtesy Dan Cushing and S. Kim Nelson

(by Maria Ruth) – Conservation activists know all too well the feeling of not making significant progress in the causes we believe in.

Remember Zeno’s paradox about motion? Zeno was a Greek philosopher (495-430 BCE) who offered up this mind-bending idea:  Suppose someone wants to get from point A to point B. First they must move halfway between the two points. But before they get to halfway, they have to move a quarter of the way. Before they move a quarter of the way, they must move an eighth of the way. Continuing in this manner, reaching the goal—point B—is seen as an impossibility.

Getting to a Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the endangered Marbled Murrelet seems similarly impossible at times. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has had an “interim” strategy in place since 1997 and has been working (more or less) to update it ever since. The strategy is part of a requirement that allows the DNR to harvest timber from state forest lands where these endangered seabirds nest.

As you may recall, the DNR first offered three concepts for a conservation strategy in 2012. In early 2016, we had six official alternatives to consider. Which we did. Many of you submitted letters and public comment cards supporting a seventh (unofficial) “conservation alternative.”  By the end of 2017, there were eight alternatives on the table, including the DNR’s “preferred alternative” and a hybrid that integrated public comments.

In June 2018, the DNR announced its plans to release on September 4 a revised draft Environmental Impact Statement on this final set of alternatives. This would initiate a 60-day public comment period and actual forward movement toward an approved Long-Term Conservation Strategy.

Can you feel the progress?

As this issue of The Echo goes to press, our fingers are crossed for the September 4 release. However, it is likely we will find ourselves moving backwards. On July 19, the U.S. Department of the Interior (which oversees the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s implementation of the Endangered Species Act) proposed a set of rules to amend (read “weaken”) the ESA protections for listed species. This announcement triggered a 60-day public comment period on that amendment. The impact of this on the Marbled Murrelet is unclear, but it is likely that the long-overdue Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the murrelet may take longer to complete.

So Zeno lives on in Zinke, but stalwart Auduboners know that progress is possible and that goals are achievable, even if on some days we feel we are only a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth . . . of the way there. Onward!

Updates on the public comment period for the Long-Term Conservation Strategy will be available on the BHAS website and in Chapter Chirps.

BHAS’s South County Bird Binge Field Trip

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Western Kingbird – Photo courtey Mdf – Wikimedia Commons

(by Paul Hicks) – On May 19 a band of eleven intrepid hardcore birders met at my home in Tenino in the fifth annual quest to find 70 species by 1:00 p.m. The birds were plenty active and vocal, making for a morning of bird bingeing at its best. We hit the 70 mark by 9 a.m., and by quitting time we had tallied 81 species at eleven locations within 5 miles of Tenino.

We began with several common species in my yard and went on to Mull Street marsh, an interesting wetland on the eastern outskirts of Tenino, formed by beaver dams across Scatter Creek. We stopped here three times to check on the changing cast of characters, totaling 34 with several “misses.” We went on to the Tenino-Yelm trail along SR507.  Within a short distance the old railroad grade trail here passes through mature and secondary fir woods, bushy hazelnut, wet willow and beaver pond swamp.

Vantine Road is a dead-end backroad that gradually ascends into old Weyerhaeuser land following Vantine Creek through a diverse mix of conifer and deciduous woods and bushes. The many dead trees along the streambed are a favorite of woodpeckers and other cavity nesters, and we found five warbler and three woodpecker species between our two stops.

Bob and Sally Sundstrom have an incredible bird sanctuary on their property on the outskirts of Tenino. We almost felt like we were cheating, cherry-picking the assortment of finches, sparrows, jays, hummingbirds, wrens and swallows that use their feeders and nest boxes—nearly 30 species total. The bird of the day was a pair of Western Kingbirds; this is only the third time in 30 years I’ve seen them in South County.

Blumauer Hill is crowned with a majestic stand of old-growth Douglas Fir surrounded by tracts of clear-cut at various stages of re-growth. We heard a single Hermit Warbler singing; it had been on territory for the past 2-3 weeks—a scarce migrant and local breeder, difficult to find in South County.

We went on to Skookumchuck Valley, sites along Bucoda Highway, and drove west through Rock and Violet Prairies to the bridge over Scatter Creek. By our target time of 1 p.m. we had found nearly everything on our bird-binge list: 81 species plus one possible drive-by heard-only Olive-sided Flycatcher. Four of us “die-hards” continued the quest, heading eastward toward Rainier, where we added 9 species for a total of 90 for the day.

Top five highlights and/or “firsts” for participants: Western Kingbird; great looks at Red-breasted Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting, and Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos.

Armchair Birding: Rachel Carson’s “Sea Books”

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(by Anne Kilgannon) – I watched the chickadees busy at the suet feeder and felt anguish sweep over me as I worried yet again about their survival in the face of a changing climate and seemingly indifferent human race. How could I make a difference for them? How have others met the challenge of saving what they love in this—or other—distraught times?

An article in The New Yorker (March 26, 2018) by Jill Lepore seized my attention. Prompted by the Library of America publication of the works of Rachel Carson, she eloquently complained that this collection “includes not one drop of her writing about the sea.” Lepore then lavished praise on Carson’s neglected works as poetically and full of wonder as Carson herself achieves with her own writing.  I was jolted; Rachel Carson is my longtime hero. Reading Silent Spring was a turning point in my life, and her slim but deeply felt book The Sense of Wonder was a blueprint for how to raise my children and guide my own life; but Lepore’s outpouring shocked me: I knew nothing of Carson’s early works on the sea.

A little searching soon yielded an enticing stack: Under the Sea Wind, published in 1941; The Sea Around Us, in 1951; and The Edge of the Sea, in 1955. But before diving in, I immersed myself in her life story, thoroughly researched and sensitively portrayed by Linda Lear in Rachel Carson: The Life of the Author of Silent Spring. For even more insight, I dipped into Courage for the Earth, essays by many notable writers and activists about Carson’s influence, edited by Peter Matthiessen; and the love-letter of a book about her work by Carson’s editor, Paul Brooks, Rachel Carson at Work.

Carson’s work and life are so entwined and mutually enriching—the writing by the life story of the author and the life lived by the work undertaken—that reading her biography first only added to the sense of awe and deeper understanding I experienced when I finally delved into her books on the life of the sea. And what an immersion! Her writing takes you down to the shore alive with birds and the hidden life they depend on for sustenance, then into the vital tidal strip that teems with life balanced between salt water and rock or sandy beach, and steps gradually deeper and deeper until she probes the darkest, most mysterious of all depths, the ocean floor. Her prose rises with the waves, scintillates with moonlight, phosphorescence, and the life-giving rays of sunshine. She examines life from the tiniest one-celled creatures to the greatest fish in the ocean, and connects them all in the complicated web of prey and predator. The immensity of the waters, the tidal forces, the winds and currents, polar ice and underwater geology sweep us along, yet we pause to notice plankton, tiny shrimp and ghostly jellyfish. Her writing manages to be simultaneously dreamy, poetic, and sensual as well as particular, deeply researched, and stoically accepting of life-and-death.

I had two thoughts about the worth of reading books published in the 1940-‘50s era. As meticulous as her science was, at the time, what new discoveries and understandings now inform the study of sea life? What have we learned since and does that overturn her work? In the end, I decided there was still great worth in reading these books; they set an historical baseline for inquiry. Her passion was contagious. Her feeling as expressed through her words shone through this concern; I didn’t want to miss her exquisite sense of beauty and wonder, which can never be outdated.

Secondly, her work was very much of her time, the turmoil of the war and anxiety of the early Cold War period. And here I reflected on how Silent Spring built upon the scientific work of the Sea books—and how her reputation for excellence and eloquence as achieved by these early books was a springboard. We would not have Silent Spring without them. That book was written at a time of deep fear about the use of atomic bombs, worry about competition for world supremacy against the Soviets, and the hell-bent race for affluence after the years of depression and war with its adoption of wholesale use of chemical “solutions” and their “fall-out” so graphically described by Carson. The biography described how her critics tried every way to discredit her and belittle her work. But she was firm in her science and firm in her view, at heart spiritual, that the beauty of the Earth and life upon it was a sacred trust, our duty to protect. The beauty of her writing touched readers and fired their support; we owe so much to the groundswell that resulted from her testimony and courage to counter the forces that would pillage the sea and land. We need that courage and example today. We again face a perilous and reckless era.

And so it was that I made my pilgrimage in late July to watch the tide breaking against the rocks tumbled on the shore of the island of Southport, Maine near where she had a cottage. One rock carried a plaque noting Carson’s devotion to that very place, those particular tide-pools and mixed forest trees and the life they support. Her ashes were scattered there in the salt water that was so much her lifeblood. I remembered her words and felt such gratitude and renewed strength from her work and life.

Thurston County Commissioners poised to dedicate 75% of County to mineral operations

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(by Sue Danver) – Thurston County’s rural beauty and water quantity and quality are under serious threat.  Between October 2018 and early 2019, the Thurston County Board of Commissioners (BoCC) will finalize a state-required update of the County Comprehensive (Comp) Plan. The Mineral Resources Lands section of the Natural Resource Chapter is where the BoCC is strongly leaning to making the most radical changes.  Thurston County residents must resist the direction in which the BoCC is headed.

The current mineral-designation language, adopted in 2010 after years of stakeholder meetings and compromise, has 5,623 designated acres.  As of August 1, the BoCC wants to revise that acreage to at least 141,000, a 25-fold increase!  Thurston County’s gravel is generally of high quality, and miners appear to be pressuring the BoCC to protect these mineral lands at the sacrifice of farmland, refuges, public parks, and Urban Growth Areas. The Washington WAC 365-190-070 explains the power of designation:

“Counties and cities must designate known mineral deposits so that access to mineral resources of long-term commercial significance is not knowingly precluded.  Priority land use for mineral extraction should be retained for all designated mineral resource lands.”

Basically, if a land owner wants to mine a parcel that has mineral designation, neighbors to such a mine might be able to mitigate a major hazard, but the mine most likely will be permitted because of its WAC priority.  And once established, mineral-land designations would be very difficult to reverse.  Mining companies would likely legally challenge a future reversal of policy.

Based upon a 2017 geologic survey to identify mineral resources (gravel and hard rock), County staff developed four options that map varying levels of designated area. While all choices greatly increased the designated lands, BHAS favored the Map 2 option with the lowest acreage (107,000), which took into account critical areas that should not or could not be mined.  With only three days notice, BHAS members and friends sent the Planning Commission (PC) over 120 emails asking for Map 2 and not to co-designate 2,000 farmland protected acres with mineral lands.  Instead of following this citizen input, most of the PC members chose Map 1 (141,000+ acres designated) and to co-designate Long-Term Agriculture and mineral lands.  Fortunately, the PC kept the current language of 1,000-ft. buffers between mineral lands designation and public parks, refuges, and Urban Growth Areas.

Jennifer Davis, chair of the Planning Commission at the time of the PC decision, wrote this dissenting statement:

“The Planning Commission received a large amount of written and oral testimony concerned with both the amount of land proposed for designation, and against co-designation with long term agriculture.  Mineral lands guidelines clearly allow Thurston County to weigh our local values in designating mineral lands.  The data shows we have an abundance of mineral resources.  We do not have an abundance of long-term Agricultural lands.  Once lost, these lands are unlikely to be recovered for agricultural production.  In addition, we have extensive knowledge of where very sensitive critical areas are that are obviously incompatible with mining.  Our data on critical areas will improve with time, but it seems prudent now to at least exclude from designation known areas where groundwater resources and habitat for threatened and endangered species exist.  For these reasons, and with respect to the many concerned citizens we heard I strongly disagree with the majority vote.”


But on July 24, the BoCC revisited what they had sent to the PC this spring and requested the PC to consider two new options:  a) allow any tract with 5% designated land in an otherwise non-designated parcel to be mined, and b) if an already-established mine wants to expand its operations onto adjacent non-designated land, it can.  These two options could occur even if the parcel included a 1,000-ft. buffer, and would add 6,232 acres to the already 141,000+ designated acres.

The effects of gravel mines are profound and lasting: noise from trucks, earth movers and gravel sifters; bright and continuous lights; and compromised air quality from diesel fumes and particulate matter.  Deep gravel pits, up to 90 feet, can alter water flow, raising waters down-gradient and lowering them up-gradient.  This can change water levels in wetlands, which commonly occur in glacial-deposit terrain.  Spills can occur and enter the aquifer if the mine is deep, potentially threatening hydrogeologic (underground) water flows, Thurston County’s source of drinking water.

Yes, this is a complex issue.  Decisions on the designation of mineral lands will affect the community for a very long time.  At their agenda-setting meetings, it appears that the BoCC likes the Planning Commission’s recommendation to prioritize 75% of Thurston County as mineral lands at the sacrifice of protected farms, public parks, refuges, and water.

What Can You Do??

1) There will be a public hearing, probably in October, before the Planning Commission regarding the expansion of mines onto non-designated lands, including lands in 1,000-ft. buffers.  BHAS will send an alert encouraging its members and others to attend the public hearing and/or send comments to the PC in advance of the hearing.

2) Encourage the BoCC to reduce the amount of land proposed for mineral designation.  We chose the smallest-acreage option offered in March 2018 (107,000 acres).  An even smaller amount, which would protect sensitive areas, would be preferable.