eEcho 2019 Jan-Feb

Come to Dinner! An Invitation to Gather

The Annual BHAS Dinner will be held Saturday, March 2, 2019 in the Student Union Building of the South Puget Sound Community College. Members and guests can begin gathering for a social time and perusal of raffle and sale items at 4:30 and then by 5:30 assemble for the dinner and presentations.

As has become a winning tradition, we will again feature several attractive raffle “packages” for bidding to add suspense to the evening. Sale items will focus on “events and experiences,” such as boat, kayak or bicycle trips, guided birding adventures, dinners for you and friends, stays at mountain cabins, and the like. If you have an idea for something to offer, please contact Deb Nickerson at debranick@nullgmail.com. And thank you! This gala night is the major fundraiser for Black Hills, to support our library backpack project and conservation advocacy work. With your help we can make a difference in our communities. There will be an opportunity to contribute directly to these worthy programs at the dinner.

The College’s culinary class caterers, who served us so well last year, will again create dinner choices for most tastes and dietary needs. Please see the invitation here in the Echo and posted online to make your selection and reserve a place at a table. Registration for the dinner closes February 23.

The evening affords the perfect opportunity to hear about our accomplishments and plans for upcoming activities and initiatives. It is also the time we formally acknowledge extraordinary work and achievements of dedicated members with awards named for long-time local activists Dave McNett, for Environmental Educator of the Year, and Jack Davis, for the Conservationist of the Year.

The highlight of the evening will be our featured speaker, Larry Schwitters, who will update us on all-things Vaux’s Swifts. Schwitters has been engaged with swifts, their natural history and conservation issues since at least 2006. He is a retired science teacher from Issaquah and a former mountain climber—which undoubtedly helps when he finds himself at the top of a shaky ladder peering down a chimney in search of swifts clinging to the interior brick walls. Schwitters is now an expert on chimneys up and down the entire Pacific flyway. He is always on the look-out for likely roosts for these small cigar-shaped Apodidae, who stack themselves vertically in such structures in lieu of large old snags that are now rare or nonexistent in most places. Accessible old brick chimneys suitable as surrogate snags are also rare and becoming even more endangered as they crumble or are knocked down for safety reasons or property redevelopment. Without champions like Schwitters and his colleagues, they might have disappeared entirely from the swift’s migratory flyway. But Schwitters’ intrepid chimney searching, mapping, information-sharing and promotion of this most intriguing species is making a difference. He will update us on his new projects and the prospects for swifts throughout their western territory—and beyond. His work was recently recognized at the World Swift Conference where he gained a “Partners in Flight” award of Important Bird Areas of Global Significance for the four known roost sites in Washington State. He has rightfully earned the title “A Hero for Swifts.”

For more information on the work for Swift conservation, visit the website at http://www.vauxhappening.org. Anyone witnessing the incredible swirl of birds descending into a chimney at dusk never forgets the tense excitement of this natural wonder. We look forward to an evening of good news and signs of increasing awareness of this little-known bird.

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Updating the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program

by Sam Merrill – Black Hills Audubon is taking a lead role in a number of conservation efforts. One of these is the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program (SMP), which is under intensive review at this time. Audubon Conservation Committee member Anne Van Sweringen, representing Black Hills Audubon and four other local environmental organizations, participates on the Shoreline Master Program stakeholders group and has submitted extensive comments to the Board of County Commissioners on proposed revisions of the SMP.

BHAS is concerned about converting shoreline to other uses. The SMP guidelines (WAC 173-26-186(8)) provide for development standards and use regulations designed to assess impacts and achieve no net loss of shoreline ecological functions. Management of shoreline aquatic systems is critical for the health and safety of the public. Shoreline buffers protect habitat and water quality. BHAS is advocating that standard SMP buffer widths or setbacks not be modified or reduced; that compensatory mitigation be required in the same, or a related, habitat area; and that aquaculture’s use of shorelines be consistent with the regulations of the Shoreline Management Act, the shoreline master program, and Best Available Science. The use of plastic by the aquaculture industry is pervasive, and will increase with industry expansion. Geoduck aquaculture mitigation practices, when based on Best Available Science, are known to reduce risks to birds and other wildlife.

The “redlined” version of the draft SMP Update with comments from the Thurston County Planning Commission and the public is expected to be available January 16. Attendance and/or testimony by BHAS members and others who support environmental objectives is needed at SMP meetings of the Thurston County Planning Commission (typically first and third Wednesdays, with a December 19 Open House) and the Board of County Commissioners. See our electronic newsletter Chirps or our website BlackHills-Audubon.org for timely updates.


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

Looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors this February? Join millions of bird watchers across North America and the world in a free, fun event that involves all ages. Count birds in your backyard or anywhere to help make your love of nature create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participate in the 22th annual Great Backyard Bird Count during Presidents’ Day weekend, February 15-18, 2019.

Led by Audubon and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, anyone—expert or novice—can count birds from wherever they are, enter their tallies online, and within minutes see the results of their observations and those of thousands of others. Go to BirdCount.org for more information and to submit your observations during the Bird Count weekend.

Young and old, experienced or not, you are invited to take part 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. On the BirdCount.org website, you can compare results from your town or region with others, as checklists pour in from throughout the U.S. and all over the world. In 2018, over 190,000 participants worldwide sent in checklists tallying over 6,000 species, more than half the number of known species in the world. Guess what species was reported on the most checklists? See BirdCount.org to find out.

These reports contribute valuable information for science and conservation. Bird populations are dynamic and 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!

Armchair Birding: Books that Open Doors for Beginners—or Anyone

by Anne Kilgannon – We are all familiar with the much appreciated flute notes that announce a BirdNote story on the radio following the morning news report: a quick upbeat and very bird-like melody that creates a pause in the rush to get out the door. Each story is only one minute and forty-five seconds but is packed with insight about bird life, a quirky fact or two, with the narration highlighted with cheerful or even thrilling bird sounds. Each broadcast is a dose of nature-medicine, a re-set and reminder to go outside and look up.

The BirdNote stories are so easy to listen to we might not realize how carefully curated and crafted they are, how deeply researched by noted ornithologists and writers, and how much they touch on the big questions about bird life pondered by academic experts and experienced birders alike. The recorded bird songs are drawn from the renowned collections of the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Every presentation is polished, evocative, and sparks curiosity and wonder. They are miniature masterpieces.

And now BirdNote has come out as a book? Can something so aural be captured on the page? And no, there is no attached CD of the soundtrack that is such a highlight of the radio segments. (Of course, there is still the website we can peruse to refresh our recollections of bird songs: www.BirdNote.org) I was intrigued by the question enough to attend the book presentation at Browsers Books in late September by Dr. Bob Sundstrom, science advisor and lead writer of more than 800 of the radio scripts, and Dr. Trina Bayard, another science advisor. They had me with an opening comment about Rachel Carson and the need to foster a sense of wonder in children and adults alike as the driving concept behind BirdNote. And while I enjoyed their stories capturing the essence of diverse species from Anna’s Hummingbirds to Sanderlings and Great Blue Herons, I was still pondering the notion of replicating the magic of BirdNote as a book.

The one thing the radio program does not have is imagery—the absence of which does ask us to use our other senses, mainly that of listening, a sometimes neglected ability in this visual era. And that is all to the good. If a radio could waft the scent of a forest or marsh or desert, the feel of sun or wind, as well…well, then we would be outside! (That would be asking too much.) But get hold of a copy of BirdNote, the book, and return to that need for wonder we all feel and hope to inculcate in others, and then slowly turn the pages. The illustrations by Emily Poole are vibrant, almost kinetic, and so lively you expect to hear bird sounds of calls, brush rustling and water splashing. Each is a feast of observed detail that captures the nature of the bird in focus, often in motion, with the correct habitat suggested just enough for context. The format of page-size illustrations matched by accompanying page of text, bird by bird, follows the radio BirdNote formula, only substituting image for sound. It works very well.

If you know a child or teenager or any adult that you wish to entice outdoors with you or on their own, this book would make a wonderful gift. As a first step, or with a field guide, these stories give just enough information to intrigue and inform a beginning birder in a narrative form that is easy to grasp yet not simplistic, and the illustrations are even more evocative than most field guides I currently possess. With a note including the webpage address for the aural enrichment, this book will delight anyone.

I have another suggestion of a book that opens the Nature door and is a feast for the eyes and imagination. I was lucky enough to receive a copy for my birthday: The Naturalist’s Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal, for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You, by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich. The charming and accurate illustrations are also by Bernd Heinrich.

This book is packed first with the “why” of keeping a nature journal and very helpfully, the “how,” with pages of examples drawn from the personal practices of these veteran naturalists and then a set of pages inserted for your own use: no excuses! The “why” pages detail all that can be learned by tracking observations over time, of returning again and again to places of study to deepen one’s knowledge and gain new insights as patterns and variations are recorded and pondered. Noticing the fruiting of a bush and the appearance of insects and birds on or about the same date, or perhaps the mismatch as climate change impacts our location, or the date of fledglings testing their wings one year alerts the watcher for the next, keeping and checking our records enriches our excursions in fields and woods. Nathaniel and Bernd—who feel like friends by now—inspire and inform us how to begin, and just as importantly, how to continue this valuable practice of recording observations.

Understanding that this method was foundational for these respected writers and that everyone starts step by step building knowledge and experience would encourage any budding naturalist, yourself or someone lucky like me who receives this book as a gift. Surprising someone with either of these books would be life-giving and even life-changing.


Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project Needs More Protection for Birds

by Maria Ruth – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a proposed wind-energy project to be sited in Lewis and Thurston Counties on 20,000 acres owned by Weyerhaeuser. The project will include 38 wind turbines, 16 miles of generator tie lines and support structures, meteorological towers, and operations and maintenance facility. It is expected to produce 137 megawatts of energy for the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) electrical system.

The project is expected to have a significant impact on protected bird species. The company planning the project, RES Americas, has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and a Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to offset the “take” (loss) of 75 Marbled Murrelets, 66 Bald Eagles, and 23 Golden Eagles from collision with the turbines over the 30-year expected lifespan of the project. The area lies within the Pacific flyway, and 68 species of birds as well as 10 species of bats were identified at the site, including several of “special status”—endangered, federal species of concern, state sensitive species, or candidate species.

Following the National Audubon Society’s statement on wind-energy projects, BHAS supports projects that are planned, properly-sited, and operated to minimize harm to birds and other wildlife. While the Skookumchuck project includes some significant proposed measures toward minimization and mitigation in their DEIS and Habitat Conservation Plan, we believe RES Americas has not yet met the Audubon standard. Black Hills Audubon has serious concerns about the high level of potential bird fatalities from this project:

  • There is no plan to minimize or mitigate collision with turbines and other structures during construction, which is likely to overlap months of high-activity periods for migratory birds, locally breeding birds, and bats.
  • The impact on Marbled Murrelets is not adequately minimized; 38 turbines could completely eliminate the vulnerable southwest Washington population of murrelets.
  • Studies of bird, bat, and murrelet activity at the site were not thorough, so the DEIS underestimates the collision risk during all phases of the project.
  • Additional murrelet activity studies should be conducted and combined with best-available research on the murrelet’s breeding biology to create a stronger mitigation plan.
  • Migratory birds are especially vulnerable, given the newly weakened Migratory Bird Treaty Act that no longer prohibits the take of migratory species.

Black Hills Audubon—and all Washingtonians—can help RES-Americas get their proposed wind-energy project right; it could be the model for other wind-energy turbines along the Pacific Northwest Coast where the imperiled Marbled Murrelet flies.

There is no denying that we need new sources of clean energy. Wind energy reduces fossil-fuel carbon emissions and thus reduces the threat of global warming to wildlife. This is our chance to clean up the DEIS to help ensure the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project deserves to be called “clean.”

Public comments are due to US Fish & Wildlife on January 14. Please visit the BHAS website for more information on this project and for talking points to consider for your public comments.

To review the DEIS or HCP, please visit https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/documents/SWEP/Final_SWEP_DEIS_20181109_508Compliant.pdf. To submit written comments: Online: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2018–0095. By U.S. mail or hand-delivery: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, c/o Tim Romanski, 510 Desmond Dr. SE, Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503.


The Birding Backpack Project

by Kim Adelson – We are very pleased to announce that we have recently contributed ten more Family Birding Backpacks to the Timberland Regional Libraries. Each backpack contains birding guides, two pairs of binoculars, lists of birding sites with maps, and instructions. Six of them will be funded by a $2,100 grant from the South Puget Sound Community Foundation; four are self-funded. Six backpacks will be placed in the Centralia, Yelm, Lacey (two packs), Salkum, and Hoodsport TRL branches. The remaining four packs will go to TRL branches in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties. Six backpacks have already been available in Olympia, Shelton, Lacey, Centralia, and Yelm. Please help spread the word about these Family Birding Backpacks; they may be checked out at no cost by any library patron and are designed to make birding accessible to those who do not otherwise have the equipment or expertise to go bird watching.