2019 Annual Statewide Meeting of Audubon Chapters

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Each year chapters in our state hold an Annual Statewide Meeting.  BHHS belongs to the southwest region and is co-host of this year’s annual meeting called Audubon Council of Washington or ACOW.

This year’s convention is hosted by Audubon Southwest Chapters: Vancouver, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor, Tahoma and Black Hills.

All chapter members are invited to attend this weekend of meetings, speakers, workshops and field trips. It is a wonderful way to learn about issues crucial to us in the northwest and connect with other members across our service area.

We’ll meet September 27-29, 2019 at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, WA 98661

Here you can find, REGISTRATION, and access to our ACCOMMODATIONS at a discounted rate. FIELD TRIPS sign-up and AGENDA details are upcoming.  There will be several of us from Black Hills attending so possible car pools can be arranged. More will be shared at our September Speaker series on September 12th. Contact a board member for more information if you are interested in attending.

Update on Rocky Prairie

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Elizabeth Rodrick, Sharron Coontz, and Diane Sonntag were recently interviewed by Debbie Cockrell who wrote an extensive article in the Olympian about the proposed warehouse project, https://www.theolympian.com/news/business/article232147112.html.

Following is an excerpt from The Friends of Rocky Prairie’s new website, https://www.friendsofrockyprairie.org/petition.

The current owner of Rocky Prairie, the Port of Tacoma, is working with a Missouri company, NorthPoint, to develop a massive intermodal industrial center on Rocky Prairie.  The reported 6,000,000 square feet of NorthPoint warehousing would be one of the largest in the northwest.  With a facility this massive we can expect 24 hours a day truck and train traffic with thousands of trucks per day clogging area streets and highways from Maytown to Lacey. It will also light up the skies for miles around, fill the air with noise and pollution, and disrupt or destroy the sensitive balance of nature in the area. The buildings’ size of  6,000,000 square feet is the equivalent of 104 football fields, and the parking areas and roads will add much more paved impervious surface. This development would border West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area and Millersylvania State Park. This is no place for an industrial hub!


What you can do:

We’re bringing birds to a Shelton Classroom

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By Kim Adelson – One of the exciting new collaborations begun by BHAS last year is a partnership with Aidé Villalobos, a second-grade teacher at Evergreen Elementary School in Shelton. We have long talked about our desire to “adopt” a school; that is, to do more than give one-shot presentations in classrooms but to instead return to a single school on a regular basis and use birds to foster an appreciation of nature and an interest in science in children. Beginning this winter and continuing into next year, we are doing just that!

Aidé is an energetic, enthusiastic, and creative teacher. She approached us about coming into her classroom to teach her students about birds, show them how to properly use binoculars, and help select bird feeders and food. Her hope was that observing birds would not only be engaging to her students, but would also be an avenue to helping students access national science and math standards, including developing data collection and graphing skills. Aidé successfully wrote several grants which allowed her to purchase binoculars for her students’ use, and, thanks to Bob Morse’s generosity, we were able to provide the class with field guides. She also got funds to set up several bird feeders outside the classroom windows.

Evergreen Elementary is a dual language school, and the students spend half of the day learning in English and half in Spanish. Aidé is partnered with another teacher, Jennifer Dawson, and on the days we come they modify their schedules so that we can work with both sets of students back-to-back. We spend about an hour with each group of children. Shelley Spalding and I have taken them on bird walks, practiced binocular use, talked about the birds likely to show up at their feeders, worked with them on using a book’s index, discussed how you can guess what a bird eats by the shape of its beak, and explained about the dangers birds face while migrating. Next year, we hope also to have the students keep running records of the birds seen from their classroom windows, practice making graphs of the data, and coordinate with the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to prepare the students for their field trip there.

The children are enthusiastic and excited to learn about birds! They look happy when they realize that we will be working with them, and they ask us many questions. A significant number already seem to know quite a bit about our local birds but are eager to learn more. We truly look forward to going back to Evergreen next year.

Bird Cruising on Hood Canal

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by Sharon Moore – Led by expert birders Bill Tweit and Gene Revelas, 51 of us from Black Hills and Tahoma Audubon chapters boarded the Lady Alderbrook on April 28, 2019 in anticipation of an excellent birding morning on Hood Canal.  Under clear skies promising good visibility and braced by a brisk temperature, we settled in the deck chairs and along the railings on the roomy 60 ft. cruiser.  Originally built in Coos Bay, Oregon, and named the “Rendezvous,” this craft was specifically designed to accommodate dinner cruises; hence, the excellent hull stability and extra-wide upper deck.

The morning started out well with a raft of Western Grebes sighted in the middle of the Canal.  Bill estimated 500 birds in that flock.  Later we spotted another large raft of Western Grebes to the north of us.  As to why the birds congregate in those waters in the spring, Bill explained that millions of young chum salmon were migrating at that time down the Skokomish River into the Canal to embark on their long journey to the Pacific.  That yearly chum migration provides a rich food source for many species of birds.

The strong Grebe presence we witnessed was a relief to those of us who have been aware that, by the 1980’s, Hood Canal had become severely polluted.  This habitat degradation affected the fish populations adversely, which also impacted bird numbers as well.  By 2006 a Watershed Management Plan (90.82 RCW) was finally approved for Mason and Jefferson Counties to improve water quality, stream flows, fish habitat and marine waters.  In the last 12 years, cooperating municipalities, agencies and tribes have improved the Hood Canal waters; however, significantly more effort is needed to increase levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, which chum and other fish species need to survive.  As birders we understand that improved fish survival will attract more birds into the Canal watershed.

During the morning cruise we identified 20 species including Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Glaucous-winged Gull, Mew Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Great Blue Heron, European Starling, Bald Eagle, Bufflehead, American Crow, Purple Martin and Pigeon Guillemot.  Towards the end of our time on the water, a Marbled Murrelet appeared in the far distance.  Bill said it was an unusual sighting since that species is seldom observed in Hood Canal any longer.  Severe loss of old-growth forests, needed by Murrelets to raise their young has banished the birds from that historic nesting habitat.

A lovely cruise with plenty of bird sightings made for a successful three-hour event.  With thanks to Lady Alderbrook co-skippers Cindy Sund and Duain Dugan, we disembarked with plans to return in spring, 2020.  (Trip photos by Steve Curry, Western Grebe photo courtesy Frank Schulenburg, Wikimedia Commons)

Volunteer Opportunities August 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:

Graphic Arts: Our BHAS tri-fold display board for tabling events needs updating and improving.  If you enjoy working with lettering, photographs, and visual presentation, we would love to turn you loose on this project!

Financial advisor: The Ways and Means Committee is looking for one or two folks 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

Outreach Coordinator: The purpose of this new position is to increase our visibility to the community and to reach diverse audiences which are not part of our traditional demographic.  If you are familiar with our area’s many festivals, parades, and other environmental events (or are eager to be familiar with them), we would love to talk about how you can help BHAS expand its reach.

Armchair Birding: Saving Orcas by Naming Orcas

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by Anne Kilgannon – Recently we were in a park overlooking Active Pass*, about to return to our car and the next activity when a strange—sensation—vibration—surge—pulled our eyes back to the water. Seals were skittering in all directions, gulls wheeled overhead, and there in the waves was a pod of at least a dozen orca whales. Surfacing, blowing, dorsal fins held high, powerful bodies pushing through the water, they dominated the strait. Everyone in the vicinity stopped and gaped and gasped. The moment of their passage couldn’t have been more than a few minutes but we were all spellbound; we had been granted a very special boon. Long after they had passed out of sight we could feel their presence, their power. It was much more visceral than seeing them on television in a nature show; I realized I really knew very little about them at all.

The library had several books on orcas: one I dipped into, Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us, by David Neiwert was very helpful, and another that riveted my full attention, Puget Sound Whales for Sale: The Fight to End Orca Hunting, by Sandra Pollard. I learned that the whales we had seen that day would have likely belonged to the northern resident group. Like the southern resident group that live in Puget Sound waters, they chiefly eat Chinook and chum salmon and other fish, unlike the Transient, or Bigg’s, group, who depend on seals and other marine mammals for their sustenance….although the seals present in the water that day were taking no chances. There are also Offshore orcas, a different group.

These groups, identified as ectotypes, overlap in some areas but do not interbreed, have different diets, and different vocalizations, in short, different cultures…not so different from humans.  I had not fully realized before that orcas were so distinct, that if we—terrible thought—lost all our local whales that other whales could not replace them. As our numbers of orcas swimming these waters plummet, we are facing extinction in real time. My thoughts flitted to marbled murrelets; how we are fast losing them in our area too, but how they continue to survive in other places, but that is not “good enough.” It was never an answer. I had a whole new set of questions and concerns.

The orca lifespan almost matches the human one, and their life cycle and reproductive patterns are also not dissimilar. One crucial and fascinating fact is that orca families are matrilineal, headed by grandmother whales which, studies suggest, live on well past their reproductive prime and take on leadership roles to pass on their knowledgeand accumulated experience to the next generations. This is a rarity in the animal world and helps account for their intelligence and complex group dynamics.

Learning about this close family relationship added to the pain and poignancy of reading about the relentless capturing of orca whales in Puget Sound in the 1960s and 1970s. Pollard spares her readers no details of the exhaustive chasing, cruel corralling and netting of the orcas, and then the wrenching separating out of the young orcas from their family groups and remorseless removal for sale, while forlorn and helpless grandmothers, parents and siblings circle and cry out in fear and longing for their lost family members. From Whidbey Island right into our local Budd Bay, the hunters pursued the orca families to provide whales, ostensibly for so-called research and public education, but really for entertainment and profit for Seaworld-type aquariums and tourist attractions. To me, the worst part of the story was how many of the whales died within months of their captivities, all that pain for nothing, yet lasting for generations of disruption and destruction for the whale families that were torn asunder.

Finally, thanks to a growing wave of awareness of the horrors involved and some valiant work by local heroes and advocates, the hunts were stopped. And true research began. In recent decades we have learned so much more about the nature of orcas, of how they live and what they need to flourish. Fear based in myth has been replaced by awe. These are astonishing beings, indeed.

Now the danger is more insidious: the pollution and other degradations of Puget Sound waters that impact the orcas directly and indirectly as it decimates their food sources. And the intrusive noise of too many ships and whale-watching boats that interfere with whale communication and hunting techniques. And now the uncertainties of climate change that play havoc with ocean currents and water quality, and related issue of the presence of plastic waste in ocean waters. News reports of dying orcas trouble our hearts and minds. The new issues are much less visible than boats bearing down on hapless orcas before our eyes and therefore much more difficult to address. The present drama calls for new solutions.

Still, as Crosscut reporter Mark Leiren-Young writes in his June 24, 2019 posting, “Orcas: Call them by their names,” we can begin with understanding and empathy and galvanize action by acknowledging our sameness, our fellow creatureliness and our growing affection. He notes: “Jane Goodall changed the world by naming the animals she studied. People who had never cared about apes quickly connected with stories about David Greybeard, Flo and Flint.”  The same could be true for orcas. He meticulously names all the southern resident whales now living. (See: https://crosscut.com/2019/06/orcas-call-them-their-names) And then he adds: “One real action we all can take during Orca Action Month is to learn those names — and we can stop waiting six months, as we usually do, to see if newborn orca calves survive and give the latest member of J-Pod a name.” Ominously, Leiren-Young leaves us with the words of whale researcher Alexandra Morton, “If we lose the southern residents, it will be the first extinction where every individual’s name was known.”Let’s use the power of that insight to make a difference for these spectacular beings. It goes without saying that tackling the issues that threaten southern resident orcas will reverberate throughout the web of life and rebound for the good of herons, ducks, cormorants, gulls—and ourselves. Come to think of it, everything has a name even if we don’t yet know it; let’s make every one count, murrelet, orca, salmon…  (photo courtesy Robert Pittman, Wikimedia Commons)

 *Active Pass is a strait of water flowing between two of the southern Gulf Islands, Mayne and Galiano, that empties into Georgia Strait. The Gulf Islands are geographically an extension of the San Juan Islands, but are located in Canadian waters. It is a designated Important Bird Area and is frequented by Orca whales. To see a video of whales in these waters, see:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfyVMWuUQnw. To learn more about birds in these waters, see:  http://www.activepassiba.ca/

Help! We need somebody…

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All the work done for this chapter is by volunteers for whom we are very grateful. There are many opportunities to become more involved with us. If the work is spread out to many, no one is overloaded. Below are some positions that need filling.

Facebook Page Manager: Keeping our presence on FB is important. We need someone to post our events, classes and interesting photos or pieces about NW birdlife. Occasionally we have questions asked of us.

Hospitality Committee: Are you able to occasionally contribute snacks for our monthly speaker series? Help prep the room or welcome visitors? This is a great way to meet members too. We also occasionaly need volunteers to “table” an event. This involves staffing a table with our materials and talking to event attendees about our organization.

Education Committee: Do you enjoy working with youth on field trips, work parties or in the classroom making presentations? We are developing new partnerships with area schools and need more volunteers. We also need help organizing and publicizing our annual classes.

Avian Science Program Participation: There are several monitoring programs in which we participate. Duration and time commitment vary. This is a great way to support research on local bird species as well as honing your birding skills.

Please contact Deb Nickerson at debranick@nullgmail.com if you are interested in any of these volunteer opportunities.

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