News Items

BHAS Unveils Five-Year Strategic Plan

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by Elizabeth Rodrick, Vice President – At our August 2018 Board Retreat, we tackled the sometimes dreaded task of creating a strategic plan for our chapter. One of our members, Ed Adelson, had professionally facilitated strategic planning for groups and generously volunteered to do this for our Board. We are grateful to him for a pleasant and rewarding experience. Much of the following information is from Ed’s summary. We started by brainstorming answers to five broad topics:

Who are we now?
What is our context?
What are our goals?
What are measurable strategies to further these goals?
Where do we go from here?

Who are we now? We believe that our mission statement is still as relevant as ever. “Our mission is to promote environmental education and recreation and to maintain and protect our ecosystems for future generations.” We are mindful of important themes from the National Audubon Strategic Plan: conservation efforts, broad public reach and commitment along with commitment of member participation and networking with other organizations, climate action, focusing on flyways, diverse participation, and use of sound science. Our state annual report provides some mutual priorities as well: building bridges with industry, landowners, and other geographic stakeholders in our communities; collaborating and partnering with other organizations on behalf of birds and wildlife in our region, addressing climate action legislation, and stressing the importance of grass roots efforts. In addition, recognizing who we serve is paramount to this planning effort: our members, the general public, birds, and our natural world.

What is our context? This exercise identified our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Our strengths are conservation work, quality volunteers, flexibility and responsiveness. Weaknesses include lack of diversity, low number of active members, and reactive conservation. Opportunities for improvement are collaboration with other non-profits and outreach to the community. Possible threats to our organization are a shrinking membership, political changes, and technological changes.

What are our goals? Under four major themes we identified several goals to help fulfill our mission.
1. Environmental Education – develop new classes, collaborate with schools, and develop new adult learning opportunities.
2. Recreation and Enrichment – develop a cadre of field trip leaders, increase attendance at program meetings, broaden and increase field trip sites and participation.
3. Protect Ecosystems – reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking actions to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies, protect biological diversity and ecosystem services in our three county area, develop new member activists and expertise, and increase public awareness of political and environmental threats to local habitats.
4. Organizational Concerns – nurture leadership and consider new leadership models, increase outreach to the community and diversity of members, re-establish the Ways and Means Committee, devise a long-term fundraising and investment strategy, improve communications with members and the local community and reduce costs, create a new committee to solicit and coordinate participants for avian science and habitat conservation projects.

Next, the Board delivered these goals to our standing committees and asked them to develop strategies with metrics for success and a timeline that will advance the goals. This will allow us to evaluate our progress and report to the membership on an annual basis. You may view the strategies on our website, Strategic Plan. If you are interested in more information such as the metrics and the point persons responsible for each strategy, please contact Elizabeth Rodrick,

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

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.

Birder Chatter

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When you gather a group of birders together for a field trip that consists of both experienced and beginners, you overhear many comments that out of context sound downright absurd, but in the throes of attempting to identify or even spot a bird, make sense. Really. How does one explain a vocalization or the whereabouts of the sought after? Carla Miller has been recording our comments and would like to share the chuckles she’s had while a part of our forays into the natural world. We have a range of field trips and all are welcome on any of them. Join us and listen to our conversations yourself and see if you don’t find some humor too, along with several new species or bird behaviors.

Hover Mouse Over Photo to Reveal Comments

We used to call that the ‘red-headed Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.’ Didn’t it used to be called that?” – at Capitol Lake

“Best bird we saw here last year was a bear.” – At Darlin Creek

“Is that a duck or a mammal to the right of the alligator?” – From the dock at Millersylvania State Park

“The Olive sided flycatcher has a vest on and says “Quick Three Beers.”” – Along the McClane Creek Nature Trail

“Oh, it does have yellow socks!” – From the dock at Millersylvania State Park

“It’s a yellow rump acting like a flycatcher.” – At Darlin Creek

“Remember when we heard a Pygmy Owl at Woodard Bay?”
“You mean the one that sounds like heavy equipment backing up?” – At Darlin Creek

“I’m getting a Ruby-crowned Kinglet vibe.” – Early morning at Woodard Bay

“Did we lose some people or did they go home?”
“I don’t think we lost them. It’s Melanie, Sarah, and Roberta.”
“Oh, they’re doing mushrooms.” – From the dock at Millersylvania State Park

“So it WASN’T the guy that was singing?”
“That WAS the guy that was singing.”
“So it was the guy that was hopping?”
“It WASN’T the guy that was hopping.” – At Darlin Creek

“We are getting the symphonic effect.”
“Or quadrophonic.” – At Darlin Creek






Review of January Board Meeting

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The Board will continue to fund two scholarships of $400 each for the bird banding training offered by Center for Natural Lands Management. This training has taken place every summer since 2013 in Glacial Heritage Preserve.

Kim Adelson reported on her efforts to apply for grants to fund more bird-watching backpacks which will be donated to Timberland Library branches. Library patrons are able to check these out to use on bird watching outings. One grant has been submitted; three more are possibilities.

Kim and Deb Nickerson have met with an elementary school teacher in the Shelton School District to see how BHAS can assist her with curriculum revolving around a native plant garden and avian studies. This teacher would welcome monthly visits from our volunteers to assist with lessons and garden improvements that would attract birds. The Board sees this as the start of a new Adopt-A-School effort for our organization.

A report was made on the Annual Dinner which is March 2nd at the South Puget Sound Community College. Involved with this was a summary of the survey that was included in our end of year fundraising letter. The most responses were in support of local environmental advocacy. Following that was environmental education and efforts to benefit birds in general.

Nominations for the BHAS Board

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The Nominations Committee (Bruce Jacobs, Elizabeth Rodrick, and Bob Wadsworth) is soliciting candidates for the board of directors. We will present a slate of officers and at-large board members in the May Echo for election at the May 9th program meeting. Duties of Board members include: attending board meetings at 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, September through June; the Annual Dinner on the first Saturday in March; Board Retreat, one day in mid August; BHAS Program meetings on the second Thursday of each month, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. from September through May (optional); and serving on at least one committee (see list in each issue of the Echo). If you would like to serve on the board or wish to nominate someone, please contact Elizabeth Rodrick,, by March 29.

Birding Immersion leads to Conversion

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(by Deb Nickerson) – For someone to self-identify as a “birder”, there is usually a transformative experience involving a particular bird that takes one “over the edge” into the birding world. To witness such a transformation is a beautiful thing. To see it occur in your significant other is even better. For in relationships, it is always beneficial to have a partner who understands our set of quirks, and certain birding behaviors could be regarded as “quirky”, odd, if you will, to many others. But we, in the birding community, do not see ourselves as lying outside any normal ranges of behavioral traits. Indeed, we wish more people would develop our keen observational senses, knowledge of bird vocalizations, and enthusiasm for the avian world.

It is important to have our partners, spouses, family and friends understand why it is acceptable to interrupt a deep conversation while on a walk in the forest with, “Listen! It’s a Pacific Wren. Isn’t it beautiful?” Or, at another time point overhead rapidly to show friends the fast-moving flock of Kinglets moving through the trees. I was late meeting a friend for dinner because a Palm Warbler made a rare appearance at Capitol Lake; another BHAS member was there and shared the delight of actually getting to view it for 15 minutes. I mean, really, what dialogue can’t be halted for sightings or sounds of Crossbills or Cacklers? Birders look outward, around and up but it is not because we are not interested in your waxing on about workplace gossip, ailments, politics or the latest Facebook post; we’d rather hear about Cedar Waxwings. It is because we see birds first; our eyes are distracted by shadows and flits and chirps. Excuse us please.

My partner, John, and I have been dating for about a year and a half after a couple years making the transition from acquaintances to friends. I knew I liked him a lot when he was mesmerized by the display of Vaux Swifts entering the chimney at Chapman School two Septembers ago. (He timed it; it took 38 minutes for all to descend for the night). Since then we have incorporated birding into each of our trips. He has wanted to learn more waterfowl because, as a sailor, he is among them frequently. He built his own boat so is observant, precise, meticulous and, well, particular in his own right about how things should be done. Simply because of these exhibited traits, I knew he could fit into our sub-culture. He just didn’t know it.

For two years we have traveled to northern California in December to find warmth and birds. We were both awestruck by the thousands of waterfowl at Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. And then it happened – last month while walking in a marshy area on the north side of San Pablo Bay, we came across a Say’s Phoebe and that, my friends, was the bird that brought him to our side, playing for our team, succumbing to the pitfalls of star struck staring at a single bird for an hour or more. The Say’s Phoebe lighted on some tall grass and then took off hovering as they do for a bit before diving to pounce on their insect de jour. “It’s acting like a falcon or a tern!” Back and forth it went from stalk to air, striking again and again naïve prey among the grasses. We watched, fascinated. Yes, fascinated.

Two days later found us dining on New Year’s Eve with close friends of his from college days, decades ago. While dining on scrumptious homemade soup and salad, John carried on (and on and on) about the Say’s Phoebe explaining its hunting behavior, tail twitching, and the coloration of his newly discovered species. His friends looked at him askance. He didn’t notice for he was too enthralled in his retelling of our time at the marsh with said bird. They both looked at me, confused, bemused while I, well, I smiled knowingly. “I know,” I said, “you’ve never heard him talk about a bird for so long. He’s come over to the other side you know and become a “birder”. “I’m sorry; it will alter all future times you spend together on the boat each summer. It’s not my fault.” Or is it? Do we share our affection for the feathered without consciously knowing it? We may, but the natural world pronounces its grandeur, and we are sucked into the vortex, never to be the same. John Sherman has been converted and now bows to the birds like we do. Hallelujah!

The Birding Backpack Project

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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.

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