All Skagit Audubon Society events (meetings, field trips, hikes and education events) are canceled until further notice due to the risks associated with the new coronavirus. We will update this notice and resume activities when the government health authorities say that it is safe to do so.
Conservation Report - May 2020
By Tim Manns
At this writing, Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22nd is a few days away. The first Earth Day marked the awakening of many people to environmental degradation and the threat it poses to all living things, people included. A half century later, politics around environmental protection vividly reveal the fragility of many long-standing environmental regulations. It still seems beyond the grasp of many people that protecting the planet is in human’s self-interest as well as simply the right thing to do.
Environmental protection became law in the 1970’s because enough people demanded it. The organized power of individual voices can win the day now too. In 1970, the U.S. population was 203 million. Today there are 330 million of us, and world population has more than doubled from 3.7 billion to about 7.8. Making room for people has meant huge habitat loss for other inhabitants of this shared, finite planet and a stunning decrease in natural abundance. We humans are innately attuned to a shifting baseline of what’s normal and natural, taking what we experience as the way it’s always been. We can only read about how incredibly abundant wildlife was in North America long ago; in our hearts we can’t truly miss what we never knew. What we can do is acknowledge that what natural abundance and diversity remain must not be taken for granted, and we can and must act to protect and restore habitats and species. The clouds of Snow Geese and ducks, great flocks of swans, and many hundreds of Great Blue Herons in the March Point Heronry: these are among the few examples around us of a once much greater and wider abundance. Changes in climate and land use are among the causes of the concentrations of birds we see. Other human-induced changes, or failures to act, could as readily end this remaining abundance.
A case in point: Some months ago the Skagit County Planning Commission voted against recommending that the County Commissioners amend code to better protect heronries. A principal argument was that herons are common, need no protection, and can readily find other nesting areas if March Point were abandoned. Skagit Audubon and other conservation organizations need to continually and energetically counter such shortsightedness and blindness to the arc of wildlife loss all over the planet. We can never assume that conditions as they are today will continue. It is urgent now, and always will be, to counter the roll-back of environmental protections and to expand protection as quickly as possible in the face of climate change and human population growth.
In April, Skagit Audubon joined Skagit Land Trust and many of you in urging the Department of Ecology (DOE) to be much more deliberative in approaching the important cleanup of the old March Point Landfill. Many toxins polluting Padilla Bay were dumped here from 1950 to 1973. The March Point Heronry, whose over 650 nests make it the largest in the western U.S., lies directly across the road. If DOE is not sufficiently careful in the cleanup work the birds could abandon the heronry even with chicks in the nests. The Planning Commission’s notion that herons can simply move elsewhere is fantasy. Sometime in the months ahead, Skagit County’ three Commissioners will meet to ponder the Planning Commission’s “do nothing” recommendation. Two votes will decide whether the largest heronry in the western U.S. gets serious protection. We’ll try to alert you when the decision point is nearing so you can let the Commissioners know how you feel. Let’s not risk losing this reminder of America’s once much greater natural abundance. For other issues Skagit Audubon is tracking go to Conservation Notes on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/). To regularly receive these monthly notes and alerts on local issues, contact Tim Manns (email@example.com).
FROM YOUR EDITOR, by Mary Sinker
When I last wrote this column, America was shutting down in response to the COVID-19 virus. One month later, we’ve learned the importance of resources, or the lack thereof, and how our families and communities are affected by responsive efforts. As birders we’re disappointed by the cancellation of spring birding festivals but thankful that the resources of the National Wildlife Refuge System are in place to serve the thousands of migratory birds passing through Washington.
The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), at more than 1 million acres of wetlands, located on 356 refuges and 3,000 waterfowl production areas throughout all 50 states, is a huge resource for migratory birds. The NWRS was established for the purpose of conserving migratory birds, and where appropriate restoration of native species dependent upon lands within the refuge system. As a result, most activities allowed on NWRS lands must be consistent with these purposes and some refuge lands are off-limits or have limited access to the general public. Of these 356 refuges, more than 200 were established specifically to provide breeding or wintering habitat for migratory birds. Every US state has at least one refuge and Washington State is home to 21 refuges. Although each refuge has its unique characteristics, they all share a common and interconnecting theme – the conservation of migratory birds. Some of the jewels of the NWRS system are located right here in Western Washington.
One of the world’s longest sand spits is found at Dungeness NWR. The spit protects the nutrient-rich tideflats for spring and fall migrants and the bay for wintering waterfowl. The small, fragile wilderness islands of San Juan NWR host about 80% of the breeding pairs of Black Oystercatchers in the Salish Sea region. Approx. 800 offshore rocks, reefs, and islands located within and adjoining Flattery RocksNWR provide critical nesting habitat for most of Washington’s seabirds, including Tufted Puffins, and more than 1 million seabirds utilize the refuge during spring and fall migration. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually NWR is home to over 200 species of birds that depend upon the restored estuary for resting and feeding during migration or breeding and raising their young. Grays Harbor NWR encompasses about 1,500 acres of intertidal mudflats, salt marsh, and uplands. From late April to early May hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, including most of the world’s population of Western Sandpipers, rest and feed here on their journey to Alaska and Arctic summer breeding grounds.
In the decades since the National Wildlife Refuge System was formed, these resources are even more precious today in the face of increased demand and pressure for resource extraction – think oil drilling in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The NWRS lands belong to all of us – even if they are off-limits or restrict public access - and as birders and individuals concerned about conservation, we must ensure these resources are available for generations to come. For more information about these and other refuges, the birds that depend upon them, and public access or restrictions, please visit www.fws.gov/refuges/index.html.
BACKYARD BIRDS, by Mary Sinker
I’m not shy to admit that, as a group, Sparrows can be difficult to identify. Often varying shades of brown, with or without stripes and other distinguishing markings, it can be tough to sort them out. Enter the White-crowned Sparrow who stands out, dressed as he is in his smart black-and-white crown (both sexes have the back-and-white crown). These sparrows are common winter birds from Sept.-April throughout North American yards and parks, and are easily attracted to feeders serving sunflower seeds. They also eat a wide variety of insects, including caterpillars, beetles and wasps as well as some fruits.
Most White-crowned Sparrows breed in open or scrubby habitats, tundra, alpine meadows or forest edges where bare ground and grasses are present in abundance. Nests are placed from 1 to 10 ft. high up in shrubs and in the Arctic they nest right on the ground, the nest hidden among the moss and lichens on the tundra. These long-distance migrants don’t waste time when they arrive on their breeding grounds. They pair up quickly and have 1-3 broods with 3-7 eggs in each brood. After raising their young, the pairs break up and winter separately; however, about 2/3 of the pairs will reunite the following season if both members of the pair return to the same breeding area. Photo of White-crowned Sparrow by Mary Sinker. More info: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-crowned_Sparrow/id.
HIKES by Joan Melcher
Due to the rapidly evolving situation with the COVID-19 virus, the hiking section will return when government and public health officials have determined that group activities are safe to resume.
The Education Committee needs volunteers to help with a number of adult presentations coming up in the next several months. These Power Point presentations are scheduled at libraries and private organizations/clubs in the area. If you can help give part of a presentation (already written), that would be great; or, you can assist with the computer and help answer questions from the audience. If you can lend a hand, please contact Sheila at firstname.lastname@example.org
Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center(Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.
The board of directors meets at the same location at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, except for the months of July and August.