Tuesday, October 9 ; 7:00 Social; 7:30 Program Padilla Bay Interpretive Center 10441 Bayview-Edison Road Mt. Vernon, Washington
Bonaparte’s Gull is in steep decline.
The mission of the Salish Sea Institute is to foster responsible stewardship of the Salish Sea, inspiring and informing its protection for the benefit of current and future generations. One important facet of the Institute is the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. An assembly of scientists, First Nations and tribal government representatives, community and business leaders and many more share the latest scientific research, and plan future actions for protecting and restoring the Salish Sea ecosystem. Policies are developed to preserve the health of the Sea. For instance, 12 marine bird species have lost more than 60% of their population between 1979 and 2005, according to WWU’s John Bower.
The Shannon Point Marine Center and Redfish School are also part of the Institute. Redfish is designed for people who want to lead the way in creating ecological sustainability and social equity in their communities. Ginny Broadhurst was the Executive Director of the Northwest Straits Commission for 10 years.
Conservation Report, October 2018
By Tim Manns
Our Public Lands
Fifty years ago, at a time of political turmoil in the U.S. and other countries, during the Vietnam War, one bright day stands out as unusually important for the conservation of nature and wild places in the U.S. and in our state. On Oct. 2, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed one significant bill after another. 684,000 acres of public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service transferred that day to the National Park Service and were re-designated as North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas (parts of the first two in Skagit County). The same bill established the Pasayten Wilderness, re-designating over half a million acres of beautiful, wild country east of Ross Lake along the border with Canada, and expanded the Glacier Peak Wilderness, south of the North Cascades Highway.
That same day, President Johnson signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act creating the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” In Washington that system includes parts of the Skagit River and sections of its major tributaries: the Cascade, Sauk, and Suiattle Rivers and the more recently protected Illabot Creek in Skagit County.
Oct. 2, 1968, was also the signing date of the National Trails System Act, calling for establishing trails in both urban and rural areas, "to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation." This act immediately created two national scenic trails: the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through very eastern Skagit County. The Pacific Northwest Trail, from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Coast in Olympic National Park and passing through our county, was designated the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail by Congress in 2009.
I hope you’ve visited Redwoods National Park in California, home to the world’s tallest trees. President Johnson signed the bill adding that area to the National Park System on, yes, Oct. 2, 1968, in the centennial year of the Save the Redwoods League and at a moment when 90% of the ancient redwoods had been logged.
So, 2018 is a great year for conservation anniversaries and for some associated ironies too. The most important act protecting birds in the U.S., the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which President Woodrow Wilson signed July 3rd of that year, under the present administration faces its most significant weakening ever (www.audubon.org/takeaction).
For many of us, the fact that Skagit County has a national park, several wilderness areas, nationally designated rivers and trails, not to mention fine state, county, and local parks, is a point a pride, a reason we live here. These are places we go for rejuvenation; these are the places we show to visiting friends and relatives. These are places we protect so that other species can survive. Yet, listen closely to what our top elected county officials and some of our state elected officials representing Skagit County say about public lands, particularly national public lands, the ones that belong to all Americans, and you would see they think differently. Imagine regarding designated wilderness areas and national parks as just so many foregone opportunities to log, mine, and otherwise generate private profits and revenues for local use. National public lands are the common heritage of all Americans. They bind us together. They belong equally to the child in Newark, New Jersey, and to a Skagit County Commissioner. There are those among us who hold that there should be no publicly owned land, and there are those who believe that county officials should have the final say in how national public lands are managed simply because they live closest to them. That does not honor the spirit behind the body of bipartisan legislation establishing and protecting our public lands now for many decades, in some cases more than a century. Earlier this year, citizens of Skagit County through persistence and public communication caused our County Commissioners to end a long-standing relationship with a Washington, D.C. lobbyist. He advocates for the legally unsupported notion of “county supremacy” over national public land (remember the Malheur armed occupation), for the dissolution of national monuments, and for many other actions long sought by people opposed to public lands and for privatization of the same. This November’s ballot gives us the opportunity to do something about this from the county level on up. Please be sure to vote. Present and future generations of people and wildlife are depending on us.
Audubon Day of Climate Action
On Saturday, October 20th Audubon Washington be supporting local chapters in getting out into their communities, knocking on some doors, and encouraging their neighbors to support I-1631, the Clean Air, Clean Energy initiative. Audubon be partnering with our allies on the I-1631 campaign to make sure your chapter members have everything they need to be prepared and be confident in this action. Go to this link if you want to help, Audubon Day of Climate.
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
From your Editor
Sometimes the best birding surprises are in your own backyard. Recently I was drawn outside in the early evening because some chickadees were visibly upset and a couple of song sparrows, who never harass anyone, were chirping in distress while hidden in some thick conifer bushes. After a few minutes of searching, I discovered the source of the alarms. A Northern Pygmy Owl had caught and killed a black-capped chickadee and was preparing to eat dinner.
The little owl has been here before. The habitat on our property consists of a salmon-spawning creek, mixed deciduous and conifer woods, mixed brush and berries, pasture, lawn and garden. Bird feeders hang from trees close to the house and it was here the little owl caught dinner. Size can be deceiving with these little guys because while songbirds, insects, small rodents and small mammals make up the majority of their diet, they have been known to attack much larger prey such as California Quail!
These owls actively hunt during the day and therefore rely more on vision rather than hearing. Notably they lack the asymmetrically placed ears as well as flattened facial discs around the eyes. Both of these traits are adaptions for better hearing when owls are hunting at night. Northern Pygmy Owls are cavity nesters but they do not dig their own cavities. Instead, they depend upon rotten snags or abandoned woodpecker holes, and we have quite a few of both on our property, so perhaps this little owl has raised a family somewhere close by.
MIGRATION TOOLS FROM THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY
It’s not too late to join the teams of observers doing the Puget Sound Seabird Survey (www.seabirdsurvey.org), which starts Saturday, Oct. 6th. For a few hours the first Saturday of each month through April, participants will note the seabirds at one or more of 10 sites along Skagit County’s shoreline. Over the years, this survey will document the status and trends of seabird populations and thereby help understand the environmental condition of the Salish Sea.
Black-backed Woodpecker, by Thomas Bancroft
A persistent “Kyik, Kyik, Kyik, Kyik, ...” filled the ponderosa pine forest and muffled incessant begging of nestlings in a nearby dead snag. An adult Black-backed Woodpecker was agitated even though I was 200 feet down the road from the nest. A scouting party had found this nesting pair along the road in Conboy National Wildlife Refuge. Many people over the last several days had had a chance to add this enigmatic woodpecker to their list. I was stopping one last time on this June day to listen to these babies let their parents know that they were still hungry. Their calls seemed to stir something deep within me that filled me with strength for the five-hour drive back to Seattle.
Earlier this morning, I had brought four birders to see this elusive species. Black-backed Woodpeckers respond to forest fires, moving into recently burned areas where they stay for a few years before shifting to another. They feed on the larva of beetles that bore into the coniferous trees to feed on the cambium layer under the bark. Their dark black backs, wings, and bodies allow these woodpeckers to disappear against the charred trunks. Ponderosa pine forests are fire-dependent, and this forest looked like a low-intensity burn had occurred several years ago; most of the trees were vigorously growing, and the understory was alive with new growth. The pair had built their nest cavity in a leaning snag, and the entrance was on the backside of the tree, just out of sight, maybe 15 to 20 feet up. When we stopped by early this morning, the male woodpecker was thirty feet up in a live ponderosa pine just hanging on the trunk by his three toes. Every minute or two, he would drum on the tree as if to tell the world that this was his place, and he was happy. The young were calling not a hundred feet from him, but he seemed to have no concern with what they were saying. The female came in once during our half-hour stay. When she fed the nestlings, they chattered even more.
As I stood along the road at Conboy, the male drummed a few times, and the babies called even louder. He was back in the woods and out of my sight. Ponderosa pine forests do best if a fire happens every decade or two. The trees and understory vegetation prospers, and the forest then supports birds like the Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows, Gray Flycatchers, and White-headed Woodpeckers. Humans, though, naturally become fearful of fire because their homes and structures now dot these fire-dependent ecosystems. Fire suppression has caused many forests to become thick, and when fires do come, they often kill trees that would have survived a more regular fire frequency.
The area near the Aiken Lava Flow had many dead grand firs. These trees were several feet in diameter and must have been two hundred years old. The intense fire was too much for them, most were dead. Climate change will only aggravate the situation. Managers at Conboy seem to be keeping fire in their forest, and the Forest Service is working to reintroduce fire into the national forests where years of suppression has allowed fuel loads to build high. Persistence and perseverance will be essential, and we need to provide the moral and financial support to land managers to maintain this new paradigm.
For members receiving a paper copy of The Skagit Flyer, the mailing label includes your membership expiration date in the upper right corner. If that date is highlighted in orange it is a reminder that your membership is about to or has expired. All other members will receive an email notice when their membership is about to expire. The Skagit Flyer is published monthly from Sept. through June. Unsolicited material for the next month’s Flyer should be sent to the editor by the third Sat. of the current month. We reserve the right to edit. For questions or problems about your Skagit Flyer subscription, contact membership chair:
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.