By Tim Manns
A far wiser and more articulate friend - Fred Hodge - dropped by Wiley Slough for Skagit Audubon’s October 9th Big Sit and came away with this observation:
“In my opinion spotting birds is important because it tends to aggregate like-minded individuals who recognize the precarious condition of the environment. Birds become a catalyst to help focus attention on today's adverse conditions in order to help devise ways to combat them… Just my $.02 worth.”
Thank you, Fred, for so succinctly describing what Audubon has been about since its founding in 1905 – conservation advocacy based on a shared interest in birds and their environmental needs.
This is the season when birds that winter here arrive from their northern breeding areas reminding us how seabirds, waterfowl, raptors, and shorebirds tightly link where we live to the much further north. Think of Dunlin breeding on the Arctic Coastal Plain, Trumpeter Swans on the ponds of inland Alaska and western Canada, Tundra Swans still further north, Rough-legged Hawks and Gyrfalcons nesting on ledges overlooking far northern rivers, Red-throated Loons raising their young along the treeless edge of Alaska and Canada, Snow Geese among polar bears on the Russian Arctic’s Wrangel Island. Oil and gas development periodically threaten the pristine quality of these areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek Lagoon between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea with the largest eel grass meadow in the western U.S. (Padilla Bay being second), another National Wildlife Refuge essential to many aquatic birds, is subject to the long-running threat of a road being constructed right through it. And then there is the overarching threat of a climate warming much faster in these far northern places than where we live.
Have a look around the “How to Help” section of National Audubon’s website (https://www.audubon.org) and in “Get Involved” and “Conservation” on the Audubon Washington site (https://wa.audubon.org) to find many ways to go from an interest in birds to taking steps to protect the environment upon which they, and we, depend.
Here on the local front, the possibility that our County Commissioners will allow developers to construct so-called Fully Contained Communities is a very serious threat to Skagit bird habitat, including agricultural fields, forests, and undeveloped land. See the previous two Conservation Reports for information or go to https://rightgrowthrightplace.org.
On a positive local note, Skagit Land Trust has made great progress cleaning up the area many of you helped purchase this year at the entrance to Samish Island. See the Trust’s website for how to access the adjacent land on Samish Island purchased earlier where there’s now a forest trail and a route to the Padilla Bay shore. (https://www.skagitlandtrust.org/properties/samishislandca.aspx).
In July 2016 and April 2020 Skagit Audubon commented to the Washington Department of Ecology on the clean-up of the Whitmarsh toxic waste dump. This long-closed dump sits between the March Point heronry and Padilla Bay. Permitting for the clean-up is complicated and presently in process with some preparatory work being done. You may have noticed that most vegetation has now been cleared from the site. The contractor is preparing a management plan to address how the clean-up will proceed in a way that won’t jeopardize the March Point heronry, largest in the western U.S. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will review the plan. Actual clean-up and capping of the dump will begin in 2023 at the earliest. Skagit Land Trust, owner of most of the heronry, and the local heron monitoring group are keeping a close eye.
For information on issues Skagit Audubon is tracking go to “Conservation Notes” under the “Conservation” tab on the chapter’s website (www.skagitaudubon.org). Photo credit: Lapland Longspur (Fir Island Farm Reserve-Hayton) by Mary Sinker