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The World of Bird Migration

June 23rd, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Dan Dubie, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

The story of bird migration encompasses the whole world and the incredible journeys that take part on it.  Traveling via flight was mastered by humans just over a hundred years ago but for the avian world, it has been a home for much longer.  This miracle of flight has given birds the ability to inhabit all corners of the world but there is one catch, the seasons.  As we all know in the northern and southern latitudes there are winters when resources are, weather is rough, and temperatures are cold.  On the upside in these same places the summers are warm, lush, and rich with food and space.  The apparentness of resources and food abundance only during the summer has not kept birds from occupying these areas.  Instead it has led to an amazing string of yearly events done my hundreds of species and millions of individuals called migration.  Due to the seasonal abundance of food and space during the northern summers, many species do a type of biannual migration which encompasses moving to northern regions in the summers to breed with the abundance of food and space and then returning back to tropical parts during the winter to wait for the spring journey to start again.


Northern Water Thrush. Photo courtesy of Dan Dubie

Though migration serves a vital role providing needs for breeding and rearing young, it can look different for different types of birds and within different landscapes.  In the high northern parts of our world there is almost exclusively found a common type of migration called complete migration.  This is seen when the breeding range of a bird species is completely different then the range they occupy during the winter.  Needing lower competition than would be found in the tropics and abundant food in order to rear their young, many species have evolved to fly sometimes thousands of miles to find that space and food in northern latitudes. Then due to the lack of food and harshness of a frozen land during the winter they return south where they live in communion with others in close quarters where food is present.  At this point they are not responsible for rearing young and space and competition is not an inherent issue as it is during breeding. Examples of bird types with complete migration include shorebirds, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, some raptors, vultures, cranes and herons, thrushes, pipits, grosbeaks, tanagers, bunting, some sparrows, longspurs, goatsuckers, swallows, orioles, loons, grebes, and many waterfowl.

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2011 Instructor Exchange Eagle Watching

Time Along the Skagit: Eagle Watching With Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors

March 24th, 2017 | Posted by in Adventures

January can be warm on the lower Skagit and this late January Saturday was no exception. As Becky Moore, Alexei Desmarais and I arrived at the Howard Miller Steelhead Park on the Skagit River in Rockport, WA, we looked to see if there were any Bald Eagles present around the river.

As graduate M.Ed. students at North Cascades Institute, we live and study near the headwaters of the Skagit River. We had come to the river this morning to meet a fellow graduate student and along with the US Forest Service, provide an interpretive and educational experience for two unique organizations – Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors. Both organizations mean to bring families and kids to rural areas with open public lands, giving them opportunity to have fun and get outside.

That morning we met to learn about salmon and what they mean to the Skagit River and the animals, plants and humans that live here. We hoped to see Bald Eagles, which spend the winters here feeding on dead salmon which have spawned during the fall and winter. These salmon carcasses provide high energy food for many predators in this ecosystem.

Participants from the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors enjoying the afternoon learning about salmon ecology and the Skagit River watershed. Photo by Daniel Dubie

Having a large number of participants, we split up into four smaller groups, deciding to mix up their time with games and a chance to walk around and enjoy the river. In my group we decided to play a salmon game in which a group of folks are chosen to represent salmon fry which go out in the ocean, grab food, and make their way back to the stream where they were born without getting tagged by other folks who represent dangers such as whales, fisherman, eagles, and bears. We played the game a few times, increasing the numbers of dangers in order to show how hard it really is for a salmon population to sustain itself without a large robust population.

Students have fun while learning about salmon population! Photos by Daniel Dubie

As the day continued, we interpreted salmon and eagle ecology in relation to the Skagit River to our groups and visited the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. I feel that these peaceful and fun experiences here along the river and the land surrounding it, can be instrumental in forming relationships with the lan and our greater world.

Written by Daniel Dubie, avid naturalist and graduate M.Ed. student at North Cascades Institute. 

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Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

June 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

At the Institute, the graduate students of the 15th cohort (C15) have been hard at work this past year teaching Mountain School, assisting in adult programs and visiting non-profits, all while finishing assignments and trying to find some sleep! Every season though, the graduate students leave all that behind to learn from experts in the field and be fully immersed into the wilderness of the North Cascades. Last fall we worked with beavers and hawks. In the winter we dived into snow ecology and wolverines. Just last week, we ventured out on our last natural history retreat where we tracked our natural neighbors, captured native bees and kept up with all of the birds!

Tracking

Our first stop was with author, photographer and educator David Moskowitz. Since the fall we as a cohort had been using his book Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest as our go-to guide on all things tracking. Having a class with the man himself was an experience all its own.

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Using some of our newly acquired tracking skills.

» Continue reading Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

Pacific Wren

Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

November 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

By Rob Rich

I came to the Pacific Northwest for many reasons, but one of them was, well, for the birds. Were those harlequin ducks for real? What was so special about the Pacific wren? And oh, how I longed to see the red-shafted Northern Flicker! These were some of my last thoughts before finally chasing the sun towards the Salish Sea. But since most birds don’t migrate from East to West, I knew I’d need a guide to set me straight.

Thankfully, I’d planned North Cascades Institute’s Spring Birding to be my first stop upon arrival. That’s right, I signed up from 3,000 miles away, tossed out my moving boxes in Bellingham and settled first things first: learning birds in the field with Libby Mills.

If you too feel like a lost goose at times, do not fear. Spring Birding is back, as are a host of other older Institute favorites – and some new ones that look out of this world. Literally. Where else but North Cascades Institute can you take a class that is astronomically synchronized for the nighttime awe of photographers? And where else can you hang out with snake experts, or decipher the clues of wildlife tracks in our precious winterscapes? As always, the great unveiling of the Institute’s January-June courses will expose natural curiosities you never knew you had. Experienced and emerging naturalists alike will both be forced to reckon with a growing list of reasons why the North Cascades are where it’s at.

Night photo

» Continue reading Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

2015 Classes & Family Getaways, Holiday Gift Certificates

December 1st, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

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North Cascades Institute is excited to announce new Winter and Spring Field Excursions just posted to our website and open for registration:

Dec 6: Salmon and Eagles of the Skagit with Libby Mills
Jan 17: Salmon on the Nooksack with Brady Green
Feb 8: Birding Blaine, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo with Joe Meche
Feb 21: Birding the Greater Skagit Delta with Libby Mills
Feb 22: Winter Tracking Snowshoe Excursion with David Moskowitz
April 3: Ross Lake: Exploring the Draw Down by Canoe with John Reidel

Class descriptions, pricing and registration at www.ncascades.org/get_outside or (360) 854-2599.

We’ve also posted and opened for registration Family Getaways 2015, earlier than ever before! Plan ahead and choose your weekend for an epic family adventure at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake in the heart of North Cascades National Park.

July 3-5, 2015 July 17-19, 2015 | July 24-26, 2015 August 14-16, 2015 | August 28-30, 2015 

Information and registration at www.ncascades.org/family.

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Tis the season! Once again we are offering our annual Extended Value holiday gift certificate promotion, where you can purchase $100 value towards 2015 Institute programs for only $80! Purchase before Dec. 22 and we’ll include a package of our blank note cards featuring art from Molly Hashimoto, John Cole and other Northwest artists. It’s okay to gift yourself and there is no limit on how many gift certificates you can buy!

Purchase by calling (360) 854-2599 or emailing nci@ncascades.org.

murrelet andrew reding

Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet in the North Cascades

November 15th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Maria Mudd Ruth

Maria Mudd Ruth presents from her book Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet at Village Books in Bellingham at 4 pm on Sunday, November 17, as part of our Nature of Writing Fall 2013 series.

William Leon Dawson (1873-1928), a well-respected naturalist, egg collector, and author was hot on the trail of the murrelet’s nest at the turn of the 19th century and wrote about his pursuits in his charming and authoritative book, The Birds of Washington, published in 1909.

Dawson was inclined to dismiss the Quileute Indian stories he had heard about murrelets nesting in trees in the Olympic Mountains, but that changed one morning when he was camping at Glacier “…on the North Fork of the Nooksak River, and near the foot of Mount Baker, having risen before daybreak for an early bird walk, on the morning of May 11, 1905, I heard voices form an invisible party of marbled murrelets high in the air as they proceeded down the valley, as tho to repair to the sea for the day’s fishing.” (Birds of Washington, p. 921-922)

Glacier is 24 miles inland from the nearest salt water. Dawson, like most naturalists and ornithologists at the time, could not accept the idea that a web-footed seabird would nest in trees in the forest–not to mention so far inland. Other birds in the alcid family to which murrelets belong nested on rocky cliffs, offshore islets, in burrows in coastal bluffs–not in the forest.

This inland sighting at Glacier, however, allowed Dawson to be open to the possibility of a forest-nesting seabird. Following his sightings at Glacier, Dawson documented sightings of murrelets in California alone and with Joseph Grinnell in the 1920s. Both these men documented their sightings and thereby left a paper trail that eventually lead to the first nest discovery  in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974.

 

fledgling (tom hamer)A young murrelet about to fledge near the Snohomish River in western Washington. Photo by Tom Hamer.

In 1989, wildlife ecologist Tom Hamer was camping in Dawson’s stomping grounds in the North Cascades. Hamer had just finished nine years of spotted-owl research and was ready for a change. When he heard about a “strange creature” called the marbled murrelet, he wanted to see one. He joined some colleagues on a camping trip in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest along the South Fork of the Nooksack River. On his first morning, he heard and saw birds flying up the river drainage. A year later, he was surveying murrelets in the forest here and, using his own invented strategy for finding murrelet nests, found first marbled murrelet nest in Washington.

With his characteristic enthusiasm, energy, and brilliance, Tom Hamer began collaborating with other biologists in the 1990s to develop nest-finding strategies so the breeding habits of the murrelet could be understood. Through the Pacific Seabird Group and now through his own consulting firm, Hamer Environmental (based Mt. Vernon WA), Hamer’s contribution to murrelet research is major, critical, and highly respected in the scientific community.

 

Excerpts from Maria Mudd Ruth’s Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet (Reprinted by The Mountaineers Books, 2013), courtesy of the author.

Leading photo: ancient murrelet flicking tail up as it prepares to dive deep at the intersection of Bellingham and Guemes Channels near Anacortes.  © 2013 Andrew A Reding.

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Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Upcoming events:

North Cascades Institute’s Birds of Bellingham Bay outing on the Snow Goose; Oct. 5, 8 am-5 pm, $125. Info and registration at ncascades.org or (360) 854-2599

Sarah Swanson and Max Smith presentation at Village Books in Bellingham; Oct 2, 7 pm, free. Info at villagebooks.com

Sarah Swanson and Max Smith, passionate birders living in Portland, have created a fantastic new natural history guidebook with Timber Press called Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest. Unlike other guides, Must-See Birds doesn’t attempt to describe every winged creature in our region but instead hones in on 85 species that provide a rich cross-section of the avian riches unique to Washington and Orgeon. Divided in to sections like “Beach Birds,” “Big Birds,” “Tree Trunk Birds” and “Urban Birds,” their tome tells the stories of each species, illustrated by sumptuous photographs and, most helpful, where to find them. It closes with eight distinct weekend birding trip itineraries, including “Nesting Season on the Central Oregon Coast,” “The Canyon Country of Central Washington” and “The Salish Sea in Winter.”

Swanson and Smith will bring their book to life when they join local bird authority Joe Meche to lead a day-long “Avifauna Afloat” exploration of Bellingham Bay aboard the Snow Goose with North Cascades Institute on October 5. We talked with them about Must-See Birds ahead of their visit.

Christian Martin:  How did you determine what birds in the Northwest are “must see”?

Sarah Swanson: The 85 birds in the book are ones that should excite birders and ones that they should be able to find and identify without too much trouble. We included species with interesting plumage and behavior and excluded ones that are too rare (Snowy Owl) or hard to identify for beginners (Pacific-slope Flycatcher).

CM: What is the larger goal of creating this guide?

SS: We want to get more people out birding and to help them expand their birding horizons geographically and taxonomically. The more that people enjoy birds and birding, the more they will do what they can to help protect birds and their habitats.

CM: What is unique about birds in our region?

» Continue reading Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest