NorthwestBirding 2004

Published on Thu, Apr 15, 2004
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Northwest Birding 2004

The Brant

Last year’s inaugural Washington Brant Festival was a terrific success. The success was measured not so much in terms of dollars and cents as in the number of people that were introduced to one of this area’s truly unique bird species – the Pacific Black Brant, or Brant, as they’re commonly known. One of the primary goals of the festival is to educate more people about Brant and increase their awareness of the delicate balance that exists between the proliferation and decline of this species.

The Brant, is a handsome, distinctive goose. With a wingspan of about 42 inches and a length of 25 inches, they are about the size of the common Mallard. While ninety-five percent of the Brant of Puget Sound are Pacific Black Brant, within their wintering population exists one of the rarest of the world’s geese – the High Arctic Brant. Differences, although subtle, make it relatively easy to tell the two apart.
The current population of Pacific flyway Black Brant is stable at approximately 150,000 birds and the High Arctic Brant, or gray bellies, have declined to an estimated population of less than 10,000. A decline in the number of the High Arctic Brant have raised concerns for the health of this population.

Of all geese, Brant breed farther north than any other species and their breeding grounds cover parts of the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Russia. The coastal tundra of the high Arctic provides Brant with the ideal breeding habitat, and they share these remote, isolated areas with musk oxen, Arctic foxes, and caribou. Brant nest in colonies and a
typical nest is made of grasses, seaweed, and their own down, which is considered among the finest in the world. The down provides insulation from the permafrost.

Brant eggs hatch after an incubation period of about 26 days and, after two days, the young leave the nest and feed almost constantly in the long Arctic summer. The young birds fledge after 40-50 days. As the breeding season draws to a close, Brant from all over the Arctic begin to stage in the fall at Alaska’s Izembek Lagoon in preparation for one of the most spectacular migrations in the bird
world. Almost the entire population of Brant leaves Alaska and flies nonstop to Baja in 50 hours – a distance of almost 3,000 miles!

In early spring, Brant begin to move north, stopping at long-established sites along the way to feed and rest. They seek areas where eelgrass beds are still abundant and undisturbed. Eelgrass and sea lettuce provide the main components of their diet in winter. Brant also depend on the spawning runs of Pacific herring for supplementary protein that enables them to store fat for their long journey. Among birds, Brant are traditionalists and do not adjust well to changes in their routine.
Unfortunately, the preferred habitat of Brant in winter is also very desirable property for developers. Accreted gravel beaches with healthy eelgrass beds are essential to the survival of Brant as they stop to rest and forage prior to heading north to their Arctic breeding grounds.
With their specialized needs, Brant demonstrate the role that humans play in their survival. Brant numbers in the Puget Sound region that reached about 30,000 in the 1970s have declined to less than 6,000 today. The main factors in this dramatic change were the loss of food and the critical habitat that supports them. The Washington Brant Foundation (WBF) was established to ensure the future of Brant in the Puget Sound region. The following are some of the primary goals of the WBF:
• Protecting existing Brant habitat and working toward restoration and creation of additional grit and haul-out areas.
• Limiting threats from pollution, development, and invasive plant species.
• Promoting research to generate information necessary for Brant management.
• Educating future generations to increase the awareness of the important relationship between humans, wildlife, and the environment.

The Second Annual Washington Brant Festival will be held on April 17-18. Various events and activities are planned for several venues ranging from Blaine to Semiahmoo and Birch Bay. Information booths from many local environmental organizations will be in the lobby at the Semiahmoo Resort, along with wildlife art and displays. Viewing stations manned by local birders will be situated at strategic locations from Marine Park to Birch Bay State Park. The highlights of Saturday’s activities will be a wine-tasting social and raffle, followed by the main banquet, featuring a live auction.

For more information on Brant, the festival, and the Washington Brant Foundation, please take time to visit the foundation’s website at

Birds of Whatcom County

Many birdwatchers travel to Whatcom County, especially in winter, to spend time with the amazing birds that many of us take for granted. The variety of habitat in our backyard ranges from the rocky shorelines and estuaries of northern Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait, to parklands, agricultural lands, rivers, lakes, and forests leading up to the glacier-clad slopes of Mt. Baker and the North Cascades. The range of bird species that can be found in Whatcom County is as diverse as the habitat that supports them.

Along the shorelines and in the embankments and estuaries, diving birds, shorebirds and waterfowl that breed in northern latitudes and in the vast inland prairies to the east and northeast, reward the observant birder with many delightful days afield. In the expanse of Drayton Harbor, Semiahmoo Bay, and the open waters of the Georgia Strait, tens of thousands of birds arrive in spring to feast on the annual herring run. In the upland habitats, forests, and open meadows, numerous raptors and passerine species abound. The rich tapestry of bird life in Whatcom County is a highlight for the traveler on the Cascade Loop of the Great Washington State Birding Trail. A list of birds that can be seen in the county would fill several volumes but a sample of some of the more reliable sightings should be enough to get started.

Red-tailed Hawk
Our most common buteo and a year-round resident, the popular Red-tail can be found throughout the county.

Northern Pintail
The most abundant dabbling duck to be found in the county in winter, pintails on Drayton Harbor regularly numbers in the thousands.

Wood Duck
The male in full breeding plumage is considered to be one of the most beautiful ducks in the world. Its numbers have increased in the county due to a concentrated effort to provide nesting boxes in suitable habitats on lakes and ponds.

Common Loon
Some of the most sought-after birds are the loons that winter in our marine habitats. Three species – the Pacific, Red-throated, and Common – can be found in the deep water channels between Blaine and Semiahmoo, and White Rock, B.C. Loons are some of the avian world’s finest divers. The rafts of loons that stage and feed in local waters in mid-April can number in excess of 1,500 individuals. The Common Loon is the most recognizable of the loons that spend the winter here.

Great Blue Heron
The largest of our wading birds is also a favorite of many bird watchers. Large nesting colonies can be found in several parts of the county, with the largest being near Point Roberts and on the Lummi Peninsula. Numerous gatherings take place during low tides around Drayton Harbor.

Black Oystercatcher
An uncommon but rewarding sighting as it prowls offshore rocks and beaches while foraging for food.

Belted Kingfisher
A year-round resident from salt water to inland lakes and ponds, its chattering call is quite distinctive and recognizable.

Hairy Woodpecker
One of our most common woodpeckers, the hairy ranges from the lowlands to the coniferous forests.

Cedar Waxwing
One of the most beautiful birds in our backyards in spring and summer. Widespread throughout the lowlands.

Marsh Wren
Pound for pound, this wren is one of the liveliest singers of the bird world. As its name implies, its preferred habitat is marshy wetlands.

Red-winged Blackbird
The red-wing is perhaps the most numerous of bird species in North America. It is widespread throughout the county in suitable, marshy habitats, often making its nests on cattail stalks.

Some of the best bird watching in Washington state can be found in the fourth corner.
For more information about birds and bird
watching in Whatcom County, visit the website of the North Cascades Audubon Society at or contact the chapter’s Birding Program Coordinator, Joe Meche, at 360/738-0641.

Out & About
at the Brant Festival

Saturday, April 17
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Registration & Information, Art Booth,
Decoy Displays - Semiahmoo Resort

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Viewing stations - Various locations

9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Youth Poster Contest - Blaine Port Building

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Raptor Display from Sardis Wildlife Center
Semiahmoo Resort

11 a.m.
Speaker Ruth Milner, Shorebird
Identification - Semiahmoo Resort

1 p.m.
Speaker Andy Reasoner, DU National Plan
Semiahmoo Resort

3 p.m.
Speaker Terri Martin, Brant of
Georgia Strait
Semiahmoo Resort

4:30 p.m.
Wine Tasting, Art & Carving Display
Semiahmoo Resort

5:30 p.m.
Social, Raffle, Auction Preview
Semiahmoo Resort

7 p.m.
Banquet, Program, Auction
Semiahmoo Resort

Sunday, April 18
9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Viewing Stations - Various locations

11 a.m.
Photographer Joe Meche Slide Presentation
Semiahmoo Resort