[Tweeters] wetland question

Wayne Weber contopus at telus.net
Thu Sep 25 11:22:53 PDT 2008

Gary (and Tweeters)

It seems to me that you're looking at this from a birder's point of view--
not a biologist's point of view. I'm sure that WSDOT sees its main
responsibility as providing useful habitat (especially breeding/wintering
habitat) for birds (and other critters)-- not providing recreation for
birders. WDFW, which I'm sure has a role in planning these wetlands,
probably sees it that way as well. In fact, I'm sure that the laws requiring
mitigation wetlands are worded in that way.

When you complain that cattail marshes are a habitat type that "we already
have in abundance", you are absolutely wrong. On a continent-wide basis. I'm
sure that 70% to 80% of the original cattail marshes have been lost to
drainage and development. The same is undoubtedly true for the state of
Washington. Cattail marshes (and those featuring bulrushes or other emergent
vegetation) are among the most productive habitats on the planet and are key
habitat for waterfowl and many other species.

As for shorebirds-- in western Washington, very few shorebirds rely on
shallow freshwater ponds as migration habitat, and those that use them, do
so for only a few days a year. The vast majority of migrating shorebirds use
intertidal marine habitats, not freshwater habitats. If all the shallow
ponds in western Washington somehow disappeared, it would probably make
little difference to shorebirds, because they would either use the marine
areas, or fly a bit farther and use freshwater ponds in Oregon or elsewhere.
Shorebirds are strong-flying, long-distance migrants, and in our area, their
use of shallow ponds seems to be opportunistic-- fine if they are there, but
no great problem if they're not there. In addition, hardly any shorebirds
breed in such habitats-- just Killdeer (which don't even need water) and
Spotted Sandpipers.

I would NOT apply the same argument to eastern Washington, where we have
several additional breeding shorebird species (e.g. avocets, stilts,
Wilson's Phalaropes), and no marine habitats for migrants to use if the
shallow ponds weren't there. Nor would this argument apply to the Great
Plains, which have breeding Willets, Marbled Godwits, etc., and huge number
of migrant shorebirds.

Getting back to cattail marshes-- I would suspect that the best ones are
those that have some areas of open water, which would also provide some mud
in late summer when water levels are usually low. If some of the mitigation
wetlands are solid cattails, I agree that the water levels need to be
managed to provide some open water, which should also provide some shorebird
habitat in the fall.

Yes, it would be nice to have at least a couple of areas of shallow seasonal
ponds that are managed at least partly to provide habitat for migrating
shorebirds. We do have a couple of such areas near Vancouver-- e.g. the
Reifel Bird Sanctuary, where a couple of enclosures are managed at least
partly to provide mud for migrating shorebirds (even though it's mainly a
waterfowl refuge, and a huge part of it is dominated by cattails!) However,
as a bird biologist, I can see why the majority of mitigation wetlands are
managed for cattails and other emergent vegetation, and I would have to
agree that this is the way they should be managed.

Wayne C. Weber
Delta, BC
contopus at telus.net

-----Original Message-----
From: tweeters-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu
[mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Gary
Sent: September-22-08 5:01 PM
To: tweeters tweeters
Subject: [Tweeters] wetland question (long)

Dear Tweeters,

Gene Hunn's post about a pond that looked like a mitigation wetland prompts
me to write.

There is a wetland just outside Burlington (Skagit County) that has
tremendous potential for birds. Unfortunately, WSDoT seems blissfully
unaware of what makes for a good wetland, from a bird's or a birder's

Many of the mitigation ponds in Skagit County end up as cattail-choked areas
that host a few ducks in the breeding season, maybe a Virginia Rail or two
in winter, along with a few Marsh Wrens and Red-winged Blackbirds. This is
nice in its way, but is a habitat type that we already have in abundance.

What we don't have much of are shallow, seasonal ponds that attract
shorebirds. Even harder to find are such ponds where birders are welcomed,
or even allowed, to park a car and look at the birds. Sometimes these
ephemeral wetlands appear for a year or two, only to be altered. Sometimes
they remain, but access is made difficult.

The wetland in question is on the north side of McCorquedale Road, just west
of Sims Honda and just west of Burlington city limits. A few of us in
Skagit County kept our eyes on it in July and August. We started calling it
the McCorquedale Wetland. It's really part of the long, sinuous creek known
as Gage's Slough, which connects to Gage's Lake just to the north (visible
from Pulver Road). I believe the water drains into the Skagit via a pumping
station just south of here, near the dike.

All during July and much of August, there was an astounding variety of birds
there. Some of these included:

Wood Ducks;
several teal species including BWTE,
visiting raptors, including Merlin and Peregrine;
Killdeer, sometimes dozens at a time;
Semipalmated Plover;
breeding Spotted Sandpiper;
both Yellowlegs;
dozens of Long-billed Dowitchers;
all three peeps, in flocks of hundreds sometimes;
Pectoral Sandpipers in July and early August;
Red-necked Phalaropes.

I became aware of the place last November, but only birded it once or twice.
It was basically a duck pond in winter. In July, a friend reminded me to go
check on the place, and I did; the birding was fantastic.

Unfortunately, there are some Department of Transportation "no trespassing"
signs nearby. To tell the truth, the angled placement of the signs is
confusing--I really don't know if they apply to the huge pullout where I
have been parking, or to the land to the east of there.

A few weeks ago, the WSDoT started working on the place again, although
right now would have been prime time for Pectorals, Sharp-tails, and who
knows what else. Heavy equipment has flattened the place and left just a
rather sterile-looking rivulet flowing through the middle of the wetland.
Only a few common birds such as Killdeer, American Crows, and Eurasian
Starlings appear to be using the wetland now, because of the removal of
vegetation and the continuing disturbance.

So here's the question: is there any history of WSDoT working up a
mitigation wetland that birders might be able to visit? Might the agency be
brought to understand that there are a lot of gas-buying, latte-purchasing
birders who might visit here, spend some money, and in return ask only for a
half-hour to park and look? Might the agency be made to realize that not
everyone wants another cattail marsh?

Thanks for any ideas!

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch   Near Lyman, Washington (Skagit County), USA  
garybletsch at yahoo.com    

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