[Tweeters] Changes (not good for birding) at Hawks Prairie Settling Ponds (HPP)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Fri Sep 22 20:11:26 PDT 2017

Hi folks,

When we moved to the South Sound in 2014, I spent the majority of my initial birding time at the Hawks Prairie Settling Ponds (eBird's terminology - they are part of Lacey's LOTT water agency - and the ponds are part of an aquifer recharge project). Since 2014, I've birded the location probably 200 times, with a bit over a third of those visits resulting in eBird checklist submissions, and my personal species list for the location is 107 - a number that surpassed my expectations from first seeing the area.

Unfortunately, the prospects of adding more species to the location's list has taken a couple significant hits recently, and for those that don't get down this way frequently, I thought an update of the changes might be of interest.

Previously, there was a large open field to the north of the complex - it was one of the few meadows in this area that was not overrun with Scotch Broom. As a result, it added to the bird species here - the reason my location list includes California Quail, American Kestrel and Northern Harrier. Each spring it hosted many breeding Savannah Sparrows, and Chipping Sparrows sang along the woods edge to the west of the meadow. That west woodlot, mostly conifers, was a nice patch of relatively undisturbed forest and marsh between the meadow and Marvin Road, and was one of two places (the other being the woodlot that is actually part of the complex just to the right of the Hogum Bay Road parking lot entrance) where I found families of Great Horned Owls in two separate years.

The large meadow is in an area that is designated for industrial development - specifically distribution centers - so it was apparent that at some point development would happen, but that doesn't make it any easier to see. Last year, a for sale sign showed up along Hogum Bay Road at a woods road leading back to the meadow. Then earlier this year, some soil sampling was done. Over the last couple of months, the fate of the meadow, and a significant piece of the west woodlot has become apparent. The meadow has been cleared and flattened, almost all the vegetation has disappeared in the process, a big chunk of the west woodlot has been logged and two more access roads - one each from Marvin and Hogum Bay Roads - are being constructed. Both new roads run through the part of the woods where I found the Great Horned Owl families. The city began a major expansion project on Hogum Bay Road earlier this year to service some existing distribution centers along Marvin and Hogum Bay Roads (Trader Joe's, Target, and Medline are the major ones) and general growth in the area, including new DC's. I imagine the former meadow area will host one or more major DC's as well at some point soon. Even though I knew this was inevitable, I was hoping it was further away in time, as there are some spec DC's already built in the area that are standing empty.

Of course, with the increasing population in this area, there will always be more development. And ironically, HPP wouldn't be the wonderful birding location it has been if development in the area hadn't created the need for water treatment (thus the ponds).

Other issues at HPP are related to the weather. Two hot and dry summers (this one of course in particular) have resulted in a lot of trees dying at HPP. The row of conifers between the two main east and west ponds is about 50% dead or dying, as are a smattering of conifers in the two woodlots. The LOTT personnel typically cut down dead trees pretty quickly for safety reasons, so it's unlikely the dead trees will be useful for woodpeckers. Even a few of the smaller Garry Oaks, which are supposedly highly drought tolerant, have not survived. Finally, the ponds themselves have basically no open water at this point - the duckweed and/or algae blankets the entire surface. On the main east pond, some type of vegetation has taken over so that the pond looks like marshy ground rather than a pond. The small north pond is completely dry, perhaps purposely drained for some reason.

Of course I'll continue to bird HPP and (at least when the ponds have open water) there will still be a good number of species to be found. But the possibilities are going to be reduced as a result of these changes.

John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
johntubbs AT comcast DOT net

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