Brant show up in good numbers this year
About 9,000 geese were counted by an aerial survey Jan. 2 over Fidalgo, Padilla and Samish bays. There had to be at least 6,000 to allow a hunt, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In this case, what's good for hunters (the numbers) is also good for bird-watchers.
"Numbers of brant wintering in Skagit County are up from last year's count of 6,704," said Don Kraege, waterfowl section manager.
"The brant season is structured to maintain the limited wintering population of western high Arctic birds (commonly known as gray-bellied brant) wintering in Skagit County."
This year's count in Skagit County is similar to the 10-year average, Kraege said.
Brant hunters can contribute to the science of birds. Some brant are fitted with a metal and/or colored leg band. If one is shot, the Fish and Wildlife Department wants the hunter to report the leg band information, which helps identify and track those birds.
If you want to avoid gunfire but want to be a brant-watcher, stay away from the three bays today Wednesday and Saturday, and Jan. 20, 23, 26 and 27.
There are about 2,000 brant in Whatcom County, mostly on Blaine and Birch bays.
The Blaine Chamber created the Washington Brant Festival (now called Wings Over Water Pacific Birding Festival) to draw bird-watchers to Blaine, collect tourist money, and disseminate avian information through seminars, exhibits, field trips and viewing stations.
This year's gathering is March 16 (www.blainechamber.com).
Oiled bird: Last month an oiled gull was found at Cama Beach State Park. The COASST program (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) at the University of Washington is taking oiled-bird or oil-on-beach reports.
If possible, take photographs, and call in your reports at 206-221-6893.
Bird trips: Pilchuck Audubon Society offers bird-watching field trips. On Tuesday, the destination is Clear Lake and Johnson-Debay Slough. For information, call 360-435-3750. PAS' website is www.pilchuckaudubon.org.
On the bookshelf: "Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death" ($25) is Bernd Heinrich's reaction to a friend's request that he be buried on the author's land.
The request inspired Heinrich to write about nature's undertakers, those responsible for "disappearing" the dead in a way that is the polar opposite of humans' approach.
Nature's undertakers come in various sizes and species-specific methods, whether it's a scarab beetle or a vulture.
Heinrich is a master of insight into nature, and a fine writer. He starts with burying (sexton) beetles, who in pairs can move a mouse carcass to a place where the soil is soft enough to dig. They push out the dirt from under the mouse until it is deep enough to bury.
Then they and their future family use it as a nest and a restaurant.
Nature's undertakers, indeed.
In "Penny and the Penguin" by Kirin Daugharty ($9.99 at Amazon), a girl finds a young penguin on the beach. She doesn't understand why it can't fly, so she tries to teach it.
The story, aimed at very young children, entertains with her failed efforts before she realizes that penguins can fly, but under water.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
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