Monthly Archives: February 2015

Will You Help?

Dear friends, I wonder if you could help our shorebirds at Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area)?

Shorebirds are sandpipers that migrate from Central and South America all the way up to the tundra in Alaska and Canada. Every spring and fall, they pass through Washington. Notably, they come to Montlake Fill to thrill us with their beauty, their hardiness, they *tininess*! Imagine flapping your arms day after day, hour after hour, for thousands of miles to get to Alaska on your own power! That’s what shorebirds do.

Long-billed Dowitcher, one of 29 species of shorebirds who visit the Fill.

Long-billed Dowitcher, one of 29 species of shorebirds who visit the Fill.

Unfortunately, Montlake Fill has suffered a *catastrophic* decline in shorebird migration. We went from some 1500 birds in the 1990s to a mere 42 individuals last year. That is because woody vegetation has grown all around the mudflats and ponds of the Fill. Shorebirds need open space so they can see their predators coming from far off. They don’t like habitat that has dense cover, where raptors can lurk. Because willows and bushes have invaded the main ponds of the Fill and now nearly blanket the best mud, shorebirds have quit coming.

We have a *unique*, once-in-a-lifetime chance to restore shorebirds to Montlake Fill. Washington Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) is planning to give the University of Washington $2 million to mitigate for the floating bridge they are widening across the Lake Washington (Union Bay is part of Lake Washington). Tragically, though, the mitigation plan they’ve come up with calls for *more* woody vegetation at the Fill. Not only that, the plan calls for so-called “buffer plants” to be planted around all the ponds, making it impossible for students and community members to access them to view any birds at all. These plans will effectively end shorebird migration here. A migration pattern that has existed since the end of the last Ice Age will be no more, at least as far as we will be able to observe in Seattle.

Seattle Audubon and I have been trying to persuade WSDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers (who have jurisdiction here) to alter their plans and *remove* woody vegetation from around the two biggest ponds of the Fill. The conservation scientists at Seattle Audubon believe this will restore a significant population of migrating shorebirds to the Fill.

WSDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) refuse to listen. Instead they insist on following a generic mitigation plan that does not take into account the fact that the Fill is a teaching site, where usable shorebird habitat can be accessed by both birds and people. Their plan doesn’t even take into account the fact that our wetlands in the NW differ in nature from those of the eastern US, where these plans were concocted. Indeed, we will end up with woody deciduous wetlands that, according to Professor Dennis Paulson of the Slater Museum (a world expert), will provide habitat for very few birds at all.

We are asking everyone who cares about shorebirds and the Fill to sign Seattle Audubon’s petition asking WSDOT and the USACE to revise their plans for the Fill and remove woody vegetation from two ponds. This is a simple, easy, low-cost way to restore an important ecological niche to the Fill and to Seattle as a whole. Here is the link (it’s long because it will automatically be sent to all these agencies):

We also ask that people send emails or letters to WSDOT, USACE and the UW, letting them know this is an important issue for us. Here is a link to Seattle Audubon’s web page to give you contact information:

Finally, we are asking people to spread the word about the petition and our efforts to help shorebirds. Please forward this message to your Facebook friends, your families, and to organizations you belong to.

Numbers do count in an effort like this. Will you help? Will you ask everyone you know to join with us? I know your voice(s) would make a difference!

Maestro of Magic


If you sit on the edge of Yesler Swamp on a foggy, winter’s morning, you might hear a piccolo song floating heavenward from deep in the woods. The song seems to come from all directions at once, until you feel surrounded by music. But the song doesn’t engulf you exactly – it is too fragile for that. It’s more like gossamer wings of sound tickling first one ear, then the other, caressing your cheek, then disappearing back into the mist.
You’re welcome to try to find the singer, but I must warn you he prefers to perform out of sight. If you follow his song, he may lure you deeper into the swamp, receding just out of view like a will o’ wisp until you would be lost forever, were it not for the boardwalk leading you safely home again.
This is our own Pacific Wren, the quickest singer in all the swamp. His notes come so fast, they sound almost like a continuous trill to us. But if you slow the song down electronically, you can hear how very complex and lyrical it is. Loud, too. If you were to put a Pacific Wren into a Xerox machine and press “enlarge” to chicken-size, the wren would sing louder than a crowing rooster. Longer-winded, too. Wrens can sing with both outgoing and incoming breaths, so they don’t have to stop until they’ve sung every last note they want to.
Here is a poem for you today, to honor our little maestro:

The wren of the swamp
sang a song just for me
alone on the trail
where no one could see.
There we danced with the wind
and time stood still.