Birding festival organizers getting ready for 2007
“Drayton Harbor is such a unique area,” said long time bird conservationist Maynard Axelson, “and I’m afraid we’re just taking it for granted since it’s in our own backyard. Hopefully, the more we do this the more we’ll spread the word.”
Axleson was referring to this year’s third annual Blaine spring birding event that began as the Blaine Brant festival but has since become the Northwest birding festival, Wings Over Water. Guests came from as far as Washington, D.C., where banquet speaker Ryan Booth administers the federal duck stamp program, a way of raising funds to purchase wetlands and other habitat by requiring hunters to apply the stamps to their hunting licenses. Competition each year among wildlife artists for the stamp’s design is keen.
Axleson, along with Bellingham Audubon Society’s Joe Meche, local fisherman and Port of Bellingham commissioner Jim Jorgensen, Blaine’s community development specialist, Debbie Harger and others, was going over this year’s festival to begin a series of early morning planning meetings aimed at refining next year’s efforts.
“Some things went really well,” said Axleson, a fourth-generation Swedish dairy farmer from Conway on Fir Island who now raises wild geese and ducks of various species. He mentioned work he, Meche and Jorgensen had done with Megan Schutt’s sixth grade class at Blaine middle school. “Their display at the conference and enthusiasm drew other kids into the festival, too.”
Jorgensen said that they estimated the attendance on Saturday, March 25, to be around 300 people at the various events and perhaps as many as half that at the evening banquet and fund-raising auction. Numerous colorful decoys, some of them valuable antiques from the Chesapeake Bay area, a large bronze gray whale sculpture and other examples of high quality art depicting marine wildlife helped the group raise more than $10,000 during the festival. The funds go to support such things as visits to schools, appropriate signage at birding spots and the group’s major project, building a haul out island out of sand in Padilla Bay for migrating Brant geese.
“They’re a sensitive species that does not do well when man moves in,” Axleson said, “but a way of helping them was discovered a long time ago almost by accident when the Swinomish Slough was dredged in the 1950s. An island was made out of the material north of the Highway 20 bridge near Anacortes, and the Brant took it over.”
Axleson said that everything is in place to construct an additional haul-out island, “so all we need now is the support, and for that the festival is working pretty well.” Axelson was Saturday night’s auctioneer, having an extensive background not only at dairy cattle auctions but running benefits for Seattle’s Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.
The Plover carried nearly 100 passengers in repeated trips out on Semiahmoo Bay to view birds that don’t come in close to shore, such as a large wintering group, or “raft,” of Artic Loons numbering in the thousands. Festival planners discovered later that there were many others who wanted to go but didn’t get the chance. “That’s one thing we’ll work on for next year,” said Jorgensen, “that and getting a bigger committee together. This thing is getting popular, so next year we want to include some kind of event that will bring all the visitors into downtown Blaine.”