[Tweeters] Fir Island Game Range

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 30 04:51:23 PDT 2022

Dear Tweeters,
Greetings from Chautauqua County, NY. Thanks to one and all for the interesting discussion about the Montlake Fill or UBNA, if I have the toponymy right. At least there is some discussion about what trees to plant and what to remove.
As best I can tell, at the Fir Island Game Range, or Wylie Slough, habitat "improvement" continues to "progress" without much public discussion. This site has been the premier birding spot in Skagit County for a long time. In late July, the last time I birded there, signage stated that the site would be closed for all of August and September. That alone was enough to make me scratch my head--WDFW would close the place for the best shorebirding time of the year, but have it open just in time for hunting. That is usually how they roll at that agency--hook and bullet, hook and bullet.

A few days ago, a friend sent me some recent photos taken at the Game Range. The project there must have been completed a few days ahead of schedule. My friend was dismayed at what he saw. Apparently, the riparian corridor between the Headquarters Parking Area and the Dike Junction has been damaged, to say the least. Many of the good-sized trees were removed. That includes the big Sitka Spruce, a tree that has attracted all sorts of interesting birds over the years. Many alders were taken down, some of which had nest cavities used by Tree Swallows and Downy Woodpeckers.
The so-called Viewing Blind is apparently now clear of brush. I call this the Skull-Cracking Blind. Countless people have smashed their foreheads when trying to enter this absurdly low structure. A friend of mine nearly lost an eye after suffering a detached retina in such a mishap. 
Pardon the digression, but over the past few weeks, I have visited ten or twelve lovely blinds here in Chautauqua County, including a brand-new one that is nearly complete. They all have ample headspace, generous viewing ports, and comfy benches. It does not take Frank Lloyd Wright to design a blind. Nowhere in the world have I seen a blind like the one at the Game Range. Even in such places as Papua New Guinea and Madagascar, where the per capita income must rank among the lowest in the world, wildlife areas feature proper, roomy, comfortable blinds, or hides, as the British say.
I had been grumbling about the Skull-Cracking Blind for another reason. Since it was constructed, WDFW had allowed a towering growth of brush to obscure the view from the blind. Between retinal detachment and an opaque screen of vegetation, this structure offered a new twist on the meaning of "blind."
Now it seems that no one who succeeds in entering unscathed will complain for lack of view. The shoreline of the slough has been scalped.
It would be interesting to read some accounts and descriptions of the changes at the Game Range, if any birders visit there in the coming weeks, before waterfowl hunting gets going. It would be good to learn the status of the cattails in the main pond; those cattails had been slowly colonizing the mudflat, making it less and less attractive to shorebirds, and harder and harder for people to observe the ones present. That was the vegetation that I was hoping to see removed--not trees and brush!
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch
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