In early June, we visited Summer Lake in Eastern Oregon to explore some areas new to us. We have driven through this high desert basin many times on the way to visit relatives near Lakeview, but never spent time there, and it was not a disappointment. The ODFW Summer Lake Wildlife Area is 18,941 acres in size, “with a goal of supporting wetland dependent wildlife and a diverse array of other wildlife and plant species for use and enjoyment by present and future generations.”
It’s the time of year when we have an opportunity to create bird-friendly yards! Get out in the garden to work some landscaping magic with the purpose of welcoming the migrating birds to nest and raise their young in our area. Birds have been using the Northern Hemisphere for nesting over thousands of years. In recent years, human impacts on the environment have drastically changed their world, as well as ours. Actions we take today can help make our yards more welcoming to the birds and wildlife.
The goal is to provide native plants the birds can eat, the pollinators can get their sustenance from, and that are relatively easy to grow in our Pacific Northwest soils and climate. Overall it is a win-win-win for animals, plants and people. Native plants are habituated to our weather cycles, require less water in the summer, and can also survive the wet cold winters. They produce nectar for birds and insects in the spring, and fruits and nuts for birds and other wildlife in the autumn. These plant species are also fairly resistant to insect pests and diseases, so in general they do not require much human intervention.
April and springtime are a welcome change from our intense winter weather. Nature and the outdoors beckon with spring plant growth and the arrival of migrating birds. Each morning I open the upstairs window and breathe in the fresh air. I take stock of the weather, watch and listen to the birds for a few minutes, and assess the new day. Connecting with nature is a necessity for my mental and physical health.
Over the past few winter months, my husband and I have hosted two males and one female Anna’s Hummingbirds at our property. This is the fifth year we have had them consistently all winter. We live at a 1,000-foot elevation, so tend to have cooler temperatures than the valley floor. Many Willamette Valley folks have been hosting over-wintering Anna’s here for more than a decade. It has become normal to see these birds during the winter months. Through the cold, harsh ice storm (we were without power for 5 days) with its snow and sub-freezing nights, we tried to keep the sugar water feeders thawed for them. My husband would get out early to change out the warm feeders for the birds, having brought them in for the night. We even rigged up heat lamps and extension cords to keep them thawed during the day. Feeding wild birds is a big commitment!
A woman from the Coos Bay area called the Lane Audubon phone to report she has been hosting about 40 Anna’s Hummingbirds since the fall. They stay until early spring and then move on, probably heading north and east into the interior of the state. She said it was more typical for her to have seven or eight birds, so 40 was a new record for her!
Winter is not the greatest time to find and watch birds, thanks to cold, inclement weather. But it is a great time to read and learn about birds! Here are some book recommendations shared by other nature lovers. Finding an interesting bird book to expand our knowledge and interest in nature will be easy this year. Hope you enjoy the flights of mental imagery on the pages of some of these books!
Steve Gordon’s recommendation: “I just read a really nice little book, The Path by Chet Raymo (Walker & Co., 2003). It makes me remember the amazing wonder I felt as a child for small parts of my yard and the fields nearby.” The author teaches astronomy and physics at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. His daily walks to and from work take him about one mile, including a stretch through a park. He ties the history of the universe and his town in with observations of stars, birds, plants, photosynthesis, and more. He has a good eye, ear, and mind. Through his story, he tells us of his feelings and knowledge of “place” at both a minute and universal scale.
Jim Maloney recommends The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press, 2016). A New York Times bestseller, this book is not pretty prose about our favorite feathered friends. It succinctly summarizes studies of bird intelligence by informing us not only of the facts but also the history of the research and observations of the wonderful world of bird ingenuity.
There are many reasons to love birding. It keeps your mind and senses active. Listening, observing, trying to decide what bird you are watching are great exercises for the brain. It creates learning challenges for the visual, the sounds and the memory of birds you know, to come up with a bird’s identification.
There is also a sense of anticipation and excitement in a day of birding. One is always looking for a new or unusual sighting that gives birding the feeling of a treasure hunt. At times there are surprising discoveries! One year on the Eugene Christmas Bird Count, Dave Bontrager identified a rare Falcated Duck on a pond near Coburg. It was a cold, wet, windy day but he persisted in watching this bird riding the whitecaps on the pond, until he was certain of its identity. Way to go Dave!
October brings back memories of walks with my mother through the crunchy autumn leaves in the fall. We would have a great time, talking and walking through the park or neighborhood where I grew up. Times walking with her made me appreciate autumn’s beauty. Our annual fall walks gave us a chance to reconnect and reflect on our shared experiences. I feel very fortunate to have had a parent who gave me a sense of nature’s gifts at an early age.
There is a book I often purchase for first-time parents. It is The Sense of Wonder, by Rachel Carson. The current edition is published by Harper Collins and contains wonderful photographs by Nick Kelsh. Rachel Carson, of course, was a visionary whose message has not lost its meaning over five decades. In The Sense of Wonder she describes adventures with her grandnephew at the coast, in the woods, in a field of grass. She takes him for early morning or late night walks.
The arrival of September means back to school for some, planning for fall activities, and refocusing energies after the summer fun. I invite you to start here. Read through this newsletter, look on our website (laneaudubon.org), and check out our Facebook page (facebook.com/pages/Lane-County-AudubonSociety/330177413824?ref=hl) to see what we are all about. We offer so many opportunities to get involved, and hopefully enjoy yourself at the same time!
Looking through the pages of The Quail, you will notice that Lane Audubon members are involved in a variety of activities with varying levels of responsibility and expertise. Audubon, as a group, includes many types of people. Our functions bring beginning and expert birders together. Through participation in community events we find ways to share our interest in birds and nature. And we also present educational programs and talks at schools and for other community groups.
As late spring and summer arrive, Celebrate Nature is on my calendar. This time of year I want to hang out in my garden and keep ears and eyes open for birds, butterflies, and any other life forms that present themselves. I do, of course, work in the garden and the exercise is good for me, plus we benefit from the fruits and veggies of our labor. I do hit “pause” whenever something new makes itself known to me, so I take breaks from the labor at regular intervals. Obviously the bird life is one of my great joys, but other animals are also unique and amazing in their own ways.
By April, spring migration is in full swing. Birders eagerly await the “first of the year” bird sightings at their favorite birding spots. We have kept track of yard birds for over 20 years at our property. We feel a rush of excitement and joy when we see and hear the first Tree Swallows fly down to our bird boxes each spring. The same is true for the first Rufous Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture sightings. Part of our amazement is the realization of how far the birds have travelled since we saw them last in the late summer.