Between April 10th and May 18th, Barb Pope and Kathy Wilson taught 13 “Audubon in the Schools” class sessions in just eight days! They reached 366 students at five different schools in Eugene and Springfield. They were helped by our five new volunteers: Janet Barnes, Rose Britton, Rachael Friese, Marty Merrill, and Bryan Ribelin. Children and teachers alike were thrilled that we came into their classes with bird specimens and art supplies so they could learn to observe and draw the bird specimens. This is an important educational program for Lane Audubon, and we are still looking for a leader to take on the coordination of this effort. We hope to keep this great program moving into the future!
My first encounter with a wetland ecosystem was in the springtime, on a vacant lot where the frogs’ chorus drew me like a magnet to the ponds in the flooded field. The hidden frogs lured me with their songs, compelling me to explore the elusive source of the sound. I was a young girl then, and I have been searching the water’s edge ever since. Many towns’ sewage ponds are their only marshy area and are frequently the local birding hot spot. The combination of water, abundant organic material, and few people lets the wildness spill into these unique areas.
Wetland habitats teem with life. Water and the underlying sediments, rich in nutrients, support diverse life forms, from bacteria and algae through every classification of organism. The productiveness of the wetland habitat provides a banquet for birds, who feast on life in the mud and water. The calm water of wetlands is a primordial soup, with frog eggs, water striders, crustaceans, marsh beetle nymphs, mayflies, and dragonflies all feeding in this richness.
Travel for birding is a great way to learn about the global interdependence of our ecosystems. Central America hosts some of our Neotropical migratory birds during the winter months. After the previous year’s breeding season, the birds fly south for the winter and recover their strength by eating insects in the tropical jungle’s abundance of living things. Warm temperatures, water, and a wide variety of foods are available to the birds. The northern hemisphere is inhospitable to insectivorous birds during this time, but closer to the equator they can eat and prepare for their northern migration in the spring.
March is when I notice that many of the birds coming to our feeder begin arriving in pairs. Earlier in the winter, the loose flocks of finches, juncos, and towhees do not show male/female pairings as they fly in for food. This month, though, I see male House Finches offering food to the females that are always nearby. Chickadees and Oregon Juncos begin engaging in territorial disputes that result in serious chases and sparring. Steller’s Jays vocalize in softer, sweeter tones as two of them hop from branch to branch in the oak tree. Chickadees flutter their wings in a begging breeding display. Actually some of the early nesting birds have already begun to build nests, such as the pair of Black-capped Chickadees that have filled one nest box with moss, and the Song Sparrows singing atop the brush pile where their nest is hidden.
I am excited about watching the skies for early spring bird migrants. Each morning I open my window and look out to see if a warm breeze has brought us any new bird arrivals. Soon Tree Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, and, hopefully, Western Bluebirds will move into the neighborhood. Their songs will fill the air. Until then, I listen to the songs of our resident birds as they begin tuning up for the breeding season.
I like to ask for book recommendations from friends because we do share some of the same interests! Of course one of the main books being discussed is Noah Strycker’s Birding Without Borders: An Epic World Big Year. If you have not yet read it, make the time. You will not be sorry. In fact you will have a hard time putting it down.
Jim Maloney always offers a thoughtful list of books to watch for:
Project Puffin, by Derrick Jackson and Stephen Kress, is about the reintroduction of Atlantic Puffins to islands in the Gulf of Maine. It’s not a new book, but stories of people trying to undo a destructive past are always welcome.
Fire Birds, by Sneed B. Collard, is especially timely as we hear calls for “salvage” logging after devastating wildfires. It’s an excellent intro to the subject, detailing which avian species depend on and flourish in burns.
Looking for Seabirds, Sophie Webb’s book, is enriched by her hand-rendered illustrations. Her writing style is both friendly and factual.
The ending of this year and beginning of a new year make me think of gratitude.
I find it important for my sanity to remember the many ways I need to be thankful for my existence, and to appreciate the many people for whom I am grateful. Obviously family and friends top my list, but many others whom I’ve met through Lane Audubon also enrich my life. 2018 will be the 18th year I’ve served as president of this group. It has become an identity, as well as a passion that fills me with purpose. I am also grateful for the many members who have either become friends or with whom we share a sense of familiarity and common ground. This interconnectedness gives us a shared space within which we can communicate and feel accepted.
Gratitude deepens and energizes relationships.
Talking with a longtime friend on a warm evening in early September, I discovered he had never seen the Vaux’s Swifts entering the chimney at the Old Condon School near Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. The building with the chimney is now called Agate Hall. If you haven’t yet seen the swifts descending into the chimney to roost each evening for a couple of weeks in September and again in April as they migrate through, be sure to put it on your bucket list of birding events. See next April’s Quail for details on Lane County Audubon’s “gatherings” celebrating their spring migration.
The next day, my friend, his wife, and I headed to the chimney, and happened upon a couple of other Audubon folks there doing “citizen science,” counting the number of swifts entering their temporary roost as they migrated south in the fall. There were also a few neighborhood residents who had dropped by to witness the spectacle. It was near sunset, and our small group of observers enjoyed an easy conviviality, sharing our enthusiasm and wonder.
The swifts didn’t disappoint. They began circling right before sunset and gradually increased in numbers until they filled the sky, circling the chimney like a tornado, getting ready to retire for the night.
One corner of our land, on the far northeast slope, is tucked under the overhanging branches of the big firs. It is a peaceful hill where we have buried our pets, and where the previous owner had buried his old dog. My husband has made grave markers for each of them. I have many memories here. In the spring, this corner has the first Red Currant blossoms and a spreading patch of fragrant Lady-slipper Orchids. A patch of Pacific Hounds-tongue blue flowers lights up the area when they bloom. It is the spot where one of our dogs cornered a porcupine against the fence, giving us a chance to see the little animal at close range, before we helped it find an opening to get away. Here we have seen bobcat and coyote scat along a deer trail that continues over the old fence into the woods to the north.
Our LCAS president, Maeve Sowles, and our conservation chair, Debbie Schlenoff, along with Louise Shimmel of Cascades Raptor Center, are soon to be honored for receiving the Rachel Carson Award. This award highlights efforts to reduce and eliminate pesticides in ways that protect community and environmental health.
The three women worked as a team and partnered with NCAP, publishing an op-ed piece about Rozol and other rodenticides.
We are happy to announce that Ramiro Aragon has agreed to be an LCAS Board member. He has attended Board meetings, co-led our Latino Outreach programs, assisted with bird walks for more than two years, and recently graduated from OSU with a Master’s of Natural Resources. He is also a dedicated advocate for birds and wildlife and teaching people to enjoy the experience of the natural world. We appreciate the time and talents he brings to Lane Audubon.
Ramiro is but one shining example of our dedicated volunteers. Building our core group of volunteers is our most powerful means for reaching out to the community and engaging the public with our goals of education and conservation.