Beginning Birders may find Winter a Good Time to get Started
By Gary Lewis
A rainbow trout drifted by, fins kicking feebly against the wind-swept ripples. The little fish rolled on its side, then righted again, dorsal fin and tail breaking the surface. As I rowed my boat toward the south shore of East Lake, I watched the little guy as he finned in the opposite direction. Sometimes a thin silver-blue line against the deep green of the lake, sometimes a white belly as he gave way to his injuries. I was not the only one watching.
A hundred feet above the water, an Osprey flew, loafing on wind currents, the epicenter of the circle he drew directly above the hapless trout. Abruptly, the bird stopped, beating his wings against the air, breaking out of his circle to plunge, wings folded. The bird hurtled toward the water, reaching out just before he splashed down, talons extended. There was an explosion of water droplets, then the bird rising, wings churning, plucking the fish from the surface in a spray of foam. Then he lifted away, beating water from his wings to gain altitude and I watched his flight back to the summer home in the treetops.
Birding is the fastest growing outdoor activity in the United States. Besides being relaxing and interesting, it is a great excuse to be outside. And it is something that can be combined with virtually any other outdoor pursuit.
Anyone who knows how to operate binoculars and an identification book has grasped the essentials. Local attorney and avid birder, Tom Crabtree suggests that the beginner should first, "try to go with other people who have more experience." He advises that trips with the Audubon Society or bird walks sponsored by The Wild Bird Center are a good place to start.
There are birds everywhere, so it's not difficult to get started. The beginner may want to become familiar with local birds first. There are birds to be seen in the garden, living in the barn, in city parks and perched on telephone poles.
Birding can be as simple as picking up a bag of birdseed and a couple of feeders and placing them strategically around the backyard. And it may become as complicated as corresponding via e-mail with birders in other parts of the world and buying an airline ticket at a moment's notice to jet off to some exotic locale to catalog an obscure feathered find in someone else's backyard. Crabtree has traveled across the continental United States and from the Aleutian Islands to the Dry Tortugas in pursuit of his hobby.
But you need not go far afield to gain satisfaction. "The Prineville Christmas Bird Count was held in the first week of January," Crabtree reported. Teams of birders split up to cover a 15 mile diameter centered on Prineville. This year 80 species were cataloged, breaking the previous record of 77.
As in other outdoor pursuits, the place to find your quarry is at the edge. This means the places where different habitats come together. Some examples would be where pines give way to junipers, juniper to grassland, rock outcroppings adjacent to water, fencerows and hedges, thickets in fields.
After spotting the bird comes identification. The Oregon Bird Records Committee lists 466 species in Oregon and each differs in habits, coloration, markings, voice and territory (A complete list can be found on the web). Becoming familiar with their individual characteristics will enable you to make the proper identification.
Birds of prey are easier spotted after the sun has warmed the air, allowing them to ride thermal updrafts as they search land and sea for their quarry. Take a drive through the farms and ranches east of town, several species of hawks can be seen hunting in the fields. "There are two types of hawks commonly seen at this time of year," Crabtree said. There is the Red-Tailed Hawk, a resident, characterized by a dark head, light upper breast and rust-colored tail. The other is a Rough-Legged Hawk, a visitor from the Arctic, here on winter vacation. These birds have lighter colored heads, dark "wrists" and a whitish tail in flight.
Certain markings and behaviors will be noted through the seasons. Courting rituals, perching, roosting and migration habits fascinate birders year-round. Studying the behavior of birds and learning why they do what they do, makes each trip afield a new and rewarding experience.