A fluttering of wings draws my eyes. An unknown call turns my head. Finding birds and figuring out what they are is like working as an investigative detective. You notice things that don’t fit into the puzzle that forms the background environment. I’m no expert but I look for clues such as the silhouette, size, markings, behavior, and sound. Apps such as iBird and various field guides help you narrow down the list of possible suspects when you are out birding. Sometimes you know what something is right away; other times you need to confer with others. There are times when you have only a fleeting glimpse so then you might refer to the bird as an LBJ – Little Brown Jobbie.
Birding in the High Desert
Though Bend is located in a desert environment, there is no shortage in the number and variety of birds that live here. We are fortunate that there are so many organizations involved in educating visitors and residents about the wealth of feathered creatures in the area. I have been on birding walks with the High Desert Museum, East Cascades Audubon Society, Sunriver Nature Center, and Deschutes Land Trust. People who go on the walks range from novice to very experienced birders.
Many of the guided walks have one thing in common – water. Even in my own yard a water feature attracts birds like some super powerful magnet. Lakes, rivers, ponds, and even small backyard water features, draw birds in.
I see a rainbow of birds in my backyard from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner. The constant flurry of activity includes the brilliant blue of mountain bluebirds, yellow of lesser goldfinches, red of Cassin’s finch, impossibly smooth tannish-brown and butter yellow of cedar waxwings, and soft gray of mourning and Eurasian collared-doves. A sharp-shinned hawk occasionally comes in for a quick meal. I also get to see unusual visitors such as leucistic American robins and dark-eyed juncos. Leucistic birds have plumage that is partially white and they really catch your eye.
Deschutes County has a wide variety of habitats ranging from high elevation mountains with alpine plant communities to lower elevation sagebrush steppe. You might see gray-crowned rosy finches on the way up South Sister or sage grouse on a lek at lower elevations near Millican. Several websites list birds you are likely to see at various locations. The Birding Oregon site has some detailed information on where to go. Here is the Deschutes County link http://birdingoregon.info/Home/DeschutesCounty/tabid/168/Default.aspx .
Birding hot spot in Deschutes County
One of the hot spots for birding in Deschutes County is Hatfield Lake, a wastewater-treatment facility. Nearly 200 species have been observed at this location just north of the Bend Municipal Airport. It also holds the distinction of producing more rare bird sightings than just about any other location in Central Oregon. There are websites such as http://lists.oregonstate.edu/mailman/listinfo/cobol where people share sightings from this and other locations.
Bird events and guided trips
There are also opportunities to look for specific types of birds. In September and October the East Cascades Audubon Society (ECAS), records the number and types of hawks and other raptors migrating over Green Ridge, located near Sisters, OR. The High Desert Museum (HDM) works in cooperation with ECAS at this event. Up to 16 different species have been observed there during the count. They have seen nearly 500 birds on their best days. In mid-June, ECAS also puts on the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival where participants go out in search of the 11 species that live in the area.
Damian Fagan, recently hired by HDM, takes participants out on a Museum-sponsored field trip. The Museum and US Forest Service are involved in a bird banding study. Limited space is available on field trips to the study site at Ryan Ranch Meadow.
If you ever want to learn more about birds in this area, take advantage of some of the many field trips available. Participants are always willing to help you spot birds – no matter what your level of expertise is.