Birding can fit in with outdoor life

By Grant Lucas
For the Spokesman

All it takes is a nanosecond to notice the extensive wingspan of a rough-legged hawk, the diminutive stature of a white-throated swift, or the brilliant plumage of a pinyon jay. Simple observations can transform that tiny spark of curiosity into a blazing search for nature’s majesty in the form of bird-watching.

“I think birding just kind of fits into … it’s just a notch that kind of fits in,” says Steve Dougill, former president of the East Cascades Audubon Society in Bend. “It’s just spectacular scenery once you get into the mountains or into the high desert. Birding is just a piece. For me, it’s kind of an excuse to get out and wander around in the backcountry.”

Birding provides opportunities to break away from the 9-to-5 grind and escape chores around the house, at least for Tom Crabtree, a member of the Oregon Bird Records Committee who has been birding for more than four decades.

Crabtree says it is a chance to get back to nature, to smell the fresh air and enjoy incredible forms of wildlife.

“It’s basically a mini-vacation,” Crabtree says. “Like a mini-time travel back to when there weren’t any cars and highways or civilization encroaching on every square inch of wild river territory that we had around here.”

In the Redmond area, opportunities to expand expertise or even develop an interest are abundant.

A few miles north, in Terrebonne, nest golden eagles, among others, at Smith Rock State Park. Nearby, along the Deschutes River by Lower Bridge, sing the canyon wrens. To the west, on Barr Road, are the pinyon jays and flycatchers. Closer to and in town, birders flock to Tetherow Crossing to catch various species migrate through the area, or they head to the Redmond sewage lagoons, a favorite of Dougill’s, to spot sandpipers and shorebirds and, at times, bald eagles and ospreys.

“These are like fly-ridden, smelly places, but you get a lot of these migrant water fowl and shorebirds that maybe nest up in the arctic and are maybe wintering down in Mexico or whatever, but they pass through there for a few days,” says Dougill, 45. “It’s quite a spectacular place to be.”

Birding trips are all about the experience, Crabtree says. One may expect to come across certain things in specific areas, but there is always the hope that something out of place will emerge.

“There’s often something slightly unusual mixed in,” Dougill says. “It’s kind of exciting when you’ve been sifting through and just happen to come across something that shouldn’t really be here.”

Crabtree sometimes gets out before work (he is a defense attorney by trade), so he cannot let time slip away. “Judges tend to frown on that,” he says.

Still, it can be easy to lose track of time.

“I can be out there birding in the morning, and then suddenly my stomach starts growling,” Crabtree says. “I look down and it’s 2:00, and I had thought, ‘Is it noon yet?’ That’s definitely possible.”

A spark of curiosity is all it takes. That can lead to such simple acts as purchasing binoculars, going on walks and hikes with family (Dougill says kids are fantastic at being observant) or even hanging a bird feeder in the yard.

The latter option alone, Dougill says, can attract 10 to 20 species of birds, from mountain chickadees to juncos. Whether on a walk or in the yard, with the variations of colors and sizes, observers may believe they can identify each one, but, as Dougill puts it, “suddenly your mind just gets bamboozled.”

That is when bird books become a quality resource. That is when joining local organizations can be useful.

Birding is not necessarily a primary hobby or recreation. It is something that can be picked up when out on a hike, perhaps behind Smith Rock on the way up to Gray Butte. It can come about while hunting. In fact, Dougill says, hunters are usually fantastic birders.

“The bright colors a lot of them have,” Crabtree says. “Watching a hawk hunting — like a rough-legged hawk hovering and looking at prey, dropping out of the sky and catching something. Something they’ve been doing for 10,000 years. It’s hard to imagine.”

–Reporter: 541-383-0307; glucas@redmondspokesman.com.

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