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Natural World: Bird Walks at the Old Mill 

The songbird of spring, the Red-winged Blackbird, just one of the birds that birders can spot when on a bird walk at the Old Mill. Photo by Jim Anderson.

The songbird of spring, the Red-winged Blackbird, just one of the birds that birders can spot when on a bird walk at the Old Mill. Photo by Jim Anderson.

The Old Mill District and the East Cascades Audubon Society (ECAS) are again offering free weekly bird walks to any one of all ages every other Friday, April 1 through the end of May. The free walks are guided by an ECAS bird expert and wind around the trails of the Old Mill District that run along the Deschutes River, a migratory corridor that attracts a variety of birds — either passing through or cherished residents.

"You don't have to be an expert to appreciate birding," said Sheryl Pierce of ECAS. "It is a wonderful way to get outdoors and enjoy all that springtime in Central Oregon has to offer, and learn something about our birds along the way. We are excited to offer these walks to both residents and visitors in the area."

For the novice it will be an introduction to the fun and—if they want—the science of birding. Yes, "birding," not "bird-watching." For the novice, or expert, it gets one right out in the wonderful cold, hot, stormy, warm sunlight and every other kind of weather there is. For most novices, once they've been on a birding trip with a person who knows his-or-her birds, that's the beginning of a lot of fun that can last a lifetime.

As a person begins seeing birds and recognizing them for their place in the natural — and our —world, he or she will want to keep a record of who, where and what bird they observed, and that opens the door to The Life List. That part of birding is like a fever, it spreads and once infected, there is no cure.

The Life List is just that, a record of the birds you've seen in your lifetime. Mine started when I was about 10-years old on the family farm in Connecticut. One of the highlights of the Life List is reaching the 500 mark. When you have 500 birds on your Life List there's a sense of appreciation for the diversity of nature that opens your eyes to all Earth has to offer.

Over the years, my son Dean and I have had the fun of asking each other, "How many birds ya' got?" We see-sawed back and forth right up into his adult years to when he became a fighter pilot in the U.S Air Force, then one night the phone rang and it was Dean calling from Italy: "Hey pop!" he exclaimed with a lift in his voice, "I just got my 500th bird!"

"Wonderful!" I said, "What was it?"

"I don't know," he promptly replied.

Of course that got to me immediately, "What do you mean, 'you don't know!' You can't count it if you don't know what it was."

"I know that, Pop," he answered, "It just left a big brown smear down the side of my Viper Jet."

That did it. "Did it come inside?" I asked, holding my breath.

"No, thank goodness," he replied, "but I think it was a buzzard of some kind."

That started a discussion about birds of Europe that went on for almost an hour; father-and-son talking about birds together, as we have on so many occasions over the years.

That's what birding does for a family, it brings everyone involved into harmony. (Until one person disagrees with the other about the ID of a particular bird. That can go on all night!) That's why ECAS starts kids out in the very early years discovering the beauty of birds and how wonderfully they fit into our lives.

Mary Yanalcanlin, a wonderful human being, teacher, and faithful member of ECAS has been introducing kids to birds for many years. Every Monday morning at 10 a.m. you can find her on the banks of the Deschutes River in Drake Park with youngsters and parents, "Oo-ing and ahhing" as the kids learn the names of the birds they're looking at, and how they fit into the overall web of life.

Mary says, "All ages are welcome, for the excitement of exploration, singing, finger plays, observation, learning, questioning...it's all part of a fun-filled hour. We meet near the middle of the park by the restrooms. A parent or a responsible caretaker is required to accompany the child. Come join us. We meet regardless of the weather, so please dress in warm, dry layers." 

Then there's the various special birding events ECAS conducts: the famous Christmas Bird Count; the Fort Rock/Christmas Valley raptor count, the Green Ridge raptor count, and other counts. These are patterned after the Citizen Scientist observation methods, and used to observe population trends over the years.

To make the whole birding experience even better, ECAS holds a "Birder's Night" the last Thursday of each month in the Bend Environmental Center. There's always a bird program, and before-during-and-after the meeting there's always a discussion going on about who saw this-or-that bird where, and what was going on at the time.

Come on down to the Old Mill, the site of the historic Brooks-Scanlon sawmill, once the biggest pine sawmill in the whole wide world. Before, during or after birding, stop for an ice cream cone and take it with you as you search the banks of the Deschutes and revel in the joy of birding. If you'd like to know more, go to ecaudubon.org.

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