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Natural World: Watching for Strange Birds and Other Things 

Winter is survival and distribution time for many species of wildlife, not only a time for most wildlife that wander and migrate the season to survive, but also the time for seeing new country—some of which may turn out to be their new home.

The short-eared owl is a good example. The one seen in the photo here could have come from as far north as Alaska, or up from California. I happened to meet up with it in 1963, where it was perched on a fencepost near the Portland Airport.

Birds visiting in winter will sometimes pick up one of their kind who was raised here and take it back "home" with them, and vice versa. However...the very rare and headliner hawk owls (two of which have visited Central Oregon since records have been kept), and our very common osprey are exceptions. Hawk owls come to visit from Canada, and go home alone (as far as I know). Osprey do the same.

Even though osprey raised at Crane Prairie fly right over osprey living in California and Mexico year-round, they don't mix. Osprey researchers have observed migrating birds fly right over resident osprey without stopping to say hello. Osprey from all over the West will winter in Mexico and Costa Rica, and each will return to their northern location to breed with other osprey from that same area.

(Which reminds me, migrating owls, hawks and other raptors that make an attempt to hunt the grassy fields between airfield runways are not very popular with airport safety officials for obvious reasons; they could and every so often do have unwanted contact with airplanes. I have a pal who traps stray raptors at the Portland airport, bands them and takes them hundreds of miles away to release them safely.)

Joining Oregon Birders Online ( will give you a great look at what birds are located throughout Oregon.

Right now there's a mocking bird running around on the coast in Newport that makes one wonder why it's there and if it's alone.

A Christmas Valley Tour

If you decide you want to go for a day of birding on your own, say from Bend to Christmas Valley and back, you can have a blast. Take your binocs, scope and camera, pack a lot of food, water and emergency supplies. If you run it in winter, you'll see winter raptors galore, especially some gorgeous rough-legged hawks from the Arctic Circle. Be sure to pay attention to magpies and ravens; it's they who find food first in winter, especially road kills. Eagles watch for them, as they know that where magpies and ravens are grouped together they'll find food.

The trip will probably reveal a few coyotes, sage grouse, jack rabbits, and maybe a badger, and if you stop at Benjamin Lakes there may be a few strange water birds, especially in fall months. When you're passing lavas and rimrock, watch for big horned sheep and mountain goats. And please, leave the firearms at home. When you get home, please send me an email of what you observed.

Geology in Venator Canyon

If you want to see some spectacular Oregon geology, Venator Canyon along Highway 395 is the place. Layer after layer of basalt lava and ash flows, ancient lake deposits and other geological events are set out before you. If you pull off on the wide spot shoulders and look at the canyon walls you'll see several of the golden eagle nesting sites my wife Sue and I check for production every nesting season.

You can't see it from that spot on Hwy 395, but west of the highway there's one of the worst hazardous chemical deposits our beautiful state of Oregon has ever dumped on them.

Back in the '60s the chemical companies in Portland contracted to get rid of chemicals they didn't know what to do with. Thousand of leaking drums of the stuff, stacked on pallets, were dropped onto the Alkali Lake bed. (Before that, they dumped the drums in the Yamhill Landfill and got busted for it.) The Environmental Quality Department "solved the problem" at Alkali Lake by burying the stuff—out of sight, out of mind—but it's all still there, leaking who knows what into what some people have the audacity to call Oregon's "Useless Country."

One of the most rewarding birding trips I took when I was running science programs for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry back in the '60s was from Portland to Central Oregon via Warm Springs, then north from Madras and back to OMSI, via Wasco County and the Columbia River Gorge. The variety of wildlife was well worth the time and gasoline. When I meet those wonderful OMSI graduates today they often start with, "Remember the trips we took..."

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