On April 1, registration will be open—no foolin'—for The East Cascades Audubon Society's premier birding event, held in Sisters: the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival. The event itself will run from May 30 to June 2.
This isn't "just any old" birding event. People from all over the world take in this one because they'll have the choice of 20 guided tours in four days. Also, there's not only the opportunity to see all 11 species of woodpeckers in the Sisters and Central Oregon region, but the chance to potentially observe 200 additional birds of the area as well.
A few years back a couple arrived in Sisters from France who were more than serious birders; they wanted to see THE woodpecker of Sisters, the white-headed. The thousands of dollars they spent getting here all came into focus when, right near Conrad Weiler's layout in Camp Sherman, a male white-headed woodpecker flew right across the road.
"That's it! That's it!" came the excited cries, with a French accent. Then all that could be heard were whispered, "Ohs" and "Ahhs" in both French and English, as the bird was made real in their binocs.
White-headed woodpeckers are that unique—especially when seen for the first time.
Well, the ECAS Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival promises even more. Wait 'til those newcomers get into the Milli Fire burn area and see the black-backed three-toed and the look-alike downy and hairy woodpeckers. Then head out south of Sisters for a good look at Lewis', and the three races of sapsuckers and flickers. And the list goes on and on.
The festival commemorates Dean Hale, an ECAS member tragically killed in an auto accident in 2012. ECAS Board Member Sherrie Pierce, who birded with Hale for years, remembers him fondly.
"Dean loved birds, but more than anything he was a people person. His influence is still seen today on many of the conservation and citizen science projects East Cascades Audubon volunteers support," Pierce said.
"He was always ready to teach, help, organize any group or project that had to do with advancing the enjoyment or understanding of our avian population. When he passed away, he was organizing the guides for the second ECAS Woodpecker Festival. It was a no-brainer to name it in his memory. His spirit is always with us, and in his words, 'It's all good!'"
Festival participants will have a choice of 20 guided tours in search of several of 11 known woodpeckers. Those big wildfire burns, like the Milli Fire, have attracted several species of wood-boring beetles who were hanging out miles away from the Milli Fire and suddenly caught the scent of it.
That's all it takes for wood-boring beetles; they flock to the site even with trees still burning. As soon as the burned forest cools down, female beetles are right there to lay eggs, to guarantee the species is here to stay. But no one told them that the scent of forest fires burning also means something to forest woodpeckers who smell it: FOOD! They, too, converge on the site to wait for the beetles that are on their way.
Right behind them are the birders, quick to take advantage of the beetles and birds heading into what's left of the forest. What's neat about that is the resulting habitat changes. In what was once a climax forest—a forest that is relatively stable—now becomes a brand-new pioneering forest ecosystem with new plants and insects moving in, followed by all the bird species that eat them, followed by birders who become ecstatic about the new birds they place on their Life List.
"We really enjoy showing participants our birds in their various habitats, some in places where recent forest fires have attracted a concentration of woodpeckers," says ECAS member Judy Meredith. "We follow the tradition established by our friend and active ECAS Member, the late Dean Hale, taking folks on upbeat trips and having fun sharing our special birds in the beautiful scenery and pleasant climate of Central Oregon."
Two ECAS volunteers guide each trip. Festival tours are limited to 10 participants, and typically fill quickly and are very affordable. Tours include an all-day trip to Summer Lake on Thursday. On Friday there will be a birding tour to the Crooked River Country and a different trip to the Shevlin Park/Awbrey Hall Burn.
Birding trips are all day on Saturday and Sunday morning. The tours go to places such as Three Creeks, Pole Creek, Cold Springs, the Milli Burn, Abbot Creek, Camp Sherman, Glaze Meadow, Indian Ford, Suttle Lake and Green Ridge, as well as several other excellent birding areas. Both weekend days also provide limited mobility birding tours for folks who would like a leisurely pace, use a wheelchair or prefer to walk short distances.
In addition to the birding tours, the festival offers a native plants/birding tour on Saturday, and on Sunday, an opportunity to experience the bird banding of kestrels and bluebirds. The Saturday night schedule features an owl prowl and a social gathering at the Belfry in Sisters. Participants provide their own transportation and carpooling is required.
In order to take advantage of this best of birding opportunities, get ready now to register starting at 8 am April 1.