By April, spring migration is in full swing. Birders eagerly await the “first of the year” bird sightings at their favorite birding spots. We have kept track of yard birds for over 20 years at our property. We feel a rush of excitement and joy when we see and hear the first Tree Swallows fly down to our bird boxes each spring. The same is true for the first Rufous Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture sightings. Part of our amazement is the realization of how far the birds have travelled since we saw them last in the late summer.
Herb Wisner has volunteered and been on the Board of Lane County Audubon for decades. He maintains his Board position, but two years ago he asked to give up the Program Chair. It took some time to find a new volunteer, and we did the job by committee for the last year. Herb still helps find speakers, and his efforts and methods to find new program material reflect his eclectic interests. I have seen Herb working the crowd at concerts and birthday parties to see if a prospective speaker could fit into the program schedule. His untiring efforts on behalf of Audubon span his lifetime.
Herb’s father and uncle were naturalists and fostered his interest in the study of nature while he was growing up in New York State. Birds were a big passion for Herb. As a young man he worked at the National Audubon Hog Island Nature Camp in Maine. Herb and Ruth came to Eugene in 1966, and Herb was a UO biology lecturer for much of his career.
I often ask friends what books they have enjoyed recently and would recommend to others. I’d like to share a few titles that I’ve heard about so you can put them on your winter reading list too!
We have been hearing owls in the evening at our property in the forested area southwest of Eugene. In all of the 22 years we have lived here, Great Horned Owls have nested nearby. Before sundown and into the evening, deep hoots echo through Fox Hollow; the deeper voice is the male and the higher pitched hoots are the larger female. Breeding season has already begun for this species, even though the landscape is wet and the temperatures wintery. Those deep hoots are communicating territory claims as well as courtship and pair bonding—annual rituals for the pair that mates for life.
Great Horned Owls start nesting in January, raising their families in the depths of winter. Like other owls, they do not build their own nests, but take over the abandoned homes of other species, including squirrels, ravens, herons, and Red-tailed Hawks.
One of the highlights of my summer was participating in a bird walk in New York City’s Central Park. After temporarily losing my way in the maze of lanes and paths that make up the park, I finally found the Boathouse, where Robert DeCandido, or “Birder Bob” as he is known locally, always begins his Sunday morning walks. Predictably, it was an international group, including birders from South Africa, Greenland, Turkey, China, and Oregon (me), all eager to see East Coast birds in the sanctuary that Central Park provides in the midst of the great metropolis.
We were treated to sightings of Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Kingbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, and Northern Cardinal, along with some species more familiar to us here in the Northwest: Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Black-capped Chickadee.
Volunteers are the “green energy” that drives the activities of the Lane County Audubon Society. The only way we keep our projects running is with the help of folks who have some time, talent, and initiative to help. We have a small and committed Board that steers our various projects and lends a hand when needed. The Board helps new volunteers with advice, support, and experience. We want to see everyone succeed in forwarding our mission. We care about wildlife and their habitats and we also care about people.
We recently had to put our 13-year-old dog, Kahu, to sleep. He had been part of our family his whole life and was a source of fun, companionship, love, and loyalty that whole time. My grieving makes me think of the valuable lessons we learn from animals if we are lucky enough to hold them close in our lives.
We spent the first week of June in Eastern Oregon touring Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and some of the surrounding areas. This is the fourth year of drought there, and it was obvious that several key areas were lacking water. Along Highway 205 south of Burns in an area called The Narrows, no water was in sight. Two lakes, Malheur and Harney, intersect there and usually there’s water at least 15 feet deep beside the road. In years past, we have seen pelicans fishing there and both Western and Clark’s Grebes were easily seen from the road. Another location with NO water this year is in the northeast portion of the refuge along Lawen Lane, which runs into Ruh-Red Road. In previous years, we have seen Avocets feeding and Ruddy Ducks swimming happily there.
Last fall, a 25-acre piece of land across the street from us was clear-cut. It had been a second-growth stand of mixed forest for over 50 years. Some of the trees were very old, so we know that in the past the forest had been only selectively cut. The logging was impossible to ignore and painful to watch and hear. Some of our neighbors had tried to buy the land to preserve the forest, but they lost the bid to the logging company.
April showers are on my wish list this year. As I write this in early March, we are in a dry spell and are well below our normal rain and snowfall amounts in western Oregon. I will perform a rain dance if it will help bring us rain. At our property, spring began in February this year. A young satsuma pear tree was in full bloom before the end of February. Pollinators were out looking for flower nectar, but most were left wandering and wondering where their food was during the untimely warm days. Bats were out looking for food earlier than I’ve seen them before too. Many of the spring birds arrived at our property early—Turkey Vultures, Tree Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, and Rufous Hummingbirds.