Working some more in our 5MR, we started our day at Mirror Pond just north of the Salem Courthouse. Here, our first bird was a Scarlet Macaw (no kidding). There was some type of exotic animal trade show that day at our convention center, and this guy escaped for a tour of the Salem Riverfront. We met his “owner” who did not appear to be too worried.
Scarlet Macaw; Salem, Oregon; January 12, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt.
After that, we headed to the north end of our 5MR to check out, for the first time, the Keizer sewage ponds, that is, the Willow Lake Water Pollution Control Facility. I knew this area wasn’t 100% open to the public, which is one of the reasons I’ve never bothered checking it out. Because it’s not open to the public, it’s not birded much, so any birding data from this area pale in comparison to the everyday-it’s-birding-Christmas Philomath Sewage Ponds. It’s also possible that the types of ponds/cells here are not as attractive to birds are other ponds/cells.
Willow Lake Water Pollution Control Facility; Keizer, Oregon; Imagery 2019 Google, Map data 2019 Google.
But, because it’s in our 5MR, and because of what it is, I’d be remiss to not at least do a drive-by. Maybe there’s a berm outside that I could climb up with my scope? I could have examined the Google imagery more, but it’s within my 5MR. Just drive on up there!
To our surprise, adjacent to the facility are walking paths through a constructed wetland complex. It’s called the “City of Salem Natural Reclamation System” (NRS). Well what the heck does that mean? It means this, from the City of Salem’s website:
NRS is a five-year demonstration used to determine whether a constructed wetland approach can provide reuse water for farming and could provide us with a new way of dealing with treated wastewater, reusing it instead of directly discharging it into the Willamette River. (City of Salem 2017)
I’m slowly learning that my 5MR is chocked full of natural and constructed wetlands, and I could not be happier. Naturally, we spent the rest of the day here and got 25 species in under 2 hours, including a flipping Virginia Rail!. We also met a really nice man named “Bob” who goes for his daily walks here. We could see the actual circular cells from the wetland complex, but it was through a gate. The cells were also full of gulls, and I wasn’t really in a “gull” mood that day.
City of Salem NRS interpretive signage; January 12, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt.
City of Salem NRS constructed wetlands; January 12, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt.
Snowy Egret, eh? Hmmm; City of Salem NRS interpretive signage; January 12, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt.
Song Sparrow; City of Salem NRS; January 12, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt.
My first bird of 2019 was a Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) followed soon after by my front-yard 9-to-5 suet-cake monitor, this female Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Audubon).
I’m a little relieved that my 2018 Oregon Big Year has come to a close. Chasing birds, seeing a handful of lifers, exploring Oregon, and meeting new friends were wonderful, but the disappointment that came with missing chased birds, not being able to chase birds because of other commitments, and things like my failed 8-hour pelagic tour weighed on me too much sometimes.
Onward, and enter two new birding challenges that I think will be a little easier on my well-being:
Participating in the 5MR challenge!
Seeing my truly sought-after, missed Oregon 2019 birds (e.g., both rosy-finches)
Let’s start with the 5-mile-radius challenge (the 5MR challenge). This isn’t an incredibly new idea, but Jen at http://www.iusedtohatebirds.com/ has given this idea some fresh light and has rallied a handful of birders from across the country (and beyond) to participate, including me.
This challenge for me has three categories:
See as many bird species as I can within 5 miles of my house.
Bird places in my 5MR that I may have overlooked in the past, and discover new potential birding eBird hotspots.
See the highest % of bird species relative to the number of birds seen in your county.
The bonus (and possible hindrance in terms of category #1) for me is that we’ll be moving this year, so I’ll be switching from one radius to another at some point. But I do know that my second 5MR will include the Columbia River, both the OR and WA sides!
Starting with my 5MR here in Salem, OR, we birded all day on January 1, starting with the feeder birds in our yard. Species total: 13.
After, I headed over to Mirror Pond just north of the Salem Courthouse in downtown Salem, because an American Dipper was seen there a few weeks ago. I dipped on the dipper, but if I get an American Dipper in my 5MR, I’ll be truly ecstatic. Species total: 13.
Our next stop was the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve in West Salem. The reserve is a 7-acre woodlot in the middle of a residential area. The Salem Audubon Society (with help from the Rotary Club of Salem) has done incredible work here, including building a pond, putting up feeders, and working on controlling invasive plans species (e.g., English ivy, Himalayan blackberry). Volunteers work every Wednesday at the Reserve to improve it. Our highlight was the Western Bluebirds. They were high up in the Oregon white oaks, feeding on the mistletoe berries. Species total: 8.
Following this, we headed over to Straub Nature Park in West Salem, where the highlights were Townsend Warblers and a Varied Thrush. Overall, it was a quiet and expedited trip. Species total: 6.
From here, we went to the Fairview Wetlands near the Salem Airport. This wetland complex was created in the 1990s to mitigate impacts to natural areas in this same area from the development of an industrial commercial business park. Species total: 19.
As you can see from the above picture, the sun was setting, but I knew we could get two more species—Gadwalls and Pied-billed Grebes—at a pond in Minto-Brown. And we did, just in the nick of time before the sun completely set. Species total: 7.