January 13, 2018

One of the reasons why I’ve always loved birding is that it essentially brings me to some of my favourite places, namely forests and wetlands. This is also a fair assumption by folks who find out you’re a birder:

birder = a person who spends time outdoors in beautiful, natural places looking for birds

While this is often the case, on Saturday, January 13, I headed out to one of my area’s seriously birdy Hot Spots: the Philomath Sewage Ponds.

The Philomath Sewage Ponds are just south of the town of Philomath. They comprise three lagoon cells (i.e., ponds). After passing through the facility’s headworks, raw sewage is stored in these three ponds, which are designed to kick-off the treatment of raw sewage by “storage under conditions that favor natural biological treatment and accompanying bacterial reduction.”1 The water from these ponds is treated further when it is eventually pumped to what’s called a chlorine contact chamber. Eventually it is either discharged to the Mary’s River or is used for irrigation, depending on the season.

Anyway, these sewage ponds did not let me down. I found myself going from pond to pond, as if I were opening up Christmas gifts of birds to myself. After feeling pretty comfortable with the ponds, I moved onto the adjacent shrubby-wooded area to the south of the ponds where I saw a new-to-2018 species and lifer, a Black Phoebe.

Breaking the rest down for you here:

Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
*Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle
American Kestrel
*Black Phoebe (lifer!)
American Crow
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
*Savannah Sparrow


Black Pheobe; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Black Pheobe; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Northern Shoveler; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Northern Shovelers; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Red-tailed Hawk; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Savannah Sparrow; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

American Kestrel; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

*New Birds for 2018: 3 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 60 species (this includes two additional 2018 species I saw earlier in the week on January 10—*Gadwall and *Green Heron—both of which were at the Koll Center Wetlands Park near my eye doctor in Beaverton, Oregon. I stopped there for a few minutes before I went back to work).

  1. Westech Engineering, Inc. 2017. Wastewater System Facilities Plan. Philomath, Oregon. Available at: http://www.ci.philomath.or.us/vertical/sites/%7B2CFF016E-1592-4DB3-9E2B-444FA3EFC736%7D/uploads/PhilomathFacilitiesPlanV3.pdf

January 1, 2018

Happy New Years! Day 1 is off to a pretty good start. We woke up in Sisters, Oregon, after having spent December 31 skiing up at Hoodoo Ski Resort.

First bird of 2018: the American Robin. The robins were seen in trees surrounding a gas station in Sisters, Oregon.

From the parking lot of the gas station, at the top of a pine tree, was my second bird of 2018: Cooper’s Hawk.  Of course, I had to take a few grainy zoomed-in photos of this guy, because I wasn’t 100% sure if I was looking at a Sharpie or a Cooper’s, but judging from the somewhere rounded tail, I’m going with Cooper’s. Somebody tell me if I’m way off. Raptors are not my forte!


Cooper’s Hawk, Sisters, Oregon, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

The day proceeded with a bit of road travel, and we ended up at Belknap Hot Springs where C was going to soak and I was going to bird. These hot springs are along the Mackenzie River in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, near a town called Mackenzie Bridge, on Oregon Route 126. I love visiting these hot springs because of the river-adjacent hiking trails and because I see American Dippers every time I visit. Dippers are very animated little semi-aquatic birds. What they lack in colour and other visual features, they make up for tremendously in their behavior. First, they dip. Up and down like they’re doing the squats. They are usually found on the shore of a river, on something prominent (like a boulder). They jump in and out of the cold water, sometimes diving under and popping back up, and feed on aquatic insects and other “live bits” in the water. I adore dippers.


American Dipper at Belknap Hot Springs, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

My Belknap Hot Springs list DID include a dipper, but just one. My comprehensive Belknap Hot Springs finds are as follows:

American Dipper
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pileated Woodpecker
Song Sparrow
Stellar’s Jay

Oddly enough, that was it. It wasn’t too birdy at Belknap today. So, we left the springs and drove west down 126 until we reached the Leaburg Dam, where the City of Eugene has impounded and diverted the Mackenzie River for hydropower and created a small reservoir (Leaburg “Lake”) adjacent to Lloyd Knox Park. In addition to me and C, other visitors to  Leaburg Lake were as follows:

American Dipper
Common Goldeneye
Double-Crested Cormorant
Hooded Merganser
Ring-Necked Duck

We spent a good 45 minutes scoping all of these birds while freezing to death, so after getting great looks at all of these (both males and females of most of these species), we decided to head back home to the Salem area before it got dark.

Of course, birding doesn’t stop just because you’re driving. Here’s what we saw along the way:

American Crow
American Kestrel

Bald Eagle
Canada Goose
Great Egret
Red-Tailed Hawk (lost count of how many were perched along I-5)

That concludes Day 1. I was hoping we’d get home before dark so I could add some late-day feeder birds to my Day 1 count, but they’ll be there tomorrow.

End of Day Tally:
19 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley:
19 species

My Birding Genesis

It sort of begins in the fall of 2017, and I’m sitting in our newish home in western Oregon, finally making time to read a damn book. The book, Lost among the Birds by Neil Hayward, recounts the author’s Big Year, a year in which he travels the American Birding Association (ABA) Birding Area* in search of as many species of birds he can find. To give you an idea of the enormity of this task, Neil broke the ABA Big Year record in 2013 and saw 749 species of birds. Since then, a few people have broken Neil’s record, the latest being John Weigel, who in 2017 came in at 783 species. How can somebody see, find, and identify so many bird species? It’s not common, but if you’re a savvy birder, are willing to dedicate 12 months of your time travelling pretty constantly, and have some coin set aside, it can be done. A little bit of luck helps, too, as it’s hard to predict when or if the rarities will show up, and oftentimes, they’re the surprised guests that help beat records.

Or does it begin in the early 1980s, when I was maybe 6 or 7, and I found an old rubber duck in my grandma’s basement (it had been one of my aunt’s). I claimed that little duck immediately and appropriately name him “Ducky.” Several rubber ducks followed until I had a rubber duck entourage that rivalled some of my friends’ doll collections. I also still have my first two duck books: The Little Duck by Judy Dunn, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This early onset love of waterfowl turned into a healthy love and appreciation for the wetlands in and near my house, or mostly the wetlands I would read about (it’s hard to get around and explore too much when you’re 7).

I started taking birding seriously in my early 20s after watching a Carolina Wren build a nest on my parents’ front porch in southern Ontario, Canada. I continued to bird a lot in this area and found a very colourful and bright group of individuals for whom I spent many Saturday mornings. I once saw 100 bird species in 1 day in May in the early 2000s. I birded from dawn to dusk, with one of my best friends Janice, and saw 100 species in what is called the Point Pelee Birding Area in extreme southwestern Ontario. If you’re familiar with birding and with this area, you’ll know that seeing 100 species of birds in one day in May is actually not that out of reach. The Point Pelee area’s habitat diversity and the park proper’s prominence as a sand spit in Lake Erie place this area in what you could call the fall and spring bird migrations’ Path of Totality. In short: it’s birdy AF over there.

Let’s come back to the fall of 2017. I decided then that I would embark on a far tamer version of an ABA Big Year. I am going to do a 2018 Oregon Big Year. In 2018, I will travel statewide, on several evenings and weekends, to explore the various habitats of Oregon and to specifically seek out as many bird species as I can. Depending on the source, there are an estimated 470 bird species that can be seen in Oregon in a given year. This does not include the odd vagrant that will end up in Oregon. Considering this, I’m going to aim for 300 species in 2018. This is still a bit ambitious, especially since I do have a full-time job, but I am going to give it a serious “go,” and as you’ve likely deduced by this point, I’m going to write about it.

I hope you’ll stick around.

Linda (Wood Thrush)

* The ABA defines the ABA birding area as including “the 49 continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Bermuda, and Greenland are not included.”  Source: http://listing.aba.org/descriptions/