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Low water levels at the wetlands caused birding to be pretty slow this fall season

PHOTO COURTESY OF RON HALVORSON
 - A volunteer plants a native shrub during the Discover Your Forest pollinator project on Oct. 16.

"Where are the Wetlands?" is a question often asked by visitors. Not, "How do I get to the Wetlands," but "Where's the water?" Well, there are lots of reasons why water has been scarce this year, but we can all hope that next year will be better. That should be a bumper sticker: Wetter and Better in 2021.

But it's not been all bad. Dry ponds allowed for needed maintenance, including re-staining and protection of the observation piers in pond 10 and northeast of pond 10 near the river. And while the piers got treated, so did the pavilion at the parking area. This should help to preserve these wooden structures for several years to come. Not to be left undone, the parking lot and entrance road have been re-striped, making them look almost new, and some additional burning was accomplished in an effort to reduce some of the vegetation. It will be interesting to see how this pans out next spring.

Low water levels did conspire to reduce habitat for migrating birds, however, and so birding was pretty slow this fall season. That said, there were some unusual birds that stopped by for a short period. New birds added to the Wetlands species list included Short-billed Dowitcher, Lapland Longspur and White-throated Sparrow. Other unusual visitors included Red-shouldered Hawk, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Black Phoebe and Sage Thrasher.

Looking ahead to winter, with an anticipated rise in water levels, waterfowl will flood the Wetlands once again. This will likely be the norm until mid-winter ice covers the area. Look for large numbers of Mallards, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers. Small birds in the cattails and long grasses should include White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and maybe even something rare like a Swamp Sparrow. The more you look . . . the more you will see. To date, 184 species of birds have been documented from this popular birding area.

Low water or not, it was a good year for Tree Swallow nesting. Each year, volunteers from the Prineville Bird Club monitor the 200-plus nest boxes scattered around the Wetlands perimeter, and this year, 55% were filled with nests. This compares to 23% in 2018 and 48% last year.

Autumn is a great time to plant perennials, and two groups took advantage of the season to establish two new pollinator gardens near the Monarch Butterfly kiosk.

The blustery weather wasn't ideal, but on Oc. 13 about 20 workers from the Deschutes Land Trust and Prineville Bird Club, along with the Wetlands volunteers, planted nearly 300 pollinator plants representing about 15 species, including Oregon sunshine, various penstemons and both narrow-leaved and showy milkweed.

Three days later, a crew from Heart of Oregon helped plant almost 1,000 plants under the direction of Discover Your Forest. These plants were similar to the Land Trust planting but also included a few native flowering shrubs such as chokecherry and wax currant. This project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and in-kind labor and equipment contributions from the city.

So what's the big deal about pollinator gardens? According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, wasps and even hummingbirds – are crucial for the world's food crops. Bees alone pollinate one fourth of the plants we use as food. Unfortunately, pollinators are threatened by such things as habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, disease and parasites. It's about more than just Monarchs and every little pollinator garden helps.

But wait. There's more. A chilly morning on Oct. 22 found a dozen volunteers maintaining the educational kiosks. Each Plexiglas cover was removed, cleaned, and then reinstalled over the freshly washed interpretive panel. For the most part, these panels get dirty from fly specks and dust, and not so much from birds since the metal covers were installed earlier this year on the top. The bolts holding the Plexiglas were also retrofitted with lock washers to keep them from loosening from wind.

That's all the news from the Wetlands that's fit to print. Get out there, go for a walk, find some birds and enjoy these clear, crisp, smoke-free days.


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