Spring has sprung, so the birds are back
Spring is here (yay!) and along with a change in greenery comes the arrival of spring bird migrants. This movement has already started with a trickle of early migrants (turkey vultures, swallows, Say's phoebes, red-winged blackbirds), will peak around mid-May (most of the songbirds) and tail off (no pun intended) with late migrants like the common nighthawk in late May. Some early migrants have probably arrived by the time you read this, including the cinnamon teal, which usually shows up around March 24 and the osprey on March 25.
Osprey will immediately begin building nests at historic sites like Kilowatt Field and the fairgrounds, and hopefully at the new osprey platforms at the Wetlands, an Eagle Scout project from last year. Watch for large, eagle-like birds (I know, birders, osprey aren't at all like eagles) carrying sticks and other materials. It's the male that does all the carrying; the female stays on the platform and constructs the nest to her liking.
Yellow-headed blackbirds arrive at the Wetlands close to April 9 with the males coming in first, followed by the females a couple of weeks later. Little house wrens and much larger Swainson's hawks are due around April 14. Rufous hummingbirds come in close to April 20 and calliope hummingbirds should be here by April 22, so get your feeders up and stocked by early April to catch the early arrivals.
Western kingbirds come in around April 23 and the diminutive spotted sandpipers arrive at the Crooked River Wetlands somewhere around April 27. Look for the savannah sparrows, Wilson's warblers and Wilson's phalaropes to arrive right at the end of April.
As May dawns, hordes of migrating flycatchers, warblers, tanagers and grosbeaks will feed in the willows along the Crooked River as they use those waters as a highway to gain access to the Ochoco Mountains. Blue-winged teal should be in by May 3 and Bullock's orioles can be found near the local water features around May 5. May 12 is the average arrival date for ash-throated flycatchers and western wood-pewees. Common nighthawks will begin feeding on midges at the Wetlands close to May 29.
Speaking of birds (as we always seem to do) in February volunteers built and installed three American kestrel nest boxes near the Crooked River and one near the south side of the Wetlands. Our smallest falcon – formerly known as a sparrow hawk – is found throughout most of North and South America and is commonly encountered at the Wetlands. You probably recognize this small colorful bird with stripes on its face and its habit of flicking its tail when perched on a wire.
Like many birds, kestrels are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they use cavities created by other species such as woodpeckers and also readily accept artificial accommodations. Compared to the 200-plus tree swallow nest boxes all along the Wetlands' fences, kestrel boxes are huge – about four times the size in volume – and are substantially farther apart. Experts say one-half mile is the proper distance between them, so don't expect to see more any time soon.
These new nest boxes are a project of the East Cascades Audubon Society and part of a large, local network called the Central Oregon Kestrel Nest Box Trail. Data from the Wetlands nest boxes will be shared with the American Kestrel Partnership, whose goal is to increase the dwindling population of kestrels around the country. Once occupied – forever optimistic as you can tell – they will be monitored by the Prineville Bird Club and visited by local experts to band birds for research purposes. It will be exciting to see birds in these boxes this spring.
Improvement to visitor facilities continues including a planned picnic table near kiosk G and more "age friendly" benches around the ponds, a partnership between the Rotary Club of Crook County and Crook County On The Move with support from the City of Prineville. There are currently 10 such benches close to the parking area that create a safe place for people with limited mobility since they are placed only 300 feet apart and provide for a walk of about three-quarters mile.
Another 14 benches will be installed later this spring around the rest of the ponds with longer distances between. Located primarily at path junctions, these will serve people of all ages and abilities. So, if you're looking for a place to sit and think, the Wetlands is the place to be. Or you can just sit.
Attention all you amateur photographers out there! The Wetlands volunteers are sponsoring a photography contest for both adults and youth. Simply submit your digital photos taken at the Wetlands from May 1 to Aug. 31 and you might win a prize – of nominal value but intrinsically sentimental – along with the display of your pics at various venues.
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