Drought hasn't kept birds from wetlands
Birds are still at the Wetlands in spite of the drought. In fact, a birding group from East Cascades Audubon Society tallied an impressive list of 53 species and more than 500 individuals at the Wetlands on July 14.
Even so, the few ponds that have sustained water have not been at levels indicative of a "productive" wetland, where the various species can thrive and reproduce. Some did reproduce this year at a reduced level, but most birds didn't even try to nest. Should the drought continue as predicted, we could start to see fewer birds.
Drying ponds, though, mean muddy shorelines. And muddy shorelines – you guessed it – mean shorebirds, which are moving through the area at the beginning of their fall migration. Fall? Yep. Fall migration for shorebirds starts about July 1. Why so early? After all, some of them just visited us on their way north in May.
It turns out that some shorebirds fly all the way from the tropics to the Arctic Ocean only to turn around after a month and retrace their wing beats south. What gives? The short answer is they failed to successfully breed. They may have not been able to find a mate. They may have mated but the nest failed. They may have hatched young but the young died. When those mating attempts end in failure, there is not enough time in the short northern growing season to try again. So those unlucky parents point their beaks south and head back from whence they came.
The spring migration is very quick as the birds are in a hurry to get north and make baby shorebirds, but in the fall, they take their time. This gives us the opportunity to see many of them on our periodic trips to the Wetlands. Stilts, avocets, dowitchers and sandpipers are often joined by phalaropes, yellowlegs, and plovers, making the mudflats at the wetlands one of the go-to shorebirding spots in Central Oregon. Check out the shallow areas in ponds 9 and 11 and watch for small birds feeding in the mud. As you do so, don't forget to ponder that Prineville is but one stop on a journey that can exceed 5,000 miles one way.
And now a shameless plug. If you want to learn about shorebirds, come to the Prineville Bird Club. Monthly meetings will resume on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Crook County Library, where the topic will be – shorebirds.
Now that the community has loosened up a bit, volunteers are back to giving cart tours. This is a great way for those who want to see the entirety of the facility but just can't do it on foot. Or maybe you have a visiting birder friend who wants a quick look-see. If you get the right volunteer (you will) you'll have a guided tour and not only see birds, but gain a better understanding of why the Wetlands are there in the first place and how the development benefits Prineville.
If you happen to be out there and see someone in the cart, ask if they have time to take you around, but a better tack is to call ahead for reservations. Chuck Gates (541-280-4957) is the guy.
Have you seen the pollinator gardens near kiosk G (the northeast corner of pond 9)? If not, you need to have a look. The original "Monarch Garden" is pretty impressive, as is the "Boy Scout" planting in the water troughs just to the west. Below the kiosk is the "Land Trust" garden, and west of the Boy Scout planting is the "Discover" garden. These last two are still in their infancy and have required lots of TLC this hot summer.
Back to birds. Beginning in September, volunteers will be leading wetlands bird walks on the first and third Saturdays of each month (monthly beginning in October and through the winter). All you need to do is show up. Bring your binoculars if you have them; otherwise a few loaners will be available. The leaders will also have spotting scopes for your enjoyment, and a volunteer will drive the cart for those who need it. Reminders and more information will be posted on the information boards by the pavilion and will also be found on the Wetlands' Facebook page, so keep your eyes peeled.
If you've ever been to a really birdy place (think Malheur) you've probably seen the boards that record where unusual or interesting birds have been recently observed. Not to be left behind, volunteers have installed our own bird board on the back of the main Wetlands map at the pavilion. Here you can find out what birds have been seen, their location and when. You're encouraged to post your own observations as well, and not just of birds. Have you seen a skunk? A bullfrog? An interesting plant? Your post will help others to enjoy this great facility.
So, get out there, get some exercise, take some pics and enjoy creation.
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