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Crooked River Wetlands Complex volunteers and Prineville Bird Club members teaming up to offer new bird watching program

 - The northern shoveler is one of the many birds people can spot at the Wetlands.

Whether you're an aspiring bird watcher, a bird expert or somewhere in between, hosts of a new bird walk program are inviting you to the wetlands.

The Prineville Bird Club and volunteers with the Crooked River Wetlands Complex have teamed up to offer bird walks on a regular basis. The walks started earlier this month, with one taking place on Sept. 4. Another walk is planned for Sept. 18. October through April, the program will get scaled back to once a month, with twice-a-month walks returning May through September.

Chuck Gates, founder of the Prineville Bird Club and a retired Crook County High School biology teacher, credits Wetlands volunteer Diana Roberts with the bird walk idea, which he said she suggested during a volunteer meeting.

"She thought it would be great if, as a group, the volunteers teamed up with the Prineville Bird Club and led monthly, sometimes twice-monthly, bird walks because we have a little bit of expertise and we are volunteers, so we have a have a little bit of time."

The Sept. 18 and Oct. 2 walks will begin at the Wetlands pavilion parking lot (4035 NW Rimrock Acres Loop) at 7:45 a.m. Events taking place November through April will start at 9:45 a.m. Gates will guide the walks and provide his expertise as other volunteers and bird club members help lead the sessions and offer information and viewing equipment as needed.

"The length of the walk is going to vary from season to season, and the time we are out there will vary from season to season," Gates said, adding that the goal is to keep the walk to two miles and two hours or less. "If the weather is really good and there are a lot of birds and lots of places to go, then we don't want to put a limit on how long people want to stay."

The first walk was a success, Gates said, noting that about 24 people showed up and four bird club members helped lead the session with five spotting scopes.

"Everybody got a good chance to see birds up close and be close to somebody who is more experienced and help them with identification," he remarked.

Although the plan is to scale back to once-a-month bird walks during the fall and winter, Gates stressed that each of the seasons has something to offer for birders. He said that the two most abundant times are spring and fall, because they provide viewers with a lot more species.

"Not only do we get resident birds, we get migrants that are heading north or south," he added.

During the winter and summer, the number of species at the wetlands declines, but that doesn't mean that viewing won't interest birders. He notes that winter brings bird species not seen during the remainder of the year, and the summer months give the opportunity to see baby birds.

In addition to the versatility that the seasons offer, the wetlands itself features a wide variety of habitat that attracts numerous bird species. Mud habitats draws shore birds, Gates said, while some deep waters bring diving ducks. Medium shallow water with vegetation and marshy areas mix with open water and dry areas. The wetlands are also bordered by pastureland on one side, farmland on another and is situated near the Crooked River.

"Each habitat brings in their own set of birds," Gates said.

Anybody interested in bird watching is encouraged to show up at the bird walks. People are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Those who can are encouraged to bring binoculars or cameras.

"You don't have to be an experienced bird watcher to have a good time out there," Gates said. "Everyone is welcome."

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