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The four winners of the first annual Wetlands Photo Contest were recently announced

Every so often, a friend comes up to me and says, "I really enjoy your column. I didn't know you were a birder."

Birder? You've got to be kidding me. Do I look like a birder? Sure, I have some optics and a few bird books, but a birder? Birders are bonkers. They routinely get up at oh-dark-thirty to find obscure birds with funny names. They keep lists of birds seen – lots of lists. They spend most waking hours birding (NOT bird watching), and when they're not birding, they're thinking or dreaming of birds.

OK. I've been known to do these things occasionally, but I need to tell you that most of the birding information in Tule Talk comes from a Wetlands volunteer who's a real birder – Chuck Gates. I might edit it a bit, but he's the guy with all the bird smarts.

So, let's get on with it.

Even with low water levels this year, the Wetlands continue to be a beacon that attracts BIRDS of all kinds, including some rarities. Notable fall visitors included a snowy plover (fourth county record), several solitary sandpipers, two semipalmated sandpipers and a black phoebe.

Fall has a different meaning to birders than it does to normal people. To a birder, fall encompasses the months of August through November. August is included since it's when many shorebirds begin their "fall" migration south. With winter being December through February, and spring March through May, summer is left with only two months – June and July. Not much time for barbecues in the park.

Another notable "fall" happening at the Wetlands was the installation of 14 more BENCHES all the way to pond 15. Visitors can now push their walks a bit, knowing that if their legs get rubbery – or they simply want a place to sit for lunch – a comfortable bench will be nearby. Thank you, Crook County On The Move.

GUIDED BIRD WALKS started in September and have been popular with more than 20 people taking advantage of the initial offering. From now through about March, the walks will be held on the first Saturday of each month, beginning at 10 a.m., and will last about two hours. For those who need a little help to get around, a volunteer will ferry you in the cart. If you don't have binoculars, don't worry – local birders generously donated seven pairs for participants' use. Thank you!

Fall also brought the culmination of the first annual WETLANDS PHOTO CONTEST. Although the number of entries was a little slim – to be expected for the first go-round – there were some great ones. The winners (all from Prineville) are: Rebecca Taylor for an amazing shot of an eared grebe and young (adult nature); Aaron Case for an endearing pic of a little guy on a bike (adult recreation); Brent Krebs for a dramatic photo of ominous clouds over the water (adult scenic); and youth Ana Jacuinde for a creative image of dry, cracked mud under a walkway. Thanks to all the participants, and stay tuned for next year's competition.

Finally, Prineville Bird Club volunteers cleaned out the Tree Swallow NEST BOXES – an annual event that always offers surprises. This year, only 44% (98) of 222 nest boxes actually had nests (compared to 55% last year). The drought and heat appear to have had an effect as 93% of those boxes near the river were successful compared to only 31% elsewhere. The four American kestrel nest boxes installed last year remained unused by kestrels, although tree swallows used two and starlings took over a third. This is as expected as it usually takes a couple of years for kestrels to become interested in a new box.

What does the WINTER promise? Water levels should improve and waterfowl should come pouring in during November and December. January usually means "the big freeze," so there is little bird activity in that month. Things tend to thaw out in February, and some of the waterfowl will return.

Beginning in November, look for big numbers of dabbling ducks like northern shovelers, mallards, green-winged teal, northern pintails, and American wigeons. Diving ducks will include bufflehead, lesser scaup, common goldeneye, ruddy duck and ring-necked ducks.

What are "dabbling" and "diving" ducks, you may ask? Dabbling ducks tip over to feed (bottoms up!), whereas diving ducks actually dive below the water's surface – now they're here and now they're not. Diving ducks also have black and white color patterns. Observe their take off and landing. Dabbling ducks come in slow and require very little water as a landing pad. Takeoff can be quick and nearly vertical. Diving ducks come in fast and need more real estate both to land and take off, almost appearing to run on the water before they get airborne.

Other expected birds include eared grebes, American coots, and various geese, especially Canada but also greater white-fronted, snow, and Ross's. Unusual species to look for include Eurasian wigeon, surf scoter, greater scaup, Barrow's goldeneye and horned grebe.

Look hard and you might also find an occasional birder. They're to be expected year-round.

Art

I'm sending the four winning photos from the photo contest. All have file names explaining what they are. It would be great if you could publish all four but I know you have constraints, and so I'll take what you give me. If you can only do two, for example, maybe we can include the other two next time.


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