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Audubon Society of Portland's annual count gets off to an exciting start for one member of a Milwaukie group

PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Milwaukie residents Robert and Gail Massey focus their binoculars, looking for birds in a group of tall fir trees just off Southeast King Road.The Audubon Society of Portland's Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 5 got off to an exciting start for one member of a Milwaukie group of bird counters.

When Oregon City resident Mark Bassick arrived at the pond at Giadanj Estates just off King Road at 8:15 a.m., he saw at least 1,000 Canada and cackling geese almost covering the surface of the pond. But, just as he began counting the honkers, they all took off in a wild, noisy jumble and within 20 seconds were gone.

Earlier that morning, 80 bird counters gathered at the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church in Southeast Portland. The participants were divided into groups, assigned to cover Oaks Bottom, Mount Tabor, Westmoreland and Eastmoreland, Springwater and Milwaukie. Similar groups gathered in other parts of the metro area.

Dan Strong, one of the organizers of the annual bird count, told the group that this was the 93rd annual bird count in the Portland area and the 119th in North America, making it the longest-running ornithological data set in the world.

Counters could expect to see 12,000 individual birds and 90 species, Strong said. Numbers are entered into a national database, and that information is used to predict climate change and loss of bird habitat, among other factors.

"You do important work today," Strong said.

Milwaukie sectors

After the Southeast sector groups dispersed, Strong, a Gladstone resident, led a group of eight counters to a number of different sites in the Milwaukie area. Two other groups covered the waterfront and interior sites, including Spring Park and Elk Rock Island, the Trolley Trail, Kellogg Creek Park and more.

Even though the seven people who joined Bassick at Giadanj Estates did not get to see thousands of geese, they did count 13 northern shovelers, sitting on logs in the pond, accompanied by coots, mallard ducks, ruddy ducks and buffleheads. In the trees around the estate, counters observed a Cooper's hawk being chased off by crows, hummingbirds, a red-breasted sapsucker and flocks of robins.

At the group's second site on Jack Road, songbirds, sparrows, juncos, Steller's jays and Bewick's wrens made the list.

At the third site, near the northwest corner of Furnberg Park, the counters observed lesser goldfinches, a red-tailed hawk and several varieties of sparrows cavorting in the brambles. At one point, a V-formation of 50 Canada geese flew over, then vanished in the fog. The group also heard the haunting cry of the mourning dove.

"We count the birds we see, and we count the ones we hear," Strong said.

'Community of people'

Milwaukie residents Gail and Robert Massey noted this was their first bird count, and what impressed Gail Massey the most was so many people working together to collect data.

Her husband said he liked the idea of "a community of people all across the country" coming together to count birds.

"This has been going on for over a 100 years. That's a lot of knowledge, that's real science," he said.

Gail Massey agreed, adding that "birds are bellwethers."

This was Anne Farley's fourth bird count expedition; she has known Strong since they were children.

"I love paying attention to one thing. If you pay attention to birds, it can open your eyes to something else," she said.

Ron Myers, who works with Strong in Clackamas County's Water Environment Services, performs an important function for the group — he keeps a running tally of the numbers of individual birds sighted.

"It's through working with Dan that I got to know all the different birds. I saw my first kestrel with Dan," he said.

Myers added that the best part of every bird count is "seeing those occasional rare birds."

For more information about the Audubon Society of Portland, visit audubonportland.org.

Birdathon 2019

For those who missed the Christmas Bird Count, the Audubon Society of Portland also will hold Birdathon 2019, an activity designed to help protect Oregon's native birds.

Like a walk-a-thon, Birdathon participants collect pledges from friends, family members and co-workers for finding and counting bird species. It's a competitive and educational event for any level of birdwatcher, as well as for the family and friends who cheer them on.

People can form teams, participate as an individual, or simply participate as a backyard birder.

Registration for the event begins March 15. For details contact Birdathon coordinator Mark Fitzsimons at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. A minimum donation of $45 per person is requested.

14th annual Raptor Road Trip

This event takes place from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, on Sauvie Island. Visitors begin their day at Kruger's Farm Market, where for a $10 fee they will be given an event map and illustrated raptor identification guide.

The road trip is suitable for birders of all ages and skill levels.

Visitors will see bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes, snow geese, great blue herons and more.

For more information, visit audubonportland.org/local-birding/raptor-trip.

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