For those of you who are into \"birding\" or \"bird watching\", eastern Oregon is definitely worth visiting.
We are at the southern limit of the blue mountains and on the northern border of the basin and range territory so we have an unusual variety of environments encompassing both forest and desert habitats. We lie between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Cascade Range to the west which tends to channel migratory birds on the journey between the arctic and South America. Since much of our region is arid, birds tend to congregate where there is water, making them easier to find.
Last weekend was the annual Christmas bird count and the Grant County birders came out to count. In spite of what I said about eastern Oregon being desert it rained heavily that day so the count was cut short but still, according to Mike Bohannon, one of the participants, \"with 16 participants under the determined leadership of Tom Winters, 63 species of birds were observed. Sixty four species is the average\". So all in all the home team did well in spite of adverse conditions.
According to Thomas Winter, compiler of the John Day Christmas Bird Count for the last 27 years, special birds for Grant County are Ring-necked Duck, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Mountain Quail, Gray Partridge, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Long-billed Curlew, Black Tern, Flammulated Owl, Great Gray Owl, White-throated Swift, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Bank Swallow, Bobolink, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.
The pictures in this edition of the Gazette can give some idea of our bird life. Spring and fall see large numbers of migrants passing through while our resident species, which span the range from humming birds to bald eagles, can be seen year-round.
Spring is probably the most poplar season. The John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival held every April at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in adjacent Harney County draws birding enthusiasts from all over the world.
Summer has both good and bad points. This is the driest season so the birds that are here will be concentrated near what water is available. The bad is that this is when the sun is at its hottest and the climate at its most punishing.
In the fall the temperatures come back down and the southern migration takes place. The moisture is more variable than in the spring because in the spring, there is always some snow runoff whereas the fall might be rainy or it can be very dry depending on how early the winter rains start.
I can testify that large raptors are a very common sight around here. The open spaces and low population makes it a comfortable environment for bald eagles. Many others including red-tailed hawks and osprey are also abundant.
If you are thinking of mounting a Grant County birding expedition, there are lots of helpful websites. Here is my pick of some of the most useful for visitors to eastern Oregon: Birding Oregon Grant County page ,Oregon Birders Online, Oregon Birding Association, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Basin and Range Birding Trail.
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Photo credit:C. Weatherford