Saturday, January 26, 2008

Naming birds

Yesterday I went to Fernhill, the local wetland, for a walk . I was curious to see if there was any open water for birds. One of the best things about rainy Oregon winters, I've found, is that it seldom freezes, creating flooded fields and food for waterfowl. These last few days, however, it's been cold by our standards: nights in the teens, days in the high 30s. That's partly because we've had a string of days with no clouds, nothing to hold the heat of the day in.

There are 3 main ponds at Fernhill and some wetlands to the east. The first pond was frozen, but had a hundred or more gulls and at least that many cackling geese huddled on the ice. I walked south to the next pond, where there was a bit of open water. There were a few common mergansers, some coots, double-crested cormorants, several gadwalls and a pied-billed grebe. A few great blue herons hung out along the shore.

I turned east and saw sparrows on the path, mostly golden-crowned and song. A little further a hermit thrush flitted in a tree, but I had to take a second look. I'm still surprised when I see birds that would never show up in Wisconsin in January.

Eventually I made it to the wetland east of the first pond. There was plenty of open water. Pintails were in the majority, followed by mallards and green-winged teal--and cackling geese. I love seeing gw teal in the sun. Stunning. I kept my binocs on the ducks. Soon, a canvasback came into view, and then a lesser scaup. I turned toward the north and saw a ring-necked duck with some pintails and a shoveler. Turning back, I saw more ring-neckeds.

Getting back in the car, I drove along a road that borders the wetland and found 5 egrets hanging out in a field, looking for voles. A red-tail hawk flew overhead, while a kestrel perched on a wire. My soul fed by birds and sun, I went home. This morning I posted what I saw on OBOL, Oregon Birders On Line. I noticed someone else had been at Fernhill earlier in the day. He listed 6 or 7 kinds of gulls. I sighed.

I took ornithology when I lived in Wisconsin. I learned the main gulls, though I never came close to mastering shorebirds. When I moved out here, I thought: I'm not learning gulls again. Too hard. What is it that makes us want to name things? I decided years ago I would no longer keep a life list. I watched birds for the sheer joy of it. For the gift of being totally present. For the awe of seeing such feathered beauty.

Yet when I read the list of gulls, I wondered, "Should I learn them?"
I'll keep you posted.

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