Arnie’s Tips for Birders

By Morris Pike –

American Goldfinch (Carduelsis tristis)

My alter ego Arnie and I, hopped out of my black Land Rover.

“Better to have brought my Prius,” Arnie said thumping the Rover’s sizable hood. “This rig is going to sound like a hydrogen bomb to innocent birds . . . we’ll be lucky if any stay around.”

Content with the comforts of my Rover I ignored his hyperbole.

Arnie donned a floppy, broad-brimmed Tilly hat and began unloading his gear.

I gave him a quizzical look.

“Keeps the glare off my glasses,” he said cleaning his transitions. “Keeps the birds from seeing the whites of my eyes.”

He looked me up and down. “You’ll need to do something about your appearance . . . you look like a lighthouse beacon.”

“Well you look like a sniper dressed for battle . . . like you were trying to hide from something or someone.” I said adjusting my baseball cap. “I’ve never seen you dress like that.”

“Aren’t we going bird watching? You said . . .”

“A hike is what I said . . . just wanted to check out some of the wilderness trails around the Little North Santiam River.”

“Wilderness trails . . . that would mean birds, wouldn’t you say? Duh!”

“Okay, okay. Then, the funny hat and fancy camera with a long-throw lens, I get. But the high-powered binoculars, the contour map of the terrain and the GPS device seem a bit of overkill. You think we might get lost?”

“We have to be able to record everything just in case we come across a new species of sparrow or something and we can claim bragging rights.”

“But look at you . . . camouflage vest, bloused trousers, elastic cuffed sleeves. You make me look like a anemic tourist. And what’s with the black gloves? We expecting falcons or razor clawed owls?”

“Sun glinting off white hands is like a semaphore to birds . . . frightens them away. When we locate birds, you’ll have to hide . . . or all this is a waste,” Arnie said indicating his bird watching paraphernalia.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

“Alright. We find birds, I’ll get lost.”

Arnie laughed. “You mean WHEN we find birds.”

I’d parked the Rover on a flat spot near a gravel pit alongside a logging road that snaked through the trees. This section of the forest had been clear-cut about six years ago and was now in the grass-forb, shrub and open sapling pole stages of growth . . . what the forest service people would label a young forest.

It was hot in the bright sunshine. Bugs of various sizes flitted through the still air . . . others crawled through the reddish dirt.

“Birds will not go hungry today,” I noted brushing a flying beetle off the bill of my cap.

I turned to look. Arnie had stopped . . . binoculars to his eyes, he was scouting the edge . . .  a hundred yards or so away.

“Focus on the middle limb on that snag,” he said handing me the glasses. “It’s a spotted towhee.”

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

I raised the heavy glasses to my eyes and tried to find the towhee through the trembling leaves. Arnie steadied the binoculars for me with an experienced hand.

“Wow, pretty bird.” I exclaimed marveling at the blend of colors and the confident carriage of the hardy songbird.

“He’s looking for food,” Arnie said.

“Like a T-bone?”

Arnie laughed. “These songbirds feast on insects, seeds, wild berries, fruit, weevils, beetles, ” he paused to catch his breath then continued rattling off bird cuisine . . . “caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, spiders, snails and earthworms.”

“Gotta be healthy,” I said shifting the binocular’s focus to the top branches of a fir near the edge of the forest.  There I could see a flock of cedar waxwings who had been eating from a fruited tree growing in a nearby open space.

Cedar Waxwing

“Yeah, healthy for the birds that live in the seral.”

“It doesn’t look surreal to me,” I said scanning the terrain for signs of other warblers.

“Seral,” Arnie corrected. “Seral is what they call the replacement forest that has grown back after an event such as fire or clear cut. Early seral forests are important for some species of songbirds because they provide cover, foraging and nesting habitat they need. You don’t find songbirds in the old growth forest like you see off in the distance.”

“No song birds there? Bummer.”

“No . . . but not to worry. Each type of forest is habitat for different species of birds. Whoever, owns this land has done a good job of management.”

“The ground looks a bit ratty to me,” I interrupted pointing to a dead snag and a downed log that had been grayed by death.

“The loggers deliberately leave those elements to provide even more shelter and habitat. Each species requires a healthy balance of death and rebirth and Oregon forests are managed to provide that.”

We had left the trail and to enter the shadows of a stand of mature trees.

“Listen to that,” I said referring to the avalanche of singing birds clustered in the shrubs and trees.

As we moved into the sunlight, the bird singing abruptly stopped.

“It isn’t me . . . ” Arnie said. “They spotted your pale-face beacon. Sit here for a few minutes and the concert will begin again.”

I settled down with my back against a stump. Arnie crouched beside me. We waited.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

“See that red headed sapsucker?” Arnie asked pointing his high-powered camera at the colorful bird. “Watch. She will sit for a few seconds . . . flit to another spot . . . then to another and another then back again in the same pattern. My camera is focused on the spot she just left. Next time her routine brings her back to this spot I’ll be ready to snap the shutter . . . and voila a perfect picture!”

Arnie got the shot . . . then, he tiptoed along the shadow line with his camera at the ready for another one.

I on the other hand just enjoyed the dozens of melodies sounding in the forest and the hypnotic sight of beautiful songbirds doing their life dance in their friendly habitat.

Late afternoon, Arnie and I negotiated the highways back to the city, wishing we could bring the choirs of song birds with us . . . singing their joy as they do in the forests they call home.


Larry D. Rea, photographer

Photos by Larry Rea;

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