Oakridge Christmas Bird Count - report by Don Laufer
The Oakridge Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, January 4. The crew of about a dozen hardy souls, led by Joel Geier from Corvallis, assembled at the Lion Mountain Bakery on Hwy 58 by 7:30am. Everyone introduced themselves over breakfast, mostly from Oakridge and Cottage Grove, teams were formed and routes assigned.
I joined Oakridge residents Amy and Alicja on a route north of Hwy 58 that included the golf course and areas surrounding High Prairie Road. Mary Lee Sayre said I should have a good chance of seeing a Great Gray Owl since one had been frequently seen in that area recently. We started near the golf course in windy and rainy conditions with the temperature in the high 30's. It had snowed earlier that morning but little remained on the ground.
The golf course had the greatest variety and number of birds. There were Juncos and Steller's Jays in abundance, the most ubiquitous birds of the day, but also many Flickers. One large oak tree hosted a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Steller's and Scrub Jays, Flickers and sparrows. A Red-shouldered Hawk could be heard calling in the far distance. As we walked around the golf course, escorted by a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, we also saw Buffleheads, Ravens, a number of Varied Thrushes and a Red-tailed Hawk.
Around 10:00 it stopped raining and the sky started clearing as we went for a visit to Mary Lee's house where I was able to get some good pictures of a White-throated Sparrow and yellow morph House Finches.
At some point, as we meandered the back roads of High Prairie we saw a flock of 16 Wild Turkeys and a smaller flock of Western Bluebirds. As we approached Amy's property around 12:40 she told us to keep a lookout for the GGO which could be on a fence post, small tree or even the power lines. She spotted it on the wire right near her driveway so we stopped and watched it as it swooped down to a fence post next to her driveway. We decided to go on to another location rather than get too close to it by going to her house. We returned 1/2 hour later and it was still sitting on the post by her driveway so we drove very slowly past and parked by her house.
I was able to walk back towards the owl while screened by rhoddies and took pictures from a distance of about 50 ft. There were a large number of Steller's Jays visiting her feeders and they were completely ignoring the owl as were all the Juncos, Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Red-tailed Hawks were soaring and calling in the distance.
After I went out into a pasture and took more pictures of the owl from a different angle it flew into a large fir tree next to the post it had been on. By 1:55 we decided to leave and finish our route but spotted the owl in the tree at eye-level as we drove past and I was able to get one more good shot from very close range. The owl had been in that immediate vicinity for over an hour in broad daylight! It was a lifer for me. Later on we again spied the flock of Turkeys, now 31 strong.
We ended the day visiting several other spots with great views but few new birds. The final sighting was of the Red-shouldered Hawk now roosting in a tree at the golf course. The teams reassembled to tally and report their numbers at the Brewer's Union Local 180 pub in Oakridge.
The following is excerpted from Joel Geier's email reporting on the preliminary results:
We wound up with 73 species plus the Mute Swan (which is probably not "countable"). That's the highest number of species for this count since December of 1981 when our predecessors found 74 species.
The Black Phoebe was a brand-new species for the count. We also set new all-time Oakridge records for Ruddy Duck (7), Virginia Rail (1 finally found on count day after a couple of "count week" birds), White-throated Sparrow (2) and last but definitely not least ... Great Gray Owl since we think there were 2 separate birds.
That last one also ties the state record for Great Gray Owls, at among ongoing Oregon counts. Silverton and Umatilla are the only ongoing counts that have matched that number. The Fort Klamath CBC which ran from Dec 3, 1956 to Dec 31, 1962 (one month after I was born, so can't say I remember that one real well) recorded 7 in 1961!
At this point we also have 3 count-week species (Hooded Merganser, Killdeer, and White-crowned Sparrow).
Below are the preliminary totals. Thanks again for your efforts, "we done good!"
Preliminary totals for Oakridge CBC on 4 Jan 2020
(cw = "count week"; "recent years" = 2009-2020 after the older counts which ran from December 1971 through December 1984)