Friday, September 14, 2012

Lazy Days of Summer

by Susanna Hamilton

When was the last time you visited one of our locations here in the West Eugene Wetlands? A year ago, perhaps a month or a week ago, yesterday? I thought I would offer a little temptation to lure you out to enjoy this lazy end of summer in these wild places of our community.

Take a leisurely ride along the Fern Ridge Bike Path between Garfield and Greenhill to witness the industrious nature of our local beaver(s). There are three dens in this stretch that I am aware of, but you must pay attention to find them. At this late date in the season the willows are full, stretching their branches out to one another in attempt to hide the secrets along the banks of the creek. As well there is an easily identifiable dam across from the Tsanchiifin trail.

Looking to the ground, what's that I almost stepped in...? Scat! Blackberry season is upon us and along many of the paths you will find evidence of our local wild creatures having enjoyed the ripened blackberries. Come to think of it, there is nothing quite li
ke eating blackberries straight from the bush, warm and juicy from the sun, or cool and refreshing in the shade. YUM! 

If you listen carefully you can hear the Great Blue Herons calling. For their tall majestic stature, they have a call that is deep and throaty, almost a croak. Warm breezes whisper though tall, dried grasses, rustle through leaves, and cool our skin as we wander in the last days of remaining heat. Vultures soar on thermals overhead, and clouds meander by offering brief respites from the sun. 

And let us not forget the pungent aroma of the Penny royal wafting on the wind. Even from my desk as I sit to write this, I can smell the richness of the wetlands as the wind beckons me to don shoes and hat and wonder through our beautiful and unique West Eugene Wetlands.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Walking Around Stewart Ponds


It was cloudy and mild as we started to stroll the paths around Stewart Ponds. After so much rain the ponds were full. Standing water was on the sides of the path as we headed toward the blind. Much birdsong greeted us as well as frog chirping. Fungi dotted the woodchips along the path.

Quietly peeking through the blind we saw shovelers, green-winged teal and mallards. Some were exhibiting what may have been mating behavior as they swam around. A submerged log was hosting a mix of shorebirds (yellow-legs or sandpipers?) and green-winged teals. I was wishing I had a camera with a good lens.

Overhead about 600 cackling geese announced their presence and circled for a landing. We noticed how much goose droppings were in the surrounding fields. These droppings fertilize the fields where these geese feed - an important cycle.

Color is coming into the branches of the willows. As the sun comes out the branches turn vibrant but a cloud cover turns them dull again.

Three birds perched in a nearby tree seem to be towhees, but the light is difficult at this hour and angle and so identification is tough.

A surprise sighting; a yellow flower pushing through the woodchips! Spring is coming...

A lone cormorant circles the swampy area to the west as the sun appears again. Swarms of small insects can be seen in the light. To the east we see that the hillsides are greening.

At the far pond we find a man fishing. We wonder what could be caught in this small pond. Would it be edible? A pair of coots swims along with mallards. A pair of male shovelers hunts for some dinner amongst the reeds.

On the walk back on the east side we see juncos in some low shrubs and a gang of noisy starlings high in a tree. The frogs’ chirping is much louder at this hour. The path on this west side is being taken over by the grasses. It may be time for another parks event to re-establish the trails for the public who come to enjoy nature.

Walking on these trails is time well spent. It’s calming. We don’t come to add to our bird lists. We come to be both surprised and reassured by nature.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Years at Stewart Ponds

By Tom Spofford


It was cold and cloudy when we arrived at Stewart Ponds in West Eugene. We realized it was the day of the annual bird count but didn’t have the energy to devote the day to that endeavor. There was a small group of birders with scopes ahead of us and I imagined they were counting. We’d brought the dog along, a 7 month old chocolate Labrador, and she was behaving quite well as we headed off down the left side path.

The end-of-year rains had filled in the first pond and waterfowl were abundant compared to weeks past when it was dry. Viewing from the blind we saw mallards, widgeons, gulls, green-winged teals, shovelers and a shorebird we couldn’t identify. There was some rotting floorboards in the blind and I made a mental note to report it before someone gets hurt.

As we left the blind, the shorebirds took flight over us, but we were still unable to ID them. Add that to my expanding list of need-to-dos; get at least an elementary grasp of the group that includes sandpipers, plovers, killdeer and curlews. Looking through my Peterson guide I realize that a very important characteristic is beak shape. If I can get a good look at this feature I can very much narrow the field. Birding is fascinating and enriching. There is so much to learn, at one’s own pace, that it is truly a lifelong hobby.

A favorite bird of mine, the kestrel, was surveying the lands from high in dead tree. It seems like many birds favor dead limbs for perching. It also could be that I simply notice more birds overall on dead limbs because they are easily spotted sans leaves. Nearby a solitary jay is quiet and unaffected by our proximity.

In the smaller pond I spot what I believe to be a pintail. We were used to seeing countless pintails in No. California but see far fewer here. The light is beginning to fail and I can’t quite get enough of a view to determine if it is the pintail as it swims into a set of reeds for cover.

The bare trees are beautiful in the afternoon light. Leafless trees have a certain appeal. Without leaves one can really study nature’s design capabilities. It’s fun to spot abandoned nests in these trees along with paper bees nests shaped like footballs.

A gang of about twenty five cackling geese wing overhead looking for a landing strip. A rare sighting! It’s a kingfisher sitting still and being quiet in a distant tree. That is not something one experiences very often. A red-tailed hawk comes in and lands in a small tree and nearby frogs can be heard.

I’m always captivated by the mosses and lichens of the northwest. In certain light it can seem to glow on the branches. Moss and lichen go on the master list for further study... Small songbirds flit in and out of the thickets. I try to identify at least one and think perhaps it’s a vireo. Sparrow-like birds are searching the brush for dinner along the road back by the car.

We are graced with the sight of about 750 cackling geese coming in to land as we climb back into the car.

Spending time out in nature was a good start to the new year. In trying times nature helps slow things down. Fresh air, few man-made distractions and the subtleties of the natural world are ingredients of living well.