Douglas County birds of the fall
Here in Douglas County we are blessed with a vast variety of habitats, from alpine peaks to oak savannas to frothy shores of the Pacific Ocean. Birds are picky about their homes and habitats, so as you can imagine, we have a lot of distinct species that find homes in our diverse array of habitats — over 320 species have been recorded here.
However, they’re not all here all the time. There are just a few dozen species that stay put here year-round or move only a short distance within the county or western Oregon. These are species like Acorn Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, House Finches, California Quail, California Scrub-Jays, Anna’s Hummingbirds and the like.
Another hundred species or so are gone all winter and their arrival at specific times in spring from points south (Central and South America) gives observers hope for the changing seasons, as well as a feast of new colors and beautiful songs.
Tree and Violet-green Swallows arrive as early as February or March, Rufous Hummingbirds in March and April, many warblers, flycatchers, and vireos in April and May, and Willow Flycatchers and Common Nighthawks don’t arrive until mid-May or early June, respectively. Each of these begins to wander and/or migrate back to their tropical homes on their own schedule as well, some mostly gone by late July, others lingering into fall.
In fall we gain birds from the north, just as in spring we gained birds from the south. In fall, birds don’t come here to breed as they do in the spring, they come here to eat, and do their best to survive winter until the next breeding season.
In fall and winter, we gain larger numbers of waterfowl, such as Ring-necked Ducks, Northern Shovelers, and Green-winged Teal. We also gain some smaller birds, such as Golden-crowned Sparrows, and birds normally at higher elevations or latitudes, such as Varied Thrush and Hermit Thrush.
Early in fall, roughly August through mid-October, a lot of birds are moving through. At this time, a visit to a local water body, riparian habitat, or grassland could turn up just about anything that has stopped by to refuel.
By early November, many of the birds we will have for the winter are here and move shorter distances only now and then to find more food. Late fall and winter storms in northern latitudes sometimes force influxes of more northerly birds to our area throughout fall and winter.
Here are some suggestions for the homebound and the adventurous:
Want a quiet and peaceful experience away from it all? Find a mountain peak in September or early October (think “fire lookout”) on a day with good visibility. Bring your binoculars, enjoy the scenery and scan the skies and ridges for migrating raptors; see what else flies by.
In September, stake out a small water source, such as a spring or lake shore, amid a large area devoid of water. Sit and wait at a short distance to see what comes to quench their thirst. Many in Douglas County can do this on their own property.
Looking for a more exhilarating experience? Watch the weather! When forecasts call for two or more days of on-shore winds (from the west), and a storm is battering all life in the Gulf of Alaska — sometimes the result is enormous numbers of birds migrating south along the coast. The combination of the southward migration of birds and the west winds pushing them close to shore, makes both the ocean and the bird migration spectacular.
But on an average day? Step out into your yard. Do you hear a bird? Go find it. Take note in your mind, or on paper, what it looks like, what it sounds like, where it was, and what it was doing.
Find a bird book, or a bird friend, and see if you can determine what you observed. Learn about it. Is it a species that is here all year round? What habitat does it like? What does it like to eat?
Go to a nearby park and try it again. And if you want to find more species of birds, remember, explore the diverse habitats of the Umpqua Basin and see what you find. If you are into citizen science, consider sharing your observations in eBird or iNaturalist.
To learn more about birds and birding in Douglas County and the Umpqua Basin, check out www.umpquabirds.org. Also, watch for announcements in The News-Review of upcoming Umpqua Valley Audubon programs and field trips, or visit their website at www.umpquaaudubon.org.