Birding Paradise

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October 6th 2012
Published: October 6th 2012
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More than 250 species of birds use the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, located about five miles west of Eugene. Fern Ridge is a natural reservoir that encompasses protected marshland, small islands and open shallow water, providing critical sheltered nesting and breeding habitat for domestic species, and more importantly, for the migratory species.

My brother Stephen and his wife Judy are avid birders and took us to Fern Ridge midmorning on a beautiful sunny day. Due to the dry weather and unusually low water levels, we could walk beyond the dense, tall grasses on the shore along a wide gravel berm out onto the wide marsh expanse so that we stood at the edge of what is called "low pool"--an open expanse of mudflat and low water one-half mile across. We paused frequently to sight through a very high-magnification spotting scope favored by birders set atop a tall tripod, so that we could observe a regal great blue heron and striking white great egrets. Several birds in the distance were "dabbling" their bills to feed at the surface of the marsh or upending their bodies to reach deeper. Using the spotting scope and binoculars, we could identify not only northern shovelers, with their large orange beaks to strain small bits of vegetation from the water's surface, but also American coots who dive for their food. Above, we saw greater white-fronted geese flying in loose formations that reformed and then broke up. Of greater excitement were the raptors: a couple of northern harriers, a red-tailed hawk, and a magnificent peregrine falcon that was chased down (but missed!) by a smaller wildfowl and then landed on the gravel berm about 50 yards from us. The falcon posed so patiently that each of us in turn could admire its beautiful markings.

We left the gravel berm to climb onto the Royal Avenue viewing platform. A large group of birds swimming or feeding were at too great a distance to identify clearly. As we were about to leave, several small birds shot swiftly above our heads, and Judy was pleased to identify them as violet-green swallows.

"Fern Ridge reservoir is one of thirteen flood control reservoirs owned and administered by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the Willamette River drainage. The reservoir was created in 1941 as a flood control and irrigation reservoir with later developments to accommodate recreation and wildlife management programs. The Army Corps of Engineers administers a total of 12,716 acres within the Fern Ridge Project." (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Although birding is excellent throughout the year, Fern Ridge Wildlife Area is managed primarily to provide waterfowl wintering and nesting. We felt very fortunate not only to experience the serenity of the preserve but, with Stephen and Judy's assistance in identification and bird behavior, to observe so many birds in just two hours. Also, with Judy's assistance, I identified the charming white flower that I posted from our redwood hike: Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana. A common plant in moist, forested areas from Northern California to Washington state, it was one of the few flowers in bloom during our hikes, and the only redwood sorrel flower that we saw.

Our last excursion in Eugene was to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus. The original museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the most distinctive architectural structures in Oregon. The museum opened in 1933 to house more than 3,000 pieces of Asian art donated by Gertrude Bass Warner as a memorial to her husband. After renovation with a large expansion added for exhibit space, the museum reopened in 2005. Visitors enter the gallery spaces, walking along the beautiful original Italian travertine marble lobby floors and stairways.

During our visit, Leslie Dill's Poetic Visions was the featured exhibit. A magnificent ten-foot high and sixty-foot long curtain of cascading wire (reminiscent of Rapunzel's hair) greeted us as we entered the exhibit hall. The piece is composed of 2,190,000 feet of fine wire. Dill integrates poetry and prose into her art from Emily Dickenson, Salvador Espriu, Pablo Neruda, Franz Kafka and Tom Sleigh. The waterfall of wire descends from a fragment of a poem by Espriu that extends the sixty feet across the top of the wall. The artist connects the bridge in Espriu poem to the bridge Rapunzel's hair provided her to the outside world. The piece has multicolors of subtle hues that transfix one's imagination.

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