Portland: Where 'bird' is a verb

With 200-plus species flapping around, it's birdwatcher paradise
With 200-plus species flapping around, it's birdwatcher paradise

Until recently our house in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood was visited daily by a male peacock, who would pace around our deck and peck at the bread we left out for him. He stopped visiting in December, perhaps killed by the elements, maybe captured by the zoo, possibly after my roommate Robert finally made good on his threats to eat it.

Where it came from, we couldn't figure out. Where it went is a mystery (although Robert grins when I bring it up). I should have asked some of the birdwatchers, more and more of whom are taking advantage of the (relatively) nice weather and strolling all over greater Portland, and for whom a peacock is just a distraction.

Local birder David Mandell gave me a quick rundown on the really exciting birds of the winter:

A Slaty-backed Gull that can be seen around the Burnside Bridge; and a Tufted Duck on the Columbia River near 158th Avenue are both rare visitors from Asia, both tracked with a special zeal by the Portland birding community.

The most active forum for local birders is the Oregon Birders online list serve, made up of devoted participants who post near-daily updates on both exotic birds.

A number of other web pages also function as a sort of local birder's getaway, including Birdingonthe.Net; The Bird Guide and Audubon Society of Portland. These excellent websites form a central hub for birders and their supporters, regularly updated with tips, trip notices, guides, meetings and politics. (The web can even help you get your Portland birding fix indoors with the fascinating RaptorCam on the KGW-TV website, where you can watch for the eggs to hatch in about three weeks.)

"There are a lot of active birders here; it's great, it's thriving," said Karen Munday of the Audubon Society. Munday told me that 209 different species of birds can be regularly found in and around Portland, which means the area is exceptionally diverse. Many are just passing through on the Pacific Flyway (a superhighway of migratory birds) or nesting and moving on; others are native and can be seen year-round.

My daily ramble often takes me through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge in Sellwood, where enthusiastic birders are becoming as common as the birds themselves, but that's far from the only place to bird. (Yes, it's a verb here.) Mt. Tabor, Sauvie Island, Ross Island, even downtown Portland and the bridges are hot spots too.

As hobbies go, says birder Mandell, this is one of the more accessible. "All you really need is a pair of binoculars, and shoes that will keep your feet dry. Anytime of the year there are always birds to look at."

I can think of worse excuses to go walking around in this (mostly) beautiful weather. Enough writing for one day; I hear there's a Peregrine Falcon nest at the Freemont Bridge.


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