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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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An American avocet prances at Ladd Marsh. The American avocet isstriking because of its reddish head, white and black body and bluish-gray legs. (Photo/JIM WARD).
An American avocet prances at Ladd Marsh. The American avocet isstriking because of its reddish head, white and black body and bluish-gray legs. (Photo/JIM WARD).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

Ladd Marsh is a land of wonder and mystery for area birders.

Few if any places in Union County have a more diverse bird population. Still, birders do not know the full extent of this diversity because most of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is closed to the public in the spring and summer.

Birders have just one window each spring to explore all of Ladd Marsh. That window opens this weekend.

The second annual Ladd Marsh Birdathon will be conducted Saturday. The birdathon is a noncompetitive family event that provides birders with an annual opportunity to view birds at Ladd Marsh in areas that are normally off limits to the public this time of year.

Registration, which is free, begins at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Tule Lake Public Access Area off Peach Road. Participants must register the morning of the event to receive a permit to be in the wildlife area. Stations will be staffed until noon. The wildlife area will remain open all day, only for those with permits.

The event is sponsored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Eastern Oregon University Biology Club and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Experienced birders may have opportunities Saturday to see species they have never spotted.

‘"It's a good opportunity to add to your life list,'' said ODFW Biologist Cathy Nowak.

La Grande birder Trent Bray said he is excited about the opportunity for bird watchers to explore Ladd Marsh and share their findings. He added that in this respect the event is a little like the annual Union County Christmas Bird Count.

Saturday's birdathon is aimed at far more than experienced birders. It is also meant to pique the interest of novice bird watchers. Six birding stations will be set up to help individuals locate and identify birds. The stations will be staffed by EOU Biology Club students and local birders.

Bray will be among those manning stations. He will have a spotting scope people can look through to see birds. Bray said that Ladd Marsh, while a magnet for experienced bird watchers, is also ideal for beginners. He explained that there are striking species that capture the imagination of novices.

"There are a lot of ‘wow!' birds there,'' said Bray, owner of the Bobolink, a

La Grande birding supply store.

Bray cited American avocets and black-necked stilts as examples of ‘'wow!'' birds. The American avocet is striking because of its reddish head, white and black body and bluish-gray legs.

The black-necked stilt stands out because of its white and iridescent black body and red legs. Bray noted that the iridescent black looks green under certain light.

The many other birds people will have a chance to see include greater sandhill cranes, waterfowl, Swainson's hawks, northern harriers, many swallow species, yellow warblers and Bullock's orioles, ducks and geese.

The birdathon will give bird watchers the opportunity to see many migrant species.

"It's a good time to spot species not commonly seen in this area,'' Bray said.

People who encounter rare birds at Ladd Marsh or anywhere in the Grande Ronde Valley may have more opportunities to see them again than they would somewhere else. The mountains surrounding the Grande Ronde Valley are the reason. The barriers make it harder for birds to move in and out.

"Rare birds don't make it in very often, but when they do they tend to stay a little longer,'' said Bray, a member of the Oregon Bird Record Committee.

A number of birds people will encounter Saturday will be nesting. These birds will be unusually agitated in the presence of people. Bray urges people to stay away from them, because nesting birds experience greater stress when people approach. Sometimes such stress causes birds to abandon their nests.

"You should move on,'' Bray said. "You need to be ethical.''

Water levels at Ladd Marsh are unseasonably low, but there is still

plenty of muddy terrain. Visitors should dress appropriately, wearing boots

and long pants. Sunscreen and insect repellent are also advised, Nowak said.

To reach the birdathon's registration site, turn on to Peach Road, a gravel road, off of Highway 30 at the south end of the railroad overpass near Hot Lake Springs Resort. Travel about 1.3 miles to the Tule Lake Public Access Area marked by signs and an open gate. The parking area and registration site are about a quarter mile from the entrance gate.

The Ladd Marsh Birdathon is one of thousands of events held around the world in observance of International Migratory Bird Day. Started in 1993, the day is held annually on the second Saturday in May to celebrate and support migratory bird conservation and to increase awareness of birds.


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