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Strange sighting

A Red-bellied woodpecker takes flight from a telephone pole in La Grande. Birders from all over Oregon came to see the first documented sighting of the 9-inch bird in the state Oct. 31. (TRENT BRAY photo)
A Red-bellied woodpecker takes flight from a telephone pole in La Grande. Birders from all over Oregon came to see the first documented sighting of the 9-inch bird in the state Oct. 31. (TRENT BRAY photo)

Local birders get to see first sighting of the Red-bellied woodpecker in Oregon 

If you sight it, they will come. 

That’s what Russ Morgan, a wildlife biologist for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, found out this Halloween.

Morgan was enjoying lunch at his home on Blackhawk Trail when a eight-to-nine inch bird caught his eye.

“I was just stuffing my mouth with a sandwich,” Morgan said. “That’s when I noticed a bird outside that didn’t look familiar to me. I’ve been an active birder, but haven’t been doing as much of it recently.”

Morgan went to his field guide to look through the different species of birds, and had a good idea what he was looking at.

“I was pretty sure I knew exactly what it was,” Morgan said. “But, I had no idea that it hadn’t been spotted before in Oregon.”

Morgan called local birder Trent Bray, the owner of The Bobolink, to come check it out. But, as birds do, it took flight before Bray arrived on scene.

Bray has been birding since 1976, before really getting active during the 1980s, and has documented approximately 425 birds.

“It was raining pretty hard, I remember that,” Bray said. “Russ said it flew out of the tree a couple of minutes before I got to his house.”

Bray surveyed the scene with his binoculars in hand. Then, after 10 minutes, across the street, he saw a something land in a tree.

“It was about nine and half inches, so it fit into a strange category,” Bray said.  “I finally got the binoculars on it, and that’s when I knew it was a red-bellied woodpecker. 

“I had experience with it birding in Michigan and Ohio, so I had seen it before. I just started snapping pictures of it. I identified it and documented it, then I got on the phone.”

Red-bellied woodpeckers are pale, medium-sized woodpeckers common in forests of the East. 

The woodpeckers can be found across most of the forests, woodlands, and wooded suburbs of the eastern United States, including oak-hickory forest, pine-hardwood forest, maple and tulip-poplar stands, and pine flatwoods. It’s a bit more common in river bottoms and wetlands, in the south of its range, and at elevations below about 2,000 feet.

Morgan knew that he had spotted a bird that he hadn’t seen before, but he had no idea that it was a state record.

“I’m just rusty,” Morgan said. “I haven’t kept up with the species that have or haven’t been located in Oregon. It’s a pretty amazing thing, though. I’m sure that’s how most discoveries are, they are happenstance.”

Bray called a few local birders, then he called the Oregon Birding Records Association. 

The Oregon Bird Records Committee was organized in 1978 to collect, review and maintain records on rare birds found in Oregon. The OBRC became a Committee of Oregon
Birding Association when the association was first organized in 1980 under the name Oregon Field Ornithologists.

“By calling the OBRC it alerts people quicker,” Bray said. “I can just let more people know instead of texting or calling a bunch of people on my own.

“I’m excited to have seen it, document it. But, I’m really excited to have been able to share it.”



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