By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

For humans, birds can be therapeutic.

So says Trent Bray, La Grande nature lover who with his partner Mariah Hey recently opened The Bobolink, a store for birders at the intersection of Washington Avenue and and Fourth Street in downtown La Grande.

"Birding has been a positive addiction for me," says Bray, a La Grande resident and longtime bird watcher who holds the Oregon record for most species spotted in a year.

The Bobolink is a store about birds, but customers won't find a single bird for sale there. Nor will they find bird cages.

"We don't have anything against keeping birds in captivity. It's just not something we like to do ourselves," Bray says.

What customers do find at The Bobolink are items related to attracting, feeding and watching birds outdoors.

Those items include bulk bird seed, feeders and bird houses, and birding field guides, books and magazines.

Then there's a whole range of unique gift items, including clothing, toys, and beers, ales and wines with names like Black Hawk Stout, White Hawk India Pale Ale, and Ravenswood Zinfandel.

"Basically, we supply items for birders, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts," says Hey.

Bray says his fascination with birds was sparked during childhood.

"My father and grandfather were both bird hunters, and I was always interested in what they brought home," he recalls.

His interest in wild birds grew until he became one of the most active bird watchers in the state.

"I'm into the science of ornithology. I have a lot of passion," he says.

In 2001, he set an Oregon record for most species seen in a year 208. And In 2002 he broke his own record, with 210.

He hopes to set yet another mark this year, though time is getting tight. So far in 2003, he's spotted 204 different species.

Bray and Hey met in Corvallis several years ago. He began teaching her about birds and soon they were going on birding excursions together. She found it to be an addictive hobby, too.

They moved to La Grande two-and-half years ago. She works at the Think Link Discovery Museum in La Grande; he is a bartender at the Ten Depot Street and at the Elkhorn Steakhouse.

For now, they're keeping their regular jobs, but they're betting their little shop named for a migrant songbird that breeds in Union County is an idea whose time has come.

"We think there's a demand," says Bray. "There are several shops like it in the Portland and Bend areas, but not in the rest of the state."

Selling bird-related equipment and supplies isn't all the couple plan to do out of their store. They also plan to organize and lead bird watching excursions and nature walks, says Bray.

The Bobolink is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and by appointment.