We visited my mom a couple of days ago in the valley. When I grew up on the west side of the Cascades, we never said we were from “the valley.” But here in Central Oregon, that’s what they call the west side  — the valley. Anyway, Paul and I slept with the windows open and awoke to rich warbling, songs, and chirps. As a family, we’ve been working on our abilities to decipher birds by their calls. I said to Paul,

“That sounds like a chickadee, but it’s not a black-capped or a mountain chickadee. It’s something different. What are the other chickadees?”

Paul mused, “There’s a boreal and a …”

Elsa burst in the door and said breathlessly,

“Ingrid and I just saw a chestnut-backed chickadee! New bird!”

We congratulated her. Then we congratulated ourselves on our dead-on deductions. She flew out the door and both girls appeared outside the window. We watched them from bed. Ingrid juggled a blanket wrapped around her pajamas and the binoculars. Elsa stood out in the ivy and grass, barefoot, looking intently into the Douglas firs with her pair of “nocs”.

Paul said,

“There’s no better way to wake up than to the sound of birds coming in through the open window and looking outside to find my girls birding in the yard.”

Later that evening we visited the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge. Elsa, our scribe, recorded all our goals in her birding journal.

We didn’t site all our goals, but we had a few exciting moments. Seeing the American Bittern was amazing. For such a large bird, it is extremely elusive. To blend in, it sticks its beak straight in the air and freezes. Even though it was just a few yards away from the car, it took us all many minutes and explanations to each other to find it. This is Paul’s rendition of it:

One of my favorite finds was the marsh wren. This adorable bird stands on the cattails and shouts its tirades in true Quixotic fashion. Paul rightly named this painting “Warrior”. It is the sweetest, angriest little thing!

We also saw the blue-winged teal, long sought after by Elsa. It is a small duck, with a beautiful crescent next to its eye.

Blue-Winged Teal, Birding Center, Port Aransas...

The day before, we visited some friends, John and Mandy, and little Claire. John had just built an outdoor oven in his garden. It was amazing. It cooked the pizza in minutes and the taste is so much better. They live at the back of the refuge  A call I hadn’t heard beckoned me to take a look where the yard met the woods. I was well rewarded…

Lazuli Bunting!

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), Cabin Lake ...

At the end of the tour, we felt satisfied, and headed back over Mt. Hood to the high desert again. We arrived at about midnight. All those little birders were tuckered out, snuggled in the seats of the car.

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