From Hagg Lake to Roy, Forest Grove birders spy winged wonders

Birders are always looking for that rare find.Thirty hardy people turned out in the cold, wet weather last Saturday to perform the 2012 Christmas Bird Count in Forest Grove.

They saw owls, ducks, quail, eagles and swans, among other species.

“It was cloudy and 41 to 45 degrees with some showers, but we had nearly a record number of observers turn out,” noted Greg Gillson of Beaverton, a former Forest Grove resident and a regular with the annual bird count event, which is sponsored by Portland Audubon.

The annual bird count is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed by volunteer birdwatchers for population data for use in the scientific world, especially conservation biology — though many people participate for recreation.

The count has been performed for 113 years.

“We tallied 115 species,” Gillson said of last Saturday's event. “This is a decent number, but not a record.”

Lowlands were flooded, “perhaps making finding some species more difficult,” he added.

'Count circle' encompasses 15 miles

Forest Grove's 15-mile diameter "count circle" includes Hagg Lake in the west, Jackson Bottom Wetlands in the east, Bald Peak in the south and Roy in the north. Participants are assigned an area to cover and attempt to record all the birds seen and heard in their areas, recording bird species and numbers, time spent and distance traveled by car or walking.

Assignments can be in town, farmland, forest or wetlands.

Unlike recent years, the 2012 Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count did not compete for the date with other popular CBCs. Tillamook's count was Dec. 15; Sauvie Island's count will occur Dec. 29 and Portland's count is set for Jan. 5.

Early morning rain kept the forest owls quiet, though a soggy Barn Owl was noted north of Forest Grove pre-dawn, and several Great Horned Owls were found.

Several Cinnamon Teal and ducks called Redheads were “fairly unusual finds,” Gillson said. A team in the hills found Mountain Quail.

Unusual species located by the volunteers included a Golden Eagle in Scoggins Valley and a Red-Necked Grebe at Hagg Lake. A family of Trumpeter Swans was heard by several groups among the hundreds of Tundra Swans flying overhead.

Sadly, Gillson said, a potential “first” for the CBC, a Black Phoebe — present in the days prior to the count — was not recorded. “It hasn’t been seen since [November],” said Gillson, who said the bird could have died in the days before the count, or, “perhaps the high waters have it pushed back where we can’t see or hear it.”

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