Birding at Camp Polk Meadow

Jun 14, 2011
Get your ears ready for an interactive birding blog post from Camp Polk Meadow Preserve.

The links in this post will redirect you to songs of the birds seen and heard on this tour of Camp Polk Meadow led by Eva Eagle and Jan Rising of the East Cascade Audubon Society.  Depending on your browser settings, you may have to click your browser's back button to finish reading the post in its entirety. 

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to partner with Jan Rising of the East Cascades Audubon Society leading a bird walk at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve.   Seven people came out early with us to watch and listen as the birds carried out their spring business.  

I love Camp Polk Meadow on a spring morning!  When I step out of my car, I am surprised all over again by the symphony of bird song.  Especially the red-winged blackbirds, of course, but also the house wrens.  Robins and grosbeaks contribute to the chorus, too. When you walk into Hindman Springs, you begin to hear the more subtle songs—the ‘sweet, sweet, sweet’ of the warblers and the ‘Hi, Sweetie!’ of the chickadees.  And so many songs I can’t identify! 

Once we oriented ourselves to the songs as best we could, we got our eyes in gear.  We had hoped to see the Virginia rail that had been reported below the bridge, but alas we never did find it.  Happily, the tiny Calliope hummingbirds rewarded our vigil, perching on top of the willows for long enough to be found with binoculars and even with Jan’s scope.   By contrast, we got dizzy trying to ID the swallows in flight, always a disorienting experience!  (Mostly tree swallows, by the way.)

Black-headed Grosbeak.  Photo: Kris Kristovitch
Black-headed Grosbeak. Photo: Kris Kristovitch
Black-headed Grosbeak. Photo: Kris Kristovitch

 Progressing along the north edge of the Upper Meadow, we stepped carefully through the wet grass so we could find warblers in the willows.  Such tiny birds!  But such brilliant yellows.  We marveled at the orange of a Black-headed grosbeak and enjoyed his happy song, which to me sounds much like a robin who’s had a bit too much to drink.  

As we progressed along below Camp Polk Road, we heard a ‘tap-tap-tapping’ sound.  Not ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ like a flicker, but much more gentle, almost shy.  We crept closer and closer until we saw, in the side of a very large aspen, a woodpecker-sized hole, out of which came a male white-headed woodpecker.  Wow!  Lots of folks had never seen a white headed woodpecker before, so this was a pretty big treat.  Jan put her scope on the fellow and we all got a good, long look at him.  Finally, he flew away, but guess what?  The next bird we found was a female white-headed, and she flew right into the nest.  We marveled at how easily birds of this size can go in and out of a hole that is less than 2 inches in diameter.  The female went inside, disappeared awhile, then sat on the lip of the cavity opening for some time.  Lots of joking about her thoughts of the moment.  (“Hey, this has promise but we need more room for the little ones.” )We hoped to see the male come back and resume his work, but we decided that our presence might be a distraction so we moved on.

The rest of the morning was lovely, but those woodpeckers were the height of our tour.  Not only did we get to watch them at length, but it was good to know that this pair would likely breed in that big aspen tree.  The White-headed woodpecker is listed as a Critical Species in Oregon due to loss of habitat.  They are very shy of people, so they fare poorly when forested areas are settled.  And they typically like to nest in old snags, which are all too often removed as a part of modern forestry.  The Land Trust has created snags at Camp Polk Meadow and the Metolius Preserve to provide needed nesting territory for White-headed woodpeckers.  It was nice to think that these two birds had found a home on their own.  We wished them well and went on with our walk.