By Leah Weissman
Pilot staff writer
When going on a hike or tramping through the woods, the sounds of birds singing to each other is usually just ambient noise to many people. But for the avid bird watcher, a three-second chirped melody is more than just sound it's a tip into the treasure hunt known as birding.
"An orange-crowned warbler sounds almost like a rattlesnake's rattle, and a wrentit goes bump, bump, bump, bump-bump-bump just like a bouncing ball," Brookings resident and long-time birder Diane Cavaness said.
"Even the movement of a bird is important. Turkey vultures rock back and forth when they fly. And depending where on the tree a woodpecker is, such as on a branch, it might be a downy woodpecker rather than a hairy woodpecker."
Cavaness is part of the local "Let's Go Birding" group, an extension of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society. Once a month, the group which is open to everyone goes on birding expeditions to different locations in Curry County.
The mellow walks are usually between 1 to 2 miles, and require participants to be able to grab their binoculars within a split second of someone exclaiming, "black-capped chickadee!"
According to member Al Collinet, the group ranges from birding experts to those just starting to get interested in the world of bird watching.
"We all share what we know," Collinet said. "The advantage of the group is, we are all looking in different directions. More eyes mean more birds."
With cameras hanging from their necks and binoculars in hands, five members inched their way along the Rogue River Walk in Gold Beach Saturday, April 12. Six miles up the river, the group was in pursuit of anything that flew across their path. Some even carried iPods with them, filled with bird songs, to help identify birds they saw during the walk.
"I actually got into birding when I was walking along a trail with Al, and he took out his iPod and played the song of a wrentit," Gary Maschmeyer, coordinator for the "Let's Go Birding" group, said. "Suddenly, that exact bird flew out of nowhere and within just a couple feet of us. After that, I was hooked.
"I've only been birding for two years this July, but it gets me out into nature and I've learned so much," Maschmeyer added. "For instance, did you know hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles every year? All for food and to breed."
While strolling along the wooded trail and chatting about birds, friends and life, the group suddenly went silent in unison as the hollow sound of a woodpecker drilling into a tree echoed through the forest.
Sometimes Cavaness tried "pishing" making a "pisshh pisshh" sound that would attract some of the birds and make them sing back to her.
Halfway through the walk, the group stumbled upon a nest with black-capped chickadee hatchlings. Standing still, everyone watched in silent awe as both mom and dad flitted back and forth in the rushed effort associated with trying to feed a brood of hungry children.
"Wow, that is just amazing," Collinet said in a hushed voice.
The group travels all over the county to see different birds, usually following the migratory season. For example, they'll walk along rivers and beaches where ducks and shore birds stop during their long trips in spring and fall.
In fact, Cavaness said the best time to go bird watching is during the spring, when the males have transformed to their brighter, more "showy" breeding plumage to attract females.
"Actually, the best time is any time," Collinet said laughing.
Every time anyone spotted a bird and was able to identify it, Cavaness wrote it down in a little notebook she carries with her at all times. At the end of the expedition, the group had seen or heard 34 different species of birds, including a great blue heron and an osprey.
"Sometimes when you go, there's nothing," Maschmeyer said. "And sometimes it's just great. It's like a treasure hunt."
The "Let's Go Birding" group goes on walks once a month, and encourages anyone interested to join along. Their next walk will be Saturday, May 10. Participants will meet at 8 a.m. in front of Coastal Cardiology at 412 Alder Street, and then carpool to Peavine Ridge Road.
For information, call Maschmeyer at (541) 412-0806.