News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Birders find out-of-doors hobby rewarding even in winter

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

By Melissa Wagoner

When Richard Niemeyer bought his wife, Debbie, a pair of binoculars in 2011 he never could have imagined the impact the gift would have on their lives.  “It wasn’t a particularly expensive pair,” Debbie saidt. “But one of the first things I saw was an osprey.”
Still one of the couple’s favorite birds because of the spectacular way it dives from the sky to catch fish, that first osprey opened their eyes to a new hobby – birding. 
“I like the continual learning,” Debbie, who went on to take online courses in bird identification, said. “And you can just about do it anywhere.”
Relatively new to Marion County – they relocated from California in 2019 to be near family – the Niemeyers wasted no time in getting to know their new home and its birds.
“During the pandemic it was lifesaving for me,” Debbie said. “We’ve been fortunate since coming here to get out and bird more. It’s been a lot of fun.”
“We’ve only been here two years but we’ve been all over the place,” Richard added.
Thus far their favorite areas have included Silver Falls, Milo McIver and Willamette Mission State Parks, Ankeny Wildlife Refuge and the Silverton Reservoir.
“It’s just anywhere where you can be quiet and view different habitats,” Richard said. 
Each habitat yields an entirely different array of birds. For example, after the fires swept through the Santiam Canyon, the habitat changed, welcoming the possibility of new species including the olive-sided flycatcher.
“It looks for burned stumps,” Debbie said of this small gray bird whose call sounds like a toast to “three beers”.
“It forces you to go out,” Richard continued, detailing the many unusual treks he and Debbie have taken in the hopes of seeing unusual birds, like the long-eared owl – an elusive species that generally roosts in dense foliage. 
“You saw lines of birders [looking for them] because it’s a life lister,” Richard said of the affect the sighting – and subsequent listing on the birding app, eBird – had on the number of birders who ventured to the area in hopes of getting a peek. 
“It’s amazing whoever saw them,” Debbie pointed out. “Because these owls are pretty stealthy.”
But even stealthy birds can often be heard, which is where another birding app, Merlin Bird ID, comes in. 
“There are 400 birds based on sound,” Richard said of the site’s citizen science-based database. 
“It’s only about 50 percent right but it gives you a starting point.”
It also gives beginning birders another way to connect with the birds around them.
“Calls are mainly for contact and alarms and songs for attracting a mate, keeping a mate and territory [disputes],” Debbie said. 
“They tell you to sit for five to ten minutes and the birds will come out,” Richard laughed. “But it’s not natural to be quiet like that.”
Even on a day with few sightings, the couple still has fun getting out of the house.



• Binoculars – an 8×42 Nikon is recommended
• Sturdy hiking boots
• Camera with a zoom lens

• Merlin Bird ID app
Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America  by Kenn Kaufman

Great Backyard
Bird Count
Feb. 18 -21, 2022  – 25th Annual
New participants welcome

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