An aged Ponderosa pine that towers over the parking lot at TouVelle State Park is pockmarked with so many thousands of little holes that even seasoned birders have to wonder how acorn woodpeckers developed this tactic for building a year-round larder.
For decades, the woodpeckers have painstakingly pecked holes in the pine's soft bark just the right size to fit an acorn very snugly inside. Then they'll fly to nearby oak savannahs during the fall acorn drop and bring home individual acorns for storage in those holes.
The Rogue Valley Audubon Society's new birding pamphlet, "Birding Hotspots of Jackson County," is free and available at the following locations:
"They slam it home with their beaks, like a hammer," Medford birder Jeff Tufts says. "The idea is to put it in there so no other bird can peck it out."
These avian pantries are called "granary trees," and the TouVelle pine is well-known to local birders as one of the largest and more easily accessible trees of its kind in the Rogue Valley.
Those traits landed the granary tree as Trip No. 12 in a new, free pamphlet designed to introduce novice and visiting birders to ornithological treats in Jackson County. "Birding Hotspots of Jackson County," created by the Rogue Valley Audubon Society, highlights some of the most easily accessible places to view the local flying fauna, and it provides directions for getting there.
Other spots featured in the pamphlet include the Bear Creek Greenway's Mingus Pond, Lynn Newbry Park in Talent, Lost Creek Lake, McGregor Park, located along the Rogue River downstream of the reservoir, Forest Service Road 37 off Highway 140 and nearby Salt Creek Road.
The pamphlet contains a map of 15 spots, with driving directions and a list of the birds visitors can expect to see, and when they are around.
With the help of a $2,000 grant from the National Audubon Society, the group recently printed 2,600 of the pamphlets for $1,100, says Gwyneth Ragosine, a society member from Ashland who organized the pamphlet's publication.
"This isn't for hard-core birders," Ragosine says. "It's an outreach effort to get people to take one of these, put it in their car and carry it in their back pocket when they visit some of these places."
The pamphlets are available at several locations in Medford, Ashland and White City, and chapter members passed them out at last Saturday's Master Gardener Spring Fair at The Expo.
"A lot of people will take it because the price is right," Tufts says.
A retired reference librarian in Medford and Ashland, Ragosine says she expects the first printing to go quickly.
"That's OK," she says. "I have money in my back pocket for more."
Many good local birding spots were left out of the pamphlet if they weren't easy enough for people to find. Kirtland Ponds, for instance, are behind locked gates and difficult to reach, Ragosine says. Roxy Ann Peak, another good birding spot, was left out in part because of the regular rumbling of traffic to and from a gravel pit.
"Gravel trucks are not the greatest part of the tourist experience," she says.
But TouVelle's granary tree, at the far upstream part of the park, is quite the opposite.
"This spot's a gimme," Ragosine says.
It's an extreme example of a granary tree, sporting thousands of holes that hold enough acorns for the local colony of fewer than a dozen birds. Some of the acorns are squirreled away years before they are fed in spring to the young of the year.
"They probably store more acorns in them than they could ever possibly use," Ragosine says. "A three-year-old acorn couldn't taste very good."
The tree has stood for decades at the park off Table Rock Road along the Rogue River, and thousands of people have gone to visit it. It's been part of many bird-walking field trips led by people such as Ragosine over the years, so it's not exactly a secret among local birders.
But to new birders and visitors from other areas, the tree and the acorn woodpeckers can become life-list additions without them having to get their shoes muddy.
"Everybody from the East Coast who wants to see an acorn woodpecker, this is the easiest place," Tufts says. "They're exotic birds back East. Here, you see them all the time. "
Still, no matter how many times you see it, the old granary tree can fire the imagination.
"It makes you wonder," Tufts says, "how they picked up this routine."