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  • Greenway flyway

    The Bear Creek Greenway is a riparian strip dotted with ponds, woods and brush, which draws birds — and birders
  • "Birds have wings," goes an old saying. "They can turn up anywhere."
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  • "Birds have wings," goes an old saying. "They can turn up anywhere."
    But they are most likely to turn up in their preferred habitat. If you're an eagle, you hang out around bodies of water where there are fish to eat. If you're a hummingbird, you're going to visit hillsides where wildflowers grow.
    Some areas offer a variety of habitats, attracting a rich variety of birds. One such place is the Bear Creek Greenway. From Ashland to Central Point and beyond, the greenway follows Bear Creek in a riparian strip dotted with ponds, woodlands, brushy areas and open fields.
    "It's a great place for beginning birders," says Gwyneth Ragosine of Ashland. "It's easy to get to, and there are lots of great birds that are easy to see. I love to go in the spring, because I love watching people to see the brightly colored ones, gasping at a tree full of orioles.
    "And it's accessible for people in wheelchairs, or for families with little kids in strollers."
    There are park benches on the Talent stretch of the greenway and a gazebo at Mingus Pond.
    One of the most popular segments to bird is the stretch from Lynn Newbry Park near the Talent Interstate 5 exchange (Exit 21) a half-mile south to a large pond. If you don't have binoculars and a field guide to the birds of the western United States, you might borrow them from a friend, or better yet join your friends on the greenway.
    The Audubon Society of Jackson County offers free bird walks and provides binoculars. Check with Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford (wbu.com, 541-770-1104) or Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland (northwestnature.shop.com, 541-482-3241) for dates and details.
    Visiting the greenway, you may hear birds before you see them.
    "The first thing to do is to start listening," says Ragosine, who has long led groups of wannabe birdwatchers here.
    In fact, Ragosine suggests preparing yourself and your kids by listening to recordings of some of the distinctive bird calls you're likely to hear. That distinctive kon-ka-reeeee call, for example, is coming from male red-winged blackbirds staking out territories around ponds and wetlands.
    Others to listen to ahead of time might include such distinctive vocalizers as wrentit, northern flicker and various wrens and sparrows.
    "It's so much fun to see people light up when they recognize the call," Ragosine says.
    Before you get going south at Lynn Newbry, take a good look around the parking area, including the bushes and trees and grassy areas. You may see and/or hear various sparrows, spotted towhees, solitary wrentits or flocks of buzzing little bushtits.
    Lovely, bright Bullock's orioles and black-headed grosbeaks usually show up here by April, and western tanagers visit before they move up to the high country with warmer weather. Your best chance of seeing yellow warblers, yellow-throated warblers and yellow-rumped warblers is near the water.
    "And if you get lucky, you might see a yellow-breasted chat," Ragosine says. "But they can be heard more easily than seen."
    The secretive birds — by far our largest warblers — are often identified only by their song, which is extremely varied.
    If you're having trouble identifying LBJs (little brown jobs) flitting through dense vegetation, take heart. You'll soon come to a large pond with ducks, which are much easier to see. Look for ring-necked ducks, American widgeon, beautiful wood ducks and the ubiquitous Canada geese.
    "In spring, the geese will have goslings," Ragosine says.
    Easy-to-spot birds such as great blue herons and smaller green herons may be hunting around the edges of the ponds. Look overhead for red-tailed hawks soaring on thermals and turkey vultures rocking side-to-side in the air on their huge wings.
    Sparrows in this area include white-crowned, golden-crowned and white-throated.
    Farther south along the trail, where a footbridge crosses the creek, you may see a dipper, a unique, nondescript little bird that actually walks along the bottom of the creek to hunt its food.
    Another great spot to bird on the greenway is Mingus Pond. Take Exit 33 from I-5, turn east on Pine Street and then left at the first light to park in the dirt and gravel lot opposite the Pilot station. Look for acrobatic swallows snapping bugs in mid-air near the bridge over the creek.
    Your destination is a covered viewing area a half-mile or so south at a pond known for black-crowned night herons and green herons. As you walk, you may see Brewer's blackbirds, hawks, osprey, Anna's hummingbird, ruby-crowned kinglets and the inevitable pigeons around the bridge.
    A rather scummy, littered pond between the greenway and I-5 often yields wood ducks and even a kingfisher. Ragosine suggests listening to a belted kingfisher's unique, rattling call on a recording online before visiting the site.
    "It's so exciting to hear a call you recognize," she says.
    At Mingus Pond, the male black-crowned night herons have their breeding plumes in April. Look for ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks and usually a pied-billed grebe paddling around and diving for its dinner.
    With help from the national Audubon and local bird photos from veteran birder Jim Livaudais, Ragosine has put together a pamphlet called "Birding Hotspots of Jackson County" that details Lynn Newbry Park, Mingus Pond and 13 other bird-rich sites in our region. It's available at Wild Birds Unlimited, Northwest Nature Shop and all Jackson County libraries.
    "We're lucky to live in a place that has all these wonderful birds," she says.
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