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Wild Side: Wildlife for a wild life

From a young age, I knew that I would dedicate my life to protecting the natural world. I was not sure then what that meant exactly, but I wanted to be a scientist or a park ranger or maybe work with Jane Goodall in the rainforest.

I remember learning about the mountains of garbage overflowing landfills, toxic pollution and deforestation. Maybe you had the same shock learning about how humanity is treating our planet. But it was the loss of wildlife species that really stuck with me.

Eventually, I got a job working with wildlife as a surveyor with the Medford Bureau of Land Management. I was able to get up close with a variety of species, from the Townsend’s big-eared bat to Northern spotted owl to the rare Siskiyou Mountains salamander that lives under rocky slopes in old-growth forests.

While I’m no longer attaching transmitters or banding birds, wildlife viewing is still so exciting to me. Whether you are as wild about wildlife as me, or just want to share a meaningful experience with your children, heading outside to commune with our animal friends is time well spent.

Here are some of KS Wild’s Outreach Director’s recommendations for wildlife viewing in our region:

• Rogue birding: To stay local, yet still feel the wild — bird is the word! Grab binoculars and explore valley hot spots like TouVelle State Park, Denman Wildlife Area, or Emigrant Lake for fall waterfowl migrations. Jumpstart your avifauna-affair by joining regularly schedule field trips with the friendly folks at the local chapter of the Audubon Society: RogueValleyAudubon.org.

• Redwood “herping": It’s not an exotic disease, but rather the searching for rare frogs and salamanders among the world’s tallest trees in our public Redwood State and National Parks. Our Klamath-Siskiyou region is a biodiversity hotspot for amphibians, second only to the wet forests of southern Appalachia. Carefully look along small creeks and beneath forest floor logs to find barely-believable creatures like the coastal tailed frog and the Pacific giant salamander (up to 8 inches long!).

• Bees, beetles and butterflies: Retreat to cooler, higher ground in meadows along the Pacific Crest Trail and revel in the bouquet of flower and pollinator partnerships. A diversity of habitat-types, a plethora of plants and rare flowers attract so many colorful insect species, you are sure to see dozens of different types (if you look carefully!). The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, famous for 135 butterfly species, has easy access to the PCT via Pilot Rock or Soda Mountain Road. Pollinator lovers won’t want to miss the stretch running through a designated botanical area west of Mt. Ashland (parallels Forest Service Rd 20).

• Chinooks’ hooks: Look forward to the marvels of a living legacy, show your kids a Southern Oregon point of pride. Witness the 200-mile journey of Chinook salmon returning from the ocean with recently developed hooked jaws (called "kypes"), to spawn and die in their home-waters. This fall, join KS Wild for the annual salmon hikes to places like the scenic Rainie Falls along the Rogue River, or have a quick peak at access points along the Bear Creek Greenway.

• Elks in rut: Searching for charismatic megafauna (aka some fun big animals)? The Klamath-Siskiyou region hosts a variety of large mammalian species, such as the endangered Pacific Fisher, yet they are fairly difficult to find for obvious regions. Fall is a great time to watch elk in rut (their mating season). Male elk will hang out with group of females in a harem, put on showy displays of bugling calls and battle with other males. Make sure to remain a respectful distance (400 feet) as they can be unpredictable, and it is an important time of year for them to reproduce and carry on their species. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope and look for elk at the big meadow by Lake of the Woods, or head for the coast and watch Roosevelt elk at Elk Prairie, on the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway or Prairie Creek State park.

For more information about these and other wildlife viewing opportunities, contact Jeanine Moy at jeanine@kswild.org

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.