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In Flight - To see wood ducks easily, go to Lithia Park

After 12 years of writing the In Flight column, I began looking back and asking myself what is the most common question readers ask me? I realized there were two questions that kept coming up.

One was, "Where do I go to find a wood duck or a Lewis' woodpecker or some other bird?" and the other was, "What interesting birds can I find in our area this time of year?" So, today's column is dedicated to naming the best places to see some of the most sought-after and interesting birds in the Rogue Valley during the winter.

There are several spots that always produce many interesting birds and today we'll concentrate on those areas. They are TouVelle Park north of Central Point, Lithia and North Mountain parks in Ashland, Agate Lake east of White City and Lost Creek Dam north of Shady Cove. All these areas can be visited in one day.

Lithia Park is the absolute best spot to see the spectacular wood duck and American dippers. Wood ducks are normally very shy but can easily be seen in the winter at either of the duck ponds. Close looks and photo opportunities are all within a few feet. American dippers, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to find. There are always three to four pairs foraging along Ashland Creek running through the park but you may have to search around to find one. Watch for a small brown songbird diving under the fast water and popping up a few feet away.

North Mountain Park on North Mountain Street in Ashland, is a great place to view California and spotted towhees, fox, song, white-crowned, and golden-crowned sparrows. Also look for belted kingfishers along the creek or near the ponds and black phoebes. Be sure to spend some time sitting by the bird feeders next to the gazebo. Also, take a stroll on the walking paths that meander through the extensive plantings and by the creek.

TouVelle Park on the Rogue River with its varied habitats is a great place to see a good variety of birds. There are always a couple of great blue herons or belted kingfishers near the river.

On the north side of the river across the bridge be sure to check the tall trees for the heron rookery. In the early spring 10 to 20 pairs of herons begin nesting here. Also, drive to the east end of the park and check the tall Ponderosa pine near the restrooms. This is one of the largest "granery" trees in our area. Granery trees are trees that acorn woodpeckers use to store acorns for food during the winter.

This interesting tree has thousands of holes, each filled with an acorn.

To get to Agate Lake take Highway 140 and turn right onto Antelope Road towards Stone Ridge Golf Course. Follow the road around to the east side of the lake and watch the sky, the fields and fences for white-tailed kites, Northern harriers, Say's phoebes, Northern shrikes and Western bluebirds. As you drive the dirt road into the park toward the restrooms watch the grass and weeds along the road for horned larks and Savannah sparrows.

The group of oak trees at the parking area is a reliable spot to see Lewis' woodpeckers in the winter.

The portion of the river below the dam at Lost Creek Lake by the hatchery is a good place to see ducks. Easily seen are green-winged teals, American wigeons, Northern shovelers, ring- necked ducks, lesser scaups, common and hooded mergansers and ruddy ducks. This area is also the best place inland to catch a glimpse of greater scaups. And, at the farthest point upstream near the dam there always seems to be a group of common and Barrow's goldeneyes. Be sure to check all wigeons carefully. Nearly every year a Eurasion wigeon is discovered. This area is very famous for producing rare ducks.

Also, as you drive along the river near the dam be sure to check all the robins on the extensive lawns for varied thrushes. These close relatives of robins are partial to cool, damp areas and are frequent visitors to this area.

So, there you have it. These are the best places I know of to see these interesting birds. And, of course, the birds listed here are not the only ones you'll see. Be alert. Almost anything could turn up this time of year. Happy New Year!

* * *Birders' tip Winter is the best time to see bald eagles in Klamath County andjust across the border in Northern California. Check with the Rogue Valley Audubon Society for the date of its annual Klamath field trip at roguevalleyaudubon.org/.

Richard Cronberg is a birding enthusiast and photographer who lives in Central Point.