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Beauty hides in plain sight

Lately I’ve been thinking about writing more columns about local birds and the joys of birdwatching. That way, I’ll be able to write off the cavalcade of expenses involved with this seemingly innocuous hobby. I mean, when four-pound-capacity feeders are emptied in a day!

Since becoming petless in Southern Oregon, I suspect I have subconsciously traded wild birds and one stuffed opossum for a pet. My newest acquisition, a thistle feeder for lesser goldfinches, has created utter chaos in the competition for eight perches. Their appetite is certainly not lesser, but greater.

For two weeks, said feeder hung barren of feathered attractions. Then, a little gluttonous birdie let it leak that free eats hung handy. Now the traffic jam resembles the latest In-N-Out Burger location. Of course, as the seed dwindles, the tube feeder offers fewer seats at the banquet. Now I feel bad. I scurry out and refill so that all eight dining posts can be occupied for a brief time. This morning I counted over 10 additional individuals keeping watch in a nearby flowering (soon) pear tree for a chance opening. In the guise of trying to help them and entertain myself, what have I done? They pounce on one another, playing an avian King of the Perch, and they bicker. Pardon me while I go pump more seed.

On a calmer note, a few weeks back I wrote about going in search of tundra swans near Floras Lake on the coast. I came up empty. Last week, a dear reader by the name of Herschel Mack emailed to let me know of a flock of over 20 swans wintering in a pasture near the Table Rocks. I’ve often found readers of SOJ to be interesting people. Come to find out, Herschel grew up in Sams Valley and attended the old Sams Valley School. He said, “My mom and dad both taught in Jackson County for a long time (my dad was principal at both Sams Valley and Gold Hill, and the baseball field in Gold Hill is named for him).”

Herschel and his family lived in a house on the school grounds in what was referred to as a teacherage. Following in the family footsteps, Herschel taught at the university level for 40 years, with most of his time spent at Humboldt State U. How fortunate he returned to his old stomping grounds.

I stopped by The Blackbird Shopping Center to replace my broken binoculars and made my way straight out Table Rock Road. Just as I approached the Rogue River Ranch barn, I saw them. They grazed far out in a pasture on the right. I pulled off the road, onto the farm and wrestled the brand new binos from their packaging. These were not an expensive pair, in fact they were about the most modestly priced (nicer than cheapest) I could find. I hoped they’d do the trick. As soon as I trained them on the distant forms, I knew they were up to the Tasco (sorry). Sure enough, they were swans, not white cattle. I watched them moving over the pasture, occasionally fluffing their feathers, gracefully bowing their lithesome necks, and wished they would fly.

These elegant creatures are snow white with black bills, legs and feet. A male is a cob, female is a pen. Swans are believed to mate for life. Their offspring are cygnets.

Our visitors are true snow birds, nesting in the Arctic tundra and only present in the states during winter or migration. I thought it was pretty special they chose our valley. Herschel said they had been congregating there for about 10 years beginning in January and staying a few weeks. Ten years — sometimes beauty hides in plain sight.

Local ornithology expert Stewart Janes, a biology professor at Southern Oregon University, is aware of them as they have shown up in local bird counts.

Sometimes they’re closer to the road, Herschel added. Before they wing northward, I hope to take another gander. Whoops, wrong bird.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.