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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Oregon: Birds and the Shakespeare Festival

2008 Tour Narrative

In Brief: Weather more delightful than ever (not too hot, as it can sometimes get), a late spring that resulted in an impossibly more stunning wildflower show and more birdsong than usual, a variety of very good restaurants, and consistently excellent productions of the seven plays by a world class theater company all added up to a wonderful extended week in southwestern Oregon. Dazzled by Elegant Terns and stunning vistas on the coast, we arrived in Ashland for the plays and mountain birding. A Great Gray Owl, meadows alive with Rufous Hummingbirds, Clark’s Grebe, and a Northern Pygmy-Owl were some of the highlights among the birds, while performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A View From The Bridge were particularly notable. Rounding out the experience were our delicious grilled fajitas dinner in the fresh air of Fort Klamath and the full morning exploring every view of fabulous Crater Lake National Park.

We started our first day with a pre-breakfast American Dipper, while a Winter Wren serenaded us during the first of many picnic breakfasts in the mossy coastal forest. We hopped down the coast, marveling at the numbers of Common Murres, gulls, and cormorants, while snagging such fine species as Tufted Puffin, Peregrine Falcon, and Black Scoter. On the second morning on the coast, we walked out the south jetty and spotted a Surf Scoter with a radio antenna; it turned out that researchers had been studying the wintering and migration patterns as well as effects of oil and treatment of scoters in San Francisco Bay, and this was probably one of their birds. After adding Wrentit and Snowy Plover, we made our way inland and south to Ashland, where we watched a pair of Vaux’s Swifts flying over the Elizabethan stage during the first 20 minutes of The Comedy of Errors, a fun play set in the Wild West, replete with lasso-slinging cowboys and a snake-oil salesman. The singing fit in well, but was perhaps a bit much at times.

We had three mornings in the complex mosaic of forests on the plateau just east of Ashland, as well as a morning on the slopes and even to the very peak of Mount Ashland. Watching for the many Black-tailed Deer and Western Scrub-Jays along the main road up the mountain (and one morning even stumbling across a Tricolored Blackbird here), we drove several back roads early, succeeding in finding a big covey of Mountain Quail (with many week-old chicks, which quickly scattered), but never chancing across Sooty Grouse. Finding a Great Gray Owl was a little more of a challenge, but it sat for great views for several moments before finding a well-hidden perch. We encountered many flocks populated by Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, Green-tailed Towhee, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Lazuli Bunting. MacGillivray’s Warblers were still on territory and quite obliging, Olive-sided Flycatchers were still calling, a very territorial “Thick-billed” Fox Sparrow perched too close for binoculars, and a surprise Evening Grosbeak came out of nowhere while we were looking for grouse and admiring a small stream adorned with rein orchids and leopard lilies. We made it as far as Upper Klamath Marsh, where a Clark’s Grebe came very close to us, and to the butterfly-swarmed top of Buck’s Peak, near which a Great Horned Owl was being mobbed by Steller’s Jays. In several places we heard Pileated Woodpecker, but none ever came close for us to see. We saw some fun critters in these forests such as a Snowshoe Hare, huge Two-tailed Swallowtails, Blue and Purplish Coppers, a brilliant Pacific Fritillary and many unidentifiable fritillaries, several Lorquin’s Admirals, Great Arctics, and a cooperative Twelve-spotted Skimmer, in addition to swarms of other dragonflies not so easy to identify in flight.

Our side trip to the Klamath Basin and Crater Lake was brimming over with birds. We started in the oak zone with Acorn Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Oak Titmouse, “Coastal” White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Black-tailed Jackrabbit before we headed over the mountains and dipped into California. In the sagebrush flats we picked up a few new things such as California Quail, Swainson’s Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Bluebird, Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s Sparrow. Massively outnumbering all other birds together were the Gadwall, though numbers of Eared Grebe (one adult feeding the young perched on the other parent’s back), Great Egret, White-faced Ibis, Black Tern, and American Coot were also very impressive. Scoping the lakes, we picked out Canvasback and Redhead, and Bonaparte’s Gull and an American Bittern were good finds. A Peregrine Falcon continued to hold a territory along State Line Road, while a territorial and vocal Willow Flycatcher was new for the list. Closer to Crater Lake, we lucked into a Northern Pygmy-Owl, but more expected were the “Oregon” Gray Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers, both performing right on schedule.

We also spent one day in the totally different habitats of the Rogue and Applegate River valleys. We had more and even better Wrentit sightings here ,followed by Bushtits in the same place, and finally caught up with Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker. During the day we added Black Phoebe, Yellow and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, and California Towhee to the list as well. A calling Red-shouldered Hawk eluded good views, but our favorite Osprey (out of many) was on a nest atop the railroad bridge that paralleled ours as we crossed over the Rogue River near the town of Merlin. Cool bugs this day included a Western Tiger Swallowtail, a Sylvan Hairstreak, and a Golden Buprestis beetle that visited during our picnic lunch.

The plays were all memorable. Besides the imaginative setting for The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—with the sexy fairies in black mesh and tutus (and Puck in platform heels), the blond Helena, and stunning costumes for Oberon and Titania—was particularly well done and a favorite of the group. Othello was done on an appropriately stark (black-on-white) stage, though the fluorescent lights didn’t quite work as well as they might have; the performance was gripping nonetheless. Coriolanus was perhaps the best Shakespearean performance of all, especially considering how rarely it is staged. Done in modern dress, it offered themes of politics and war that translated perfectly to issues and even personalities in today’s news. The non-Shakespeare plays were not all modern this year. The Clay Cart is quite a bit older than the works of the Bard, similar in style but more amazingly Bollywood-like in its themes of love disallowed, misunderstandings, and close calls saved by coincidence. Interestingly different were the themes of religion that probably made a lot more sense 2,000 years ago. Our Town was simply perfect, probably never any better, and provides for a good thought exercise if not just plain enjoyable. A View From The Bridge was as disturbing as watching any “train wreck.” The lead roles were played absolutely brilliantly, but the nature of the relationship between Eddie and Rodolpho wasn’t elucidated as clearly as it might have been. We also enjoyed post-play discussions with some of the actors in both this and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Wonderful days in the field, great plays, fine restaurants, and time with a group of friendly participants has us already looking forward to this tour in years to come.

- Rich Hoyer

Updated: September 2008