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Volume 8, Issue 6


June 2010

The Nature of Cedar Mill
The Pleasures of really seeing...
by Lauretta Young

Last week I took a bird tour group out on a tour in my own back yard in Cedar Mill. This was one of the tours I had donated to a local school auction and the buyers had mobility issues so wanted to sit AND see backyard birds. Since spring is typically “very birdy,” I invited them to sit with me. One of the group members was very focused on getting his “list” topped off with a certain number of birds, especially ones he had not seen before. It is always a treasure hunt in the spring when migrants come passing through and it is very exciting to find a new bird and have a long and satisfying list after two hours.

And yet…

marsh wren
A Marsh wren straddles some reeds in a Cedar Mill back yard. Photo by Jeff Young

What we noted as we sat—and I encouraged the group to listen AS WELL as look–is that the many types of calls and songs are missed in the “birding by list” method of doing this activity. We distinguished between the “oh dear me” (in minor key) of the golden crowned sparrows, the “whinny” of the robin, the “wichedy wichedy” call of the common yellowthroat, and the staccato calls of the marsh wrens. By the end of the tour they were competently able to pick out several common calls from the about 40 birds we did see in two hours. Mostly they were amazed at how rich it was to listen as well as see.

Finally I encouraged them to WATCH the birds not just check them off as identified. What was that bird doing—in taking the time to watch and sit we discovered some fascinating things that would have been missed if we only marked that “yes we saw a northern flicker” and moved on.

The flicker in fact had a snail from the garden it was smashing on a rock to get to the meat. The red winged blackbirds were gathering old dry grass and flying off to weave it into a camouflaged nest we would never have seen if we hadn’t visually followed her to her nest site. The scrub jays squawked loudly and if we hadn’t been alert we would not have seen the very stealthy Cooper’s hawk that landed in the dense foliage of the cherry tree—but the jay sure told us if we looked. Cooper’s hawks hunt other birds so the alarm call would have just been “noise” if we hadn’t been watching instead of marking off our list of identified species.

Sitting and noticing bring such depth and texture to the experience of being outdoors. We wonder—why is that bird doing that? Or what would be the reason those birds are over there? If we explore our world, we feed our sense of wonder and curiosity, which is good for our brains and good for the planet and very fun as a “side effect.” Have fun sitting and seeing what you can see in your own back yard!

Lauretta Young is a retired physician who now teaches community health at PSU and management for healthcare at OHSU and leads private customized bird tours in Cedar Mill and the metro area—check out her web site for more pictures and blogs at




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Portland, Oregon 97291