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Volume 9, Issue 4
April 2011

The Nature of Cedar Mill
by Lauretta Young

The willows are showing us their buds with the emerging color that tempts us to think that spring really is coming even though the downpours seem to say otherwise. The daffodils blooming brightly in the muddy flowerbeds make us remember our other dormant plants' blooms—soon we'll see our roses and fruit trees and rhododendrons in their spring "plumage."

Long-billed Dowitchers. Photo by Jeff Young.

In my backyard pond I see the Mallard male heads have molted into their brilliant green breeding plumage. And breeding they appear to be—heads nod up and down before the "act." Soon the hens will disappear into the reeds to sit on nests of eggs and in about 21 days or so we'll be lucky to see the tiny yellow fluff balls skitter across the water. They are so tiny it's hard to see them except for the brilliant color.

Anticipation has been written about as a way that people cope with stress. It appears that focusing on a better future may neutralize the current distress. Certainly thinking about my blooming roses, or the appearance of brightly colored spring migrants and baby ducks makes me smile on a day with gray skies and a persistent downpour.

Our overwintering birds will molt again into their lovely breeding plumage. Our American Goldfinches show us the most dramatic color change of any of our Cedar Mill birds, but almost all birds do go through a spring molt. You may notice many other birds looking "more brilliant". Many people think the existing feathers change colors but they don't—birds have to grow an entire new set whose color is different due to hormonal and dietary factors.

We also will see some of our winter friends leave and fly to their own breeding grounds to the north. After visiting Alaska last June I now understand why that is—abundance of mosquitoes and other insects from the muskeg! They can gorge on protein for their babies in amounts that amaze the tourists (so take your bug repellant if you go there). Birds who leave soon are the Golden-crowned Sparrows, some juncos and even some of our robins.

But they will be replaced with our summer birds such as Western Bluebirds, Rufous Hummingbirds, Evening Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings to name a few. Some of these eat bugs and others eat my cherries!!! (And blueberries and other yummy fruits). We will also see some species briefly as they fly through on their way up north. Some may stay for a few days or others several weeks to feed and rest. This type of spring migrant is fascinating to the avid birders and is one reason this area is written about in birding magazines. So we may see many varieties of warblers in our trees in our backyards in Cedar Mill or at local bird locations, or we may notice migratory shorebirds along the edges of ponds. Be sure to look for these—examples are Long-billed Dowitchers with their impossibly long beaks to poke in the mud for food as the waters recede around our ponds.

Anticipating warmer weather—to go outdoors to hear the bird songs and enjoy the bright plumage—makes me smile. Remember to go to the Audubon website to discover their every-weekday free bird walks at various sites around town during April, May and June from 7-9 am. And of course going out with one of the local park rangers (Tualatin Nature Park or Jackson Bottom) is a great way to meet other birders and learn some identification skills. This year seems to be a great year for people to want to go birding—I have tourists coming here from Canada and Virginia as well as local folks wanting to learn. We are a well-known destination so get outside when the sun shines! Have fun anticipating !

Lauretta Young MD is a retired physician who now teaches stress management and human sexuality at PSU and leadership at OHSU, in addition to leading birding tours for locals and tourists in the area. Her husband Jeff's photos are at



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Portland, Oregon 97291