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WET SIDE STORY.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Seven - count 'em, seven - bald eagles perched on branches of the gray snag overlooking the Coyote Creek Unit at Fern Ridge Lake one morning last week.

The big birds paid scant mind to the people putt-putting past in an inflatable boat on the creek channel. Which was fair, considering the people in the boat weren't paying all that much attention to the eagles.

There were too many other more colorful, more active birds to see and hear: Yellow-headed blackbirds ... two kinds of grebes ... purple martin ... wood ducks and warblers, and much more.

"As far as the west side of Oregon goes, I don't think you can beat Fern Ridge for all-around birding," said Dan Farrar, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wildlife technician and avid birder. "We like to call Fern Ridge `Little Malheur' in the summer and `Little Klamath' in winter" - referring, of course, to two famous bird refuges east of the Cascades.

Farrar and Corps of Engineers wildlife biologist Kat Beal were providing a preview of the variety of birds people will be able to see at the second annual Fern Ridge Wings & Wine Festival, to be held May 12 in the Fern Ridge Lake/Veneta area.

Featuring a full day of activities - from early-morning bird walks to an after-dinner owl walk - the fledgling birding festival highlights a long list of nature activities to be held in the wetlands west of Eugene during May, national Wetlands Month.

The Fern Ridge Wings & Wine Festival grew out of birdwalks and similar activities organized two years ago as part of an effort to minimize the economic impact of the reservoir draw-down during the Fern Ridge Dam repair project, Beal said.

"We knew we weren't going to have much of a lake in 2005, and we wanted to get the word out that there were still things to do at Fern Ridge," she said. "A lot of local birders had always wanted to put together a bird festival on International Migratory Bird Day."

The event celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds that winter in Mexico, Central and South America and fly to breeding grounds in North America each spring.

There were IMBD events in a half-dozen other Oregon communities on the second Saturday of May, she said, "and we thought Eugene should have one, too."

So people started assembling a partnership to sponsor such a festival - Lane County Audubon Society, Cascade Raptor Center, the City of Veneta, Willamette Resources Education Network, the Corps of Engineers and the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County.

Since wineries are an important agribusiness in the Long Tom watershed, Beal said, they were an obvious potential business partner.

Patti Chappel, owner of Secret House Winery and "an avid amateur birdwatcher," said wine and birding are a good match.

"The two go hand-in-hand in the sense that both are very gracious things to do," Chappel said. "I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to sit in my garden, birding and having a glass of wine."

Secret House Winery, just off Highway 126 west of Veneta, serves as the festival "grounds."

"It's a great birding location," said Maeve Sowles, president of Lane County Audubon, one of the festival sponsors. "You could see a lot of different birds just at Patty's place. She has gardens, birdboxes, trees and lots of good habitat and woodlands."

The festival, Sowles said, is just a way to "draw attention to the important bird area that Fern Ridge Reservoir is, along with the area around it."

The winery grounds will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free tastings of wine from Secret House and other area wineries available. In addition to sponsors' booths and displays, there will be food for sale and activities for children.

"We want to emphasize it's a family affair with plenty of activities for kids," Beal said.

This year's International Migratory Bird Day theme is "Birds in a Changing Climate." The Fern Ridge festival will observe that theme with a talk on "How might future climate change affect Pacific Northwest birds?" by Sarah Shafer, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Her talk begins at 2 p.m. at the Fern Ridge Community Library, 88026 Territorial Road, Veneta.

The best bird-watching activities, no doubt, will occur at various locations around Fern Ridge Lake, which is visited by nearly 300 different species of birds a year. About 140 of those species are typically present during the month of May, Farrar said.

And some of them generally cannot be seen anywhere else in Western Oregon.

"We get a lot of breeding out here that just doesn't occur in most places west of the Cascades," Farrar said. "We have a whole flock of different eastern breeders - a whole variety of birds you normally won't see unless you go to Malheur."

Advance registration is required for several of the birding events, as the number of participants who can be accommodated is limited. For details, log on to: wingsandwinefestival.com.

Kevin Clark / The Register-Guard

CAPTION(S):

Old snags at Fern Ridge Lake offer a resting place for birds like (from left) wood ducks, yellow-headed blackbirds, bald eagles and Clark's grebes.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Wings, wine and wetlands to take center stage west of Eugene in May
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:869
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