▶️ The Great Outdoors: Bird Count pairs experienced watchers with newbies

Thousands of bird watchers participated in the Audubon Society’s nationwide Christmas Bird Count the past few weeks. The count isn’t officially tallied yet, but so far, they’ve counted nearly 6 million birds.

The annual Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science activity in which beginners are paired with experienced bird watchers to count as many birds as can be found in designated areas. 

“It’s done every year, same time period. The idea is you get a very consistent count across the entire United States and in other extended areas,” said Ron Young, Christmas Bird Count team leader. “The idea is you can see what weather changes are happening, how populations are changing, how environments are changing and how it impacts the birds.”

Is there a trick to spotting birds in cold weather? 

“You’ve just got to be patient because in the cold weather the small species, the sparrows, chickadees, they’ll stay down without sunshine and warmth. We just have to move slow, look in the bushes and try to get a good count,” Young said.

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“All you need to do is grab a pair of binoculars and just go outside. There are birds everywhere,” said Kelli Neumann, programs director at the Sunriver Nature Center. “That’s what’s really neat about this hobby is you can go anywhere. You can do it anytime. The whole family can get involved. We have a feeder here at the Nature Center and that’s a good place to check out birds. We also have bird walks available guided by professional birders.”


The Christmas Bird Count is a prime example of how everyday observations by first-time volunteers and experts alike can make a big difference in understanding how the climate is changing.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 16, almost 44 years. I’ve done a lot of these over the years,” Young said. “They are a lot of fun. Everybody gets into it.”

We caught up with Nancy Albert of Sunriver who was participating in her first bird count.

“It was exciting and interesting,” she said. “Being new to the area, I was not familiar with a lot of the bird varieties. Traveling around this lake this morning, I was able to learn more about the birds that live here. Now I’ll know a little more when I start looking out my kitchen window and what I’m seeing.”

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The Audubon Society has been staging Christmas Bird Counts for more than 120 years.

Long-term trends in the data show dramatic changes.

More and more bird watchers are seeing half as many birds as were counted just 35 years ago.

Ron Young started participating in bird counts when he lived in Eastern Oregon. 

“Where I grew up, I saw a lot of changes in bird populations over the years. You go back 20-30 years ago the chukar count was incredibly high. It’s gone down and now it’s coming back up a little bit. The pheasant population is way down. But we are seeing more bald eagles than we’ve seen in the last 10 years. That’s fun seeing them come back the way they have.” 


On this day, the bird watchers spotted the Nature Center’s resident trumpeter swans, mallard ducks and Canada geese.

In the meadows and thickets around Lake Aspen, chickadees, sparrows, ravens, ducks, hawks and bald eagles were seen.

“It’s really fun to do a walk with the birders because the more you get into birding, the more you start seeing,” Neumann said. “You might first notice the robins and stuff. But when you are out with a birder, they’ll point out there’s a robin. There’s a titmouse. There’s a sparrow. You start seeing more that’s around you. It’s a really fun way to see and enjoy nature.” 

Christmas Bird Count data has prompted changes in how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies manage natural resources to protect places birds need to thrive now, and in a climate-disrupted future.

After participating in an organized bird count, Nancy Albert said she planned to buy some bird books so she can identify birds she sees on her own. 

“I have binoculars. I forgot to bring them but next year I will be wiser and bring them with me.” 

The next time you go for a nature walk or explore your neighborhood, record the wildlife you see. Your observations can help protect the environment.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Off-roading with the Deschutes Co. 4 Wheelers Club

High clearance, off-road vehicles can go places others simply can’t, like the top of Pine Mountain in the middle of winter.

On this edition of The Great Outdoors, we go off-roading with the Deschutes County 4 Wheelers Club.

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▶️ The Great Outdoors: Avalanche dangers in Central Oregon

Fresh powder on the slopes might look like some amazing skiing – but dangers always lurk under the surface.

In this edition of The Great Outdoors, sponsored by Parr Lumber, Central Oregon Daily’s Brooke Snavely looks into the dangers of avalanches in Central Oregon.

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▶️ The Great Outdoors: COCC’s Physiology Lab can test your conditioning

Are you physically ready for ski season, be it downhill, nordic or skate skiing? Have you trained for the rigors of the sport?

If you’re not sure, the Physiology Lab at Central Oregon Community College is a place where anyone can test their conditioning before heading out on the slopes.

Two elite athletes were training for upcoming endurance events when we visited COCC’s Physiology Lab

“Tucker (Thole) and I are getting ready for a mixed relay in ski mountaineering in Switzerland in March,” said Molly Zurn. “It will be one of six events that we do. We will each do an individual event and a team event. He will, he’s much stronger than me, put a rope on me and tow me which is something you can do in the team event. The team event takes about six hours. The relay will take 10 minutes each, so it’s quite a range of events that you have to train for.”

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While running on a treadmill that tilts to replicate an uphill climb, test participants wear a mask with two one-way valves. One valve lets air in. The other valve is expired gases which is directed to a metabolic cart that has oxygen and CO2 sensors in it. 

“We are measuring somebody’s maximal aerobic capacity, essentially the most amount of oxygen they are able to intake and utilize during activity. We don’t utilize all the oxygen that we breathe in. We push a lot of it back out. We are seeing essentially how big someone’s aerobic engine is,” said J.T. Strang, COCC Physiology Lab Coordinator.

Zurn and Thole are preparing to compete in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s Masters World Championships in Europe.

Ski mountaineering is backcountry skiing on steroids. Competitors race uphill on skis with skins for traction. They remove the skins and race downhill. Then they race up and down more hills going as fast as they can for as long as humanly possible.

Thole is training to beat certain competitors he raced against last year in Italy.

“I’m going to use the heart rate to get closer to them. So if there’s particular times in the race I can look at the heart rate, see how I’m feeling, see where they are ahead or hopefully behind. If I get ahead of them and I realize my heart rate is higher than it should be, I can slow down, let them catch up and be right there with them and then push later on so I don’t spend too much energy early and have them pass me at the end.” 

Lactate threshold is the point at which blood lactate increases faster than the body’s ability to clean it up and muscle cells become acidic. 

“When the acidity builds up, that’s when people start to fatigue,” Strang said. “Your legs get heavy and you have to slow down or stop.”

As a test gets progressively harder, the individual’s blood lactate level rises. 

“When we see a non-linear break of typically more than one millimal between stages, that’s when we know they are at their threshold. And that is what many of the athletes who come in for testing want to identify and learn how to influence while they are training with a heart rate monitor,” Strang said. “That’s how they develop their future training program. They can tease that moment in time. They can do their interval training to try to nudge that lactate threshold further and further. The main goal of most athletes is increasing their lactate threshold over their main heart rate.” 

The tests also give COCC Health Science students hands on learning opportunities.

The COVID pandemic shut down COCC’s Physiology Lab for more than a year, but it is open again to anyone who would like to test their physical fitness. There are fees associated with the different types of tests the lab offers. Call ahead to schedule an appointment.

“I’m 51 and I knew my heart rate zones had changed so I thought I’m going to come back, see where I am and what I can do,” Zurn said. “It was great confirmation to know that with the right amount of training, the right type of training and the right focus I could still get fitter at age 51. It’s pretty cool.” 

Information gathered from these tests provide direction, purpose and goals for people trying to lose weight, prepare for ski season or extreme athletes trying to win endurance events.

“The only thing I care about is beating these two Austrian men, this one German, the Italians, the Swiss, the guys I raced last year. Those are the only guys I care about. If I can beat those 10 guys, then I’ll be super happy,” Tucker Thole said. 

For more information, call 541-383-7768 or visit this link.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Snowshoe with a Ranger tours

There are many winter sports worth trying when there is snow on the ground. Snowshoeing is one of the easiest.

Snowshoe with a Ranger tours are offered each winter at Mount Bachelor. When the Ochoco National Forest hosted a tour at Walton Lake in the mountains northeast of Prineville, we had to check it out.

“We wanted to do it out of the Walton Sno-Park. You could see the hut and the trails but that would have been a little over two miles,” said Kassidy Kern, public affairs officer for the Ochoco National Forest. “We wanted to make this family-friendly. I know my kids would not be able to hang for over two miles, so we wanted something a little shorter. Something a 6-, 8-, or 10-year-old wouldn’t whine too much at their parents, so we tightened it down to 1.5 miles. It wasn’t really taxing for folks. There were a lot of stops along the way to learn about the beautiful Ochoco and its rich history.” 

Walton Lake was originally a meadow with springs flowing through it that was dammed by miners who needed water. Later, the Isaak Walton League built a larger dam to create a reservoir for recreation purposes. 

Today, Walton Lake is a much-loved place, but there’s nobody there in winter except those willing to break trails through deep snow.

“It can be pretty tiring. Be mindful of that if you are going through deep snow,” Kern said. 

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“We call it post holing where you are just putting your feet into the ground. Oh fiddle, it will get up to your middle before you realize. Make sure you know where you are going and you have that plan. If the snow gets to the point that you are really starting to sweat, turn back. You don’t want to be sweating in all those layers and making yourself tired and potentially hypothermic,” she said.


The beauty of going on a guided snowshoe tour is that the guides are prepared with the 10 Essentials:

  1. First aid kit
  2. Extra clothing
  3. Extra food
  4. Emergency shelter
  5. Knife
  6. Gear tape
  7. Headlamp
  8. Extra batteries
  9. Compass
  10. Lighter or some other way to start a fire

They will teach newcomers how to prepare for adventures on their own.

I asked Dan and Lucy Seed from Redmond what they thought of their first snowshoeing expedition.

“I’d say perfect for beginners,” said Dan.

Was it fun? 

“Yeah. It was very tiring,” said Lucy.

“One of the reasons we chose snowshoe is you don’t have to be rich to do it,” Kern said

“We were able to use Discover Your Forest snowshoes and we were able to provide equipment to those who didn’t have them. I don’t know that we’ll be able to do that in the future, but this is something that you can rent for not much money. You don’t need a helmet and gear. You just need good warm clothes. You need water.  You need to know where you are going,” Kern said.

You can go virtually anywhere on snowshoes. 

The tricks are to pick up your feet a little higher and walk with a slightly wider stance. Never try to walk backwards. Some people use ski poles for additional balance.

“I love it. The views. We haven’t seen the lake frozen over. It’s beautiful,” Dan Seed said. 

“It will be fun going with my class,” Lucy said.

“Our field ranger work force is well staffed in the summer and we recently extended it to year-round,” Kern said. “That really is to provide a better customer experience for people who are out on the forest. You don’t stop having questions in the fall and winter and then the spring. We wanted to make sure we had a consistent workforce that could be there year-round,” Kern said. “If folks aren’t sure where they are and they are out there on their snowmobiles, their snowshoes, we want to be there for them. This is just an extension of the customer service we provide in the summer and we are doing year-round now.” 

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Ice fishing in Klamath County

When winter weather turns cold for extended periods, optimistic anglers bundle up and go ice fishing.

On this edition of the Great Outdoors, we head to an ice fishing seminar on Lake of The Woods in Klamath County.

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▶️ The Great Outdoors: Grooming Virginia Meissner Sno-Park

Cross country and skate skiing are enormously popular in Central Oregon partly due to miles of expertly groomed trails just a few minutes from town. In this week’s Great Outdoors, we take you on a pre-dawn ride in a grooming machine at the Virginia Meissner Sno Park.

A special thanks to our Great Outdoors sponsor, Parr Lumber, for giving us the time and resources to explore the lakes, rivers and mountains across our beautiful state every Wednesday night on Central Oregon Daily.

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▶️ The Great Outdoors: Winter range closures help wildlife thrive

Beginning December 1st, four winter wildlife closures take effect across the Deschutes National Forest to protect deer and elk “winter range.”

On this edition of The Great Outdoors, sponsored by Parr Lumber, Brooke Snavely explains how the public can help deer and elk survive the cold winter months.

It primarily involves keeping your distance.

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▶️ The Great Outdoors: High Desert drought helping effort to remove carp

There are some silver linings to drought conditions plaguing the High Desert.

Officials have been trying for decades to control and remove carp from Malheur Lake. This year, Mother Nature is serving them up on a platter. 

The water is so shallow, carp are leaving the lake and concentrating in the Blitzen River where wildlife managers are scooping them out by the ton.

“We’ve been using a couple of different methods,” said Dominic Bachman, aquatic biologist for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. “What we are doing now is using hand wands in the river. What that does is stun the carp. As the carp are stunned, we net them up and then we move them to a loader and then to a dump truck from there.”

These are big fish that weigh an average of 15 pounds apiece.

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Good reflexes are required to net them, strength to carry to them and coordination to toss them into bins. The scene is reminiscent of Pike Place fish market in Seattle where vendors toss salmon around putting on a show for shoppers. 

But here on the refuge, the carp are being thrown with a bit of vengeance because they inflict serious damage on the ecosystem. 

“Malheur Lake could, at one time, produce up to 150,000 birds during a good water year,” said Jeff Mackey, Malheur Wildlife Refuge Manager. “Since then, it’s been an ecological transformation from the emergent marsh to what we have now which is a turbid environment.” 

The carp impact Malheur Lake through their feeding patterns by continually stirring up sediments. The sediments block the sunlight which the plants need to grow. Without sunlight, that important component of the marsh is lost.

Another silver lining of drought is the emergence of native vegetation from the exposed lakebed, out of reach of the carp. 

The race is on to remove as many carp as possible before the lake level rises in the spring, flooding the new vegetation and allowing carp to get back into those areas.

“When Malheur Lake is big, we could have millions of fish,” Bachman said. “Right now, we have much less fish. There’s no water in the lake for fish. All the fish are in the river and their population is extremely low, so every fish we get out we are really knocking the population down.” 


The goal is to remove 75% to 80% of the carp in the system. 

Wildlife managers are focused on the large spawners. Just one of them can ruin all the efforts to remove them.

A common female carp in good condition can lay three million eggs. 

“We cut open a giant one that had about five million eggs in it,” Bachman said. “They haven’t been able to spawn well the past two years because of the drought condition. Carp need to spawn on vegetation and the lake has been so low there’s very little vegetation out there they haven’t had any opportunity to spawn out there. There’s only a small portion of the river where they can spawn. This year I’ve only seen three fish that were born this year in all the efforts that we are doing.” 

Staff from federal, state and local agencies and dozens of volunteers came from miles around to help remove carp from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

“I’ve always been interested in natural resources. When they asked if we could do that for our lab, I was excited. It’s better than being in a classroom,” said Trent Stevens, a Treasure Valley Community College biology student


So, what becomes of all the carp? Refuge managers have tried for years to develop markets for them. 

Commercial fishermen tried catching them with hook and line and turning them into liquid fertilizer, but the carp’s large scales clogged the spray nozzles.

A gathering of international chefs was held in Portland a few years ago to make gourmet dishes with carp to increase their appeal in restaurants, but in a land of salmon, trout, halibut and sturgeon, there’s just no demand for carp as table fare.

“On a small scale, we have people who use carp to fertilize their garden. If you want to come out and take them home, they make great fertilizer,” Mackey said. 

How does the public get a hold of that source?

“They just call the office. We only do this certain times of the year and we don’t do it every year. But if they call us, we can tell them when we are doing this work and encourage them to come out. Bring a bag. Bring a bucket. Bring a pickup truck, a dump truck, whatever you want. We’ll give it to you.”

A local farmer takes a lot of the carp, drops them in a hole in the ground and mixes manure and straw. When it’s broken down into compost, the concoction is applied to alfalfa crops which reportedly grow up to seven feet tall.

“The size of the lake is very dependent on how it is the year before and it’s not very big right now. We aren’t anticipating a very big lake next year so it’s possible a lot of this new vegetation could survive. That’s why we are putting full effort into carp removal, to give the vegetation the biggest possible chance,” Bachman said.

▶️The Great Outdoors: The reason behind pile burning season

Don’t be alarmed if you see small columns of smoke rising from the National Forests this time of year – it’s pile burning season.

On this edition of The Great Outdoors, we look at the hows, whys and benefits of pile burning.

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