By Sarah Schrock
For the year in review, I’d like to thank my readers out there in the hinterlands of the valley and beyond who read my column and tell me how much they appreciate it. It really makes it worth it. It’s quite a privilege to share my insights, tidbits and observations each week and report of the un-newsworthy news of this quirky town tucked in the hills.
Since I began writing this column four years ago, I have come to an embarrassing self-realization: I am a bit of a narcissist. Each week when I pick up the copy off the press, I immediately read my piece first. Then I read each regional column starting with Mazama and work my way down the page. I spend the next two mornings, or evenings, getting caught up on the rest of the news. Before being the Twisp columnist, I was a frequent reader, but not religious; now that I am in it, I am a dedicated follower. Thanks to this column, I am much more informed, and I hope my readers continue to find pleasure in my prose. So, thank you to my followers for reading, sharing your praise, and feeding me inspirations and ideas.
As I scroll through the columns from the past year, I was reminded of the variety of topics I have covered. Wildlife sightings, community events and gatherings, blackouts, business news, reunions, farewells, bugs and pests, wildflowers, elections, family reunions, valley history, and of course the many natural phenomena we see through the year. Apparently in January we had unwanted rain. Flooding in May. In June, a freak thunderstorm. And of course, the fire and smoke that ruined yet another August in the valley, wreaking havoc on all our outdoor activities, work and play alike.
The smoke may (or may not) have something to do with an unexplained phenomenon that is leaving naturalists and valley birders to ponder the source of reports of “missing birds.” Word in the bird world is that, well, there just aren’t many birds this year — and different birds than usual. Feeders that are normally emptied by fluttering feathers are still full. Morning songs are silent, and sightings of the common fall and winter birds are few or infrequent.
More than two valley residents have shared this tidbit with me in person — so it must be true. Also, an online chat room dedicated to valley birds also hosts a string of reports from valley residents documenting the lack of common birds or the observation of unusual birds for this time of year. I am a novice birder at best, but even with my untrained eye, I noticed a lack of aviation action this fall. The cedar waxwings always clear off my Mountain Ash berries by winter — but not this year; the berries are still on the branches.
One theory for the missing birds in general is that they were affected by the smoke. Birds have very small lung sacks and complicated respiratory systems. Also, birds fly away from danger. So perhaps the combination of wildfires at both ends of the valley coupled with toxic air for over six weeks resulted in mass migration out of the area and demise of our more common feathered friends.
One observation shared by Roxie Miller is that the magpies are gone — I too have noticed this over the past years and did some sleuthing a few years back. Magpies have seen a sharp decline in recent years due to West Nile Virus in other regions of the country. Now, given that my name “schrock” actually comes from the Germanic term for “magpie,” I take this sort of personally. More research into why magpies are gone from the valley needs attention.
On the up side, yesterday my crabapple tree was teaming with varied thrushes, a bird I have never identified in my back yard. This was a treat, as my 6-year old son and I got out our Western Bird Book and flipped through the photos.
This year’s Christmas Bird Count is scheduled for Dec. 30. I will report on the findings next week. Hopefully, the bird count will tell different story of the missing birds and set the tone for a prosperous new year for all feathered friends.