Gray whales didn't wait for annual Whale Watch Week to start

Thousands of gray whales are on the fast track south, and now is the time to start looking for their tell-tale spouts as they pass Oregon.

Beginning Sunday, trained spout-spotters will be on hand at 25 stops along the Oregon Coast to help you spy them.

The annual Winter Whale Watch Week begins the day after Christmas, and volunteers will be at "Whale Watch Spoken Here" overlooks from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily through Saturday, Jan. 1.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department's Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay also will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The migrating whales already have been seen passing the Oregon Coast on their way to breeding and calving lagoons along Mexico's Baja coast. They are leaving their summer feeding areas in the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska.

Whale experts believe the migration includes 18,000 whales. Most of the whales travel three to five miles offshore, so binoculars are helpful.

Staffed sites on the Southern Oregon Coast include Harris Beach, Cape Ferrelo, Cape Sebastian and Cape Blanco.

For more information about the program and a map of the official viewpoints, check the program's website at

Medford's contribution to the 111th national Christmas Bird Count was heavy on bald eagles and not too light on American robins.

Forty-seven local participants battled a rainy Saturday to count and tally 38,577 birds representing 133 species, says Bob Hunter, the organizer of the Medford count for the National Audubon Society.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the tally of 20 bald eagles, the most counted in the Medford CBC since its inception in 1953, Hunter says.

Overall, the American robin showing was down, Hunter says. But counters Pepper Trail and Christ Uhtoff counted 1,422 robins dashing out of Kelly Slough along the Rogue River near what used to be Gold Ray Dam.

The slough was drained by the dam's removal this summer, and birders were wondering whether the slough would remain a popular night roost for wintering robins.

Trail says the high water in the Rogue pushed flows into the slough Saturday, leaving most of the slough under 2 to 8 inches of water.

The most common bird was the non-native European starling, of which 12,771 were counted. Notable sightings on count day included a semipalmated plover, herring gull and lazuli bunting, Hunter says.

One bird not seen that has been seen in most previous counts was the Lewis's woodpecker, he says.

After a 70-year absence, the Ashland edition of the Christmas Bird Count will be held Wednesday, Dec. 29.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail

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