Birder’s Quiz: You are hiking on Table Rock Mountain in the trees and spot a colorful bird. It is the size of a robin, has a black head and back, white wing bars, an orange throat and breast, and a yellow belly. What is it? - Richard Cronberg

Lower Table Rock is birder's paradise

One of the springtime events I look forward to every year is climbing one of the Table Rocks. Both mountains offer a moderate hike, they're close to town, with wonderful birding spots and spectacular views. The weather is good now, the wildflowers are at their best, and the birds have arrived ready to nest while sporting their best breeding plumage. So, let's go on a hike!

Either mountain is a good choice but today we'll explore Lower Table Rock (so named because it is downriver from the Upper Table Rock) on Wheeler Road.

As you begin the hike through the grassland watch for Western bluebird, Western meadowlark, and California towhee. Also, check the crossbars of the utility poles for Western kingbird nests.

As you enter the manzanita-ceanothus scrub brush and oak tree area be on the lookout for acorn woodpecker, scrub jay, oak titmouse, black-capped chickadee, bushtit, white-breasted nuthatch, Bewick's wren, blue-gray gnatcatcher, spotted towhee, and purple finch. These birds should be fairly easy to see as you walk up the trail.

When you reach the top there are several trails that meander through the wildflowers and lead to the edge of the mountain. Here you could encounter common nighthawk, rock wren and lark sparrow. Watch the sky for turkey vulture (sometimes at eye level when you are standing at the edge), red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, Vaux's swift, and violet-green, tree and cliff swallows. Occasionally a bald eagle or osprey will cruise by.

Anywhere along this route you could encounter almost any bird either nesting or just passing through. That's what makes this spot so interesting. And, the one piece of advice I'd give is to take your time! Walk slowly and be observant. Not only will you enjoy the experience more but you will also have a much better chance of seeing more birds.

The best part of this hike is that it is great fun for "non-birders" too. Anyone can enjoy the wonderful wildflower display and great views. This is a hike that needs to be savored. Sometimes I arrive in the late afternoon after many of the people have gone home and stay until dusk. It's fun to watch the shadows move across the valley and to see what birds pass by.

Be sure to take a lunch, water, sunscreen, good hiking shoes and a camera. Also, stay on the trails to protect the flowers and to avoid the poison oak, which abounds along the trail. So let's get started. Maybe I'll meet you along the trail!

Birder's Tip: Early morning and late afternoon are the best time to see the most birds. They become active at dawn and many times become inactive during the heat of the day.

Birder's Quiz Answer: You have discovered a Black-headed Grosbeak. These birds are a member of the finch family and are thought by some to be one of the best "singers."

Richard Cronberg is a birding enthusiast and photographer who lives in Central Point. Write him at P.O. Box 4283, Medford, OR 97501.

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