Bend, Oregon, is a growing city in a region otherwise sparcely populated. Within the city, there are lots of parks and hiking trails where nature abounds. Outside the city limits is a vast expanse of public lands - national forest, designated wilderness area, and BLM land - just waiting to be explored. (Restrictions often apply as to vehicular use, etc. Check posted regulations before entering restricted use lands.)
Within the city limits is the Old Mill District, where three tall silver smokestacks stand as reminders of Bend's industrious past. Below the stacks, the old sawmill has been converted into retail space housing a jewelry store and outfitter, while the rest of the area has been transformed into an upscale shopping hub. The Shops at the Old Mill sprawl along the east bank of the Deschutes River, while the west bank is devoted to hiking trails and an outdoor amphitheater. A broad pedestrian bridge, decked along both side railings in colorful flag banners, connects east river bank to west.
Along both banks, the fragile riparian zone has been retained as naturally as possible, with cattails and snags providing inviting retreats for birds. While shoppers walk by (and in the summer, river rafters float downstream), they seem oblivious to the natural wonders around them... the kingfisher on a tree branch just yards away, or the river otter frolicking nearby, or the great blue heron standing in the reeds inches from the shore.
Farther down river, city parks offer space for people and wildlife to meet. The Deschutes flows right through the middle of Bend, and is home to several swans, hundreds of mallards and geese, and an occasional bald eagle. Finches, sparrows and quail find refuge in the underbrush beside the river, while mergansers, ring-necked ducks, coots and buffleheads congregate in the shallows.
About seven miles west of Bend, Skyliner Road makes a right turn as the pavement ends, and crosses Tumalo Creek. That's where this Spotted Sandpiper was photographed.
In the few months since I've started photographing all this wildlife, I've identified over thirty species of birds within a ten mile radius of Bend.
I was especially fortunate to photograph (at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.) some rufous hummingbirds as they tapped nectar from the blossoms of coyote tobacco (an alien species of wildflower that crops up only in disturbed areas) in a nearby landfill. Just days later, the whole area was bulldozed to prepare for residential expansion. Both the habitat and the hummingbirds are now gone.
A few miles south of town, atop Lava Butte, visitors get a bird's eye view of the Cascade Range and the surrounding lava fields. They can also get a close-up look at some of the less common wildlife, such as the Clark's Nutcracker that is drawn to the summit looking for handouts from tourists, even though posted signs advise not to feed the wildlife.
Chances are that your town has similar natural wonders. All you have to do is look for them, camera in hand, ready to capture the moment that others have missed.
Photo credits: Dana Kenneth Johnson.