When it's winter here in the Willamette Valley, one of the things we like to do is head for William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis. When going, you never know what you will see, but that's part of its appeal. Of historic interest at the refuge is the Fiechter House, completed in 1857-- thought to be one of the oldest homes in Benton County.
The refuge was named for William L. Finley, an early conservationist who persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside the first national wildlife refuge west of the Mississippi River. It is because of farsighted people, where the government purchased the land, that such places for migrating and wintering wildlife exist in a time of dwindling habitats.
There is an interesting history attached to the place, be sure and read the link under Fiechter House. It involves a killing which might have been accidental, of course... or was it? It was assumed to be at the time but would definitely arouse my suspicions as a fiction writer ;).
Many of the trails are blocked during the winter to offer the birds a protected space. They did, however, build a boardwalk that goes out to offer views of the larger of the two ponds. It was from that gazebo where we got photos of the swans which were across the pond.
The big thing we hope for is the remote chance we will get to see and hear thousands of geese take off. It's a sound you don't forget. It is not just the beauty of these birds but the energy that makes this a wonderful place to sit and for a time just watch them as they fly off and back. This time, because we saw so many at the other end of the second pond, we had hopes we'd get lucky. We were also then ready for when it happened with our cameras.
What makes them suddenly arise as one? Often, we have seen one or two lift off but the other birds don't go. Then suddenly it happens. Is there one leader who determines it?
When they take off in a flock, often one or two realize they don't know where their mate is, and they will turn back. I guess they get as pulled in by the excitement of that liftoff as we do in watching them. After awhile small flocks will come back and settle into a different spot on the shallow lake. These birds are not ready to migrate, not yet but one day, this practice will benefit them, I guess :).
This time, besides taking a lot of photos, we were able to make a video with our phone. It was mostly to capture the sound of their wings beating the water and air as they rise. I hope you can access it. In me, it arouses emotions of gratitude every time I am there to, for a tiny moment, share the world with these beautiful birds.