CORVALLIS - The fastest growing outdoor activity in America is bird watching and "birding" enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest no longer have to wait until the warm days of spring to look for their feathered friends.

The Oregon State University Press has just published a new guide to winter birds in the Northwest. Though the birds' plumage may not be as bright in the dark days of winter, there are still about 380 species that regularly can be found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and southern British Columbia in December, January and February.

"Northwest Birds in Winter" is the first book guide published about winter birding in the northwest. Author Alan Contreras is an ornithologist and co-author of several books on Oregon birds. Illustrator Ramiel Papish is a noted wildlife artist.

The one advantage winter birding enthusiasts have, the author points out, is the opportunity to see many birds at once.

"Unlike the breeding season, when many birds are territorial and observers must travel widely to see them, in winter many birds concentrate," Contreras said. "On a field trip, you can find amazing densities and species variety in a small area."

The book includes tips on the best winter birding sites and photographs of unusual winter birds. In Oregon, for example, Contreras cites the south jetty of the Columbia River as one good coastal area, where gyrfalcons, snow bunting and snowy owls can be spotted. Inland, the Willamette Valley's open fields between Salem and Eugene provide excellent raptor watching, while Klamath Lake "supports tens of thousands of waterfowl" and such species as the marsh wren, the snow goose, the Virginia rail, the sage sparrow and the loggerhead shrike.

In addition to maps and illustrations, the book provides locations, counts and population trends.

"Northwest Birds in Winter" is available from book stores and libraries, or can be purchased directly from the OSU Press. The paperback costs $17.95 plus shipping and handling.

For more information, contact the OSU Press at 541-737-3166.

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Tom Booth, 503-282-9801