On Saturday, an intrepid group will assemble at the Row River Boat Ramp with an assortment of watercraft, life jackets, paddles and plastic garbage bags. These volunteers are named for a tough little bird who has developed the ability to walk and ”fly” underwater.
The ”Water Ouzels,” as the volunteers are called, will scour sections of the Row River and the Coast Fork of the Willamette River as part of an annual river cleanup.
The Water Ouzel – aka, the American Dipper – is a stocky, dark grey bird that lives exclusively along rivers and is the only North American songbird that is truly aquatic. Several adaptations have made it possible for the bird to look for its food underwater. It has a low metabolic rate paired with extra oxygen-carrying capacity in its blood, along with thick, oil-producing feathers. This allows the bird to spend long periods underwater, even in the coldest water temperatures.
The Dipper also has a nictitating membrane, or extra eyelid, to help it see underwater; flaps to close their nostrils; long legs with strong claws to grip the river bottom; and short, strong wings that act like flippers.
What gives the Ouzel its common name of ”Dipper” are the bobbing movements it makes as it searches for insect larvae along the shore, underwater in the river, or as it hops about defending its territory.
It is an indicator species that can be used to determine the water quality of a stream or river. If there is pollution, or silting from runoff from mining or logging operations, you will not find the Water Ouzel present. The river won’t be healthy enough to support the aquatic insects it needs for food.
”Water Ouzels” is a well chosen name for the volunteers who, for 13 years now, have floated down a stretch of the Row and Coast Fork Rivers picking up discarded human materials that have ended up in the water. Old tires, shopping carts, a transmission, and innumerable plastic bags, bottles and trash of all descriptions have been fished out of the river and off the trees along the bank as the Ouzels float downstream.
While performing this good deed, the volunteers also get to enjoy the scenery, wildlife and fellowship. And as we know, you only find Water Ouzels along clean rivers.
This annual river cleanup is co-sponsored by the Willamette Water Ouzels and the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council. The Ouzels will cover the six-mile stretch between the boat ramp and Lynx Hollow State Park.
The event is free and open to the public. To keep everyone safe and legal, there are some necessities to consider. Life jackets, a safety whistle and, for craft over 10 feet long, an invasive species permit are required. And while there aren’t whitewater conditions on this part of the river, there are rapids and lots of rocks so helmets are recommended, particularly if you are in a kayak.
Feeling up for an adventure full of good karma? Contact Doug Garletts at 541-315-1604 or [email protected] and tell him the number of people in your party, gear status and any children planning on coming along. For event information, visit www.coastfork.org or call 541-767-9717.
Participants need to meet at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 29 at Row River Nature Park Boat Ramp, 33301 Row River Road. Besides your watercraft and paddles, you need to bring your own water, snacks, personal gear, hat, sunglasses, etc. Once all participants are present, shuttle arrangements will be made to transport everyone back to the beginning point.
If you would like to enjoy a beautiful day on the river while doing a good turn, please RSVP with Doug – and I have a feeling a certain bobbing little bird also known as an ”Ouzel,” or Water Thrush, according to John Muir, will thank you!
Dana Merryday is a Chronicle columnist and can be reached at 541-942-7037 and via email at [email protected].