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Couple Wanders In Search Of Birds

SUNDAY, JUNE 29, 1997

It all began with that ordinary pair of binoculars.

Without them, Roy Woodall may never have been chased by ax-wielding women in Pakistan.

He may never have flown in a sandstorm over the Gobi Desert or have become shipwrecked in Java or attacked by giant lizards in Indonesia.

Roy may have never traveled the world to see all those birds, those wonderful birds, if it hadn’t been for that pair of binoculars.

The first adventure was just to the back yard.

Roy, 65, of Winston, Ore., a retired truck driver, was a very different person then. He didn’t have any interest in birds. As he puts it, he “didn’t know a duck from a goose.”

And he hadn’t ventured out of the country, except for a trip or two to Tijuana, Mexico.

“I was a stay-at-home person. I was happy,” Roy said.

On Christmas Day 1979, Roy opened a gift from his stepson that would change his life - that pair of binoculars.

That afternoon, Roy went outside and looked at birds. He enjoyed it so much that his wife bought him “Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of the Western United States.”

In the next few weeks, Roy scoured the county for birds and identified them with his guidebook.

But success - dumb beginner’s luck - wasn’t to happen until a few months later.

Roy was remodeling an apartment he owned in Riddle when he saw his first rare bird - a lark bunting.

This lark lives mainly in the Midwest and rarely has been seen west of the Rocky Mountains.

Roy was so surprised that the next day he brought a video camera, filmed the bird and took the footage to the Oregon Field Ornithologists, which registers bird sightings in the state.

Members were astonished.

“All these old-time birders were pretty put out by that,” Roy said. “That’s never happened to me again.”

Roy soon bought a book on birds of Mexico. In the winter of 1981, he and his wife Bonnie took a trip south of the border to see those birds.

With a truck and camper, they traveled for months through Mexico on their first bird-watching trip. Along the border of Guatemala, Roy saw his first quetzal, a rare, brilliantly colored red and green bird with long, streaming tail feathers.

To this day, Roy says it was the prettiest bird he’s seen.

Birding was Roy’s salvation following Bonnie’s death from cancer. But he’s found a new traveling and birding soul mate, Donna Patton.

For all their adventures, the couple have never strayed too far from their main objective - looking for birds.

“It’s just mind-boggling the different varieties and the unusual kinds of birds there are,” Roy said.

Every time they see a bird, they write it down in a three-ring binder and log the bird into a handbook of birds Roy has back at home.

Roy has seen more than 5,592 species in his years of watching. He didn’t register this year, but according to the American Birding Association, he would rank 21st for the number of birds he has seen. And that’s out of more than 17,000 members.

Of the 120 or so bird families in the world, the Woodalls have seen all but one.

The couple has traveled to every continent but Antarctica. They carry a pair of binoculars, a field guide for birds and a tape recorder.

Roy tapes the bird calls and plays them back for the birds to attract them into the open.

Once on their trips, they take their time trying to find their birds.

“It takes patience and a lot of watching,” Donna said.

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