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IBA of the Month

This series of articles from Portland Audubon's Warbler newsletter provides a detailed look at several of the state's IBAs. All articles are by Mary Coolidge.

Ross Island | Marbled Murrelet IBA | Bonney Butte | Fern Ridge Reservoir | Saddle Mountain | Malheur National Wildlife Refuge | Jackson Bottom Wetlands | Finley National Wildlife Refuge | Alsea Bay | Fernhill Wetlands | Government Island | Killin Wetlands | Lake Abert | Salmon River Estuary | Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge | Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge | Redfish Rocks | Table Rocks | Zumwalt Prairie


Ross Island

"The island has given to the City. Now it is time to give back to the island."  - Ross Island Vision Document

Historical and Ecological Significance

Among more than 100 internationally recognized Important Bird Areas located in the State of Oregon, 404-acre Ross Island stands out because of its immediate proximity to downtown Portland. It serves as a reminder that our wildlife refuges can play a critical role in the survival of migratory bird species. In October 2007, a vision of public ownership, which was first laid out by the Olmsted Brothers in their 1903 Report to the Park Board, became a reality when 45 acres of Ross Island were transferred by the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company to the City of Portland.

Ross Island is actually a four-island complex (comprised of Ross, Hardtack, East, and Toe Islands) separated from Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge by the narrow Holgate Channel. Portions are now owned by three entities: 45 acres in public ownership, the North tip under Port of Portland ownership, and the majority owned by the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company (R.I. Sand & Gravel Co.). Between 1926 and 2001, R.I. Sand & Gravel Co. mined the Island Lagoon from an original depth of approximately 20 feet to a current depth of more than 120 feet. The raw materials used to construct the downtown landscape came from this lagoon.

Audubon Society of Portland, Urban Greenspaces Institute, Willamette Riverkeeper, GreenWorks, and a pair of independent landscape designers (Melissa Medeiros and Chris Frank) teamed up in 2004 to form the Ross Island Vision Team to develop a long-term vision for the ecological and recreational future of Ross Island. We jointly formed the Friends of Ross Island to provide the public with opportunities to become directly involved. Today there are more than 350 Friends of Ross Island and we are working hand in hand with the City, the Port of Portland, and R.I. Sand & Gravel Co. to develop a unified vision for protecting the entire Ross Island-Holgate Channel-Oaks Bottom Complex.

Species of Ornithological Importance

More than 100 bird species use the Island along their Pacific Flyway migratory path, and three listed fish species (Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead) use shallow-water habitat
associated with the Island. A pair of Bald Eagles has nested and raised young on the Island since the 1990s, and a heron rookery that at one time housed as many as 66 heron nests
is located at the north end of the Island. A floating passerby could hope to encounter eagles, herons, osprey, kingfishers, beaver, river otter, and a wide array of songbirds, shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl.

Access

There is currently no public access allowed on the Island, but there are many ways for the public to enjoy this gem by canoe and kayak, on sternwheeler trips sponsored by Audubon, and from a variety of vantage points located on the east and west banks of the Willamette. Audubon leads dozens of trips by canoe, kayak, bike, foot, and sternwheeler each year that feature Ross Island.

Today a new vision is at work on Ross Island. After nearly a century of mining for raw materials, it is now time for the City to give back to Ross Island. R.I. Sand & Gravel Co.
ceased mining operations on the island in 2001 (though they still use the plant located on the island for processing materials from sites located elsewhere in Oregon). The company has also embarked on a mandatory reclamation project that will create shallow water habitat and emergent wetlands at the north and south ends of the lagoon. Along with the transfer of 45 acres of land to the City of Portland, R.I. Sand & Gravel Co. also provided $100,000 to support
restoration activities on this parcel.

A 330-foot no-entry area exists in the lagoon for motorized and non-motorized boats during the spring and summer to protect the nesting Bald Eagles.

Get Involved

The best way to stay up-to-date on Ross Island trips, restoration activities, and policy decisions is to join the Friends of Ross Island. Contact Bob Sallinger at bsallinger@audubonportland.org to join. Among the upcoming activities that we will be working on to promote protection, restoration, and enjoyment of Ross Island are the following:

• Regular trips by boat, bike, and foot to Ross Island and the surrounding environs.

• Creation of a no-wake zone in the Holgate Channel and a non-motorized zone in the Ross Island lagoon (commercial activity exempted) to provide a safe environment for canoeists and kayakers and to protect the fragile ecology of the Island.

• Restoration activities on the Island in conjunction with Willamette Riverkeeper and Portland Parks during the spring and summer (a rare opportunity to actually put your feet on the Island).

• Continued development of the Ross Island Vision to ensure protection, restoration, and enjoyment of the Island into the future.


Marbled Murrelet IBA

Every entity is only to be understood in terms of the way in which it is interwoven with the rest of the universe”  --Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher, from Part II of the 1997 USFWS Recovery Plan for the Marbled Murrelet.

Marbled Murrelet IBA - tammi miller
Marbled Murrelet IBA - tammi miller

Standing at the 1934 Civilian Conservation Corps shelter on the Cape Perpetua promontory, the view to the south is a showcase of forested ridgelines within the Siuslaw National Forest.  Eight miles south, the Heceta Head Lighthouse marks the southwestern edge of the roughly 80,000-acre central coast Marbled Murrelet Important Bird Area.  The IBA captures the largest intact stand of coastal temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states, a habitat of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and the massive Sitka Spruce whose moss-blanketed branches provide nesting platforms for the Marbled Murrelet.

Portland Audubon owns Ten Mile Creek and Pine Tree Sanctuaries, two forested parcels totaling 216-acres within the MAMU IBA.  The Ten Mile Creek property was a 2008 gift from National Audubon, which originally purchased it in 1990 to prevent logging plans and to get a tangible foothold in protection of old-growth forest, home to both the Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl.  Paul Engelmeyer, Coastal IBA Coordinator, manages the land for Portland Audubon with a litany of land management goals: improve forest canopy, encourage wildlife habitat diversity, encourage succession to old-growth forest characteristics, create a model for community based protection and restoration efforts, and to influence Siuslaw National Forest land management programs to shift toward a protection and restoration strategy for the surrounding forest. 

The Ten Mile education program strives to instill a conservation ethic in citizens of the region.  Hands-on participation is the secret to this alchemy; Audubon members, Angel Job Corps Forestry students, local high school students, and local forest activists all volunteer on site.  They plant, they create snags, they conduct annual Marbled Murrelet surveys, and they connect with place.  Their work creating snags provides essential nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, wren, owls, bluebirds, bats, and flying and Douglas squirrels.  Planting Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Big leaf Maple, and Red Alder increases forest diversity and canopy cover. 

Species of Ornithological Significance

The highest concentration of at-sea Murrelets occurs between Florence and Newport (Strong, 2008) and the land included in the MAMU IBA contains more than 50 detected nest sites, located by intensive predawn land surveys conducted over the last 20 years.  Kim Nelson, OSU researcher and Murrelet expert, helped draw the boundaries of this IBA to capture some the best area for Murrelet with respect to both breeding concentration and contiguity of habitat.

Northern Spotted Owls also nest within the IBA, and both of these ESA-listed species continue to face significant threats throughout their Pacific Northwest forest habitat.  The Murrelet encounters additional threats in its seagoing ventures: oil spills, gill-net entrapment, water pollution, and overfishing.  Populations of both species have fallen precipitously due to a combination of development and forest management practices that continue to fragment already decimated old growth forest.  Though the Siuslaw Forest Service only practices plantation thinning of forest within the IBA, USFWS protection of both species is inadequate.

A piece of good news for the Murrelet: one of four Marine Reserve proposals slated for further study is situated just offshore of Cape Perpetua, and a proposed extension of the MAMU IBA boundary to include nearshore waters could offer an additional tool for advocating for protection of these already-listed birds.  This is the result of efforts to understand species and their habitats as whole, integrated, invaluable systems.

The forests of the MAMU IBA additionally host: Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Varied and Hermit Thrush, Hutton’s Vireo, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Black-headed Grosbeak, Wilson’s Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker, Ruffed Grouse, and Hairy and Pileated Woodpecker.

Projects

If you’d like to participate in the annual July Marbled Murrelet training and survey in the Yachats area, contact Paul Engelmeyer at 541-547-4097 or pengelmeyer@peak.org.


Bonney Butte

Mt Hood from Bonney Butte - Mary Coolidge
Mt Hood from Bonney Butte - Mary Coolidge

September is upon us, and just as we begin to hope for the postponed end to summer weather, fall migration counts are already getting underway.   Since the fall of 1994, observers have occupied the bald knoll just southeast of Mt. Hood from August 27th through October 31st, braving everything from withering sun and dust devils to freezes and snowfall before they break camp.  Bonney Butte is home to of one of over a dozen long-term fall migration counts conducted by HawkWatch International (HWI) in the United States and Mexico. 

Because raptors are top-level predators, they act as good environmental indicators. They occupy large home ranges in a wide array of ecosystems, and are sensitive to contamination, habitat disturbances, and climate change.   HWI monitors their population trends in an effort to assess overall ecosystem condition.  The natural history of many raptor species finds them both widespread and remote on the landscape, making monitoring from fixed locations along their migratory routes more efficient and cost-effective than roving surveys.  Bonney Butte sits atop Surveyor’s Ridge, which, along with several adjacent ridgelines, effectively funnels a stream of migratory raptors who conserve energy by making use of updrafts along the Pacific Flyway in the Cascade Mountain Range.  These virtual wind-highways are conjured up by the combination of topography and weather patterns and occur along multiple routes within the Pacific Flyway.

Northern Goshawk in hand - Mary Coolidge
Northern Goshawk in hand - Mary Coolidge

Bonney Butte meets two of the criteria for selection as an Important Bird Area in the state of Oregon as described by the Technical Advisory Committee.  The site may “host” a minimum of 1,000 raptors per season and/or the site may be used for research.  Observers at Bonney Butte gather vital scientific data, adding to a database which spans years and is analyzed to ascertain trends in various populations over time.  Up to 4,500 migrant raptors have been counted here in a single season, represented by a diversity of up to 18 species.  In the last several years, count totals have ranged from a low of 2,269 in 2007 to a high of 3,821 in 2004.  Bonney Butte IBA is also among the 127,000 acres in Mt. Hood National Forest (and over 200,000 acres in Oregon) that received permanent wilderness protection when Obama signed the omnibus public lands management act into legislation in March.

Cooper's Hawk and Northern Goshawk in Hand - Paul Beucher
Cooper's Hawk and Northern Goshawk in Hand - Paul Beucher

In addition to an unparalleled view of Mt. Hood, and views of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Adams, a visit to Bonney Butte offers visitors unique education opportunities.  HWI staff includes an environmental educator on site 6 days per week in addition to two observers.  This educational interpretation component provides a much needed service, raising public awareness about the ecology of many species that most people don’t encounter in their day to day lives.  Making this connection between people and wildlife is a key to making conservationists out of enthusiasts.  Because HWI runs a banding station at this site, you may be lucky enough to observe a raptor release if you hang around long enough.

Species of Ornithological Significance

Annual counts typically range from 2,500-4,500 migrant raptors of up to 18 species. The most common species include Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, and Merlin.  Other species on record include Northern Goshawk, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Osprey, Northern Harrier, and the occasional Swainson’s Hawk and Broad-winged Hawk.   Among non-raptor species, Pileated Woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Townsend’s Solitaire, Gray Jay, and Clark’s Nutcracker have been recorded.

Programs

The public is always welcome to visit Bonney Butte, though the dirt access road is pretty rough-going for the last two miles.  While I have seen a foolhardy Prius labor up the road, a high clearance vehicle is preferable, even with recent Forest Service improvements to the worst sections of the road.  Audubon Educator and former HWI observer, Steve Engel, will offer a Hawks in Flight class on September 24th from 7-9 pm with a field trip to BB on the 26th.  Contact him at 503.292.6855 x119 to find out if there is still space available.

Or go it alone:  take Highway 26 East to Highway 35.  Follow Hwy 35 for 4.5 miles and turn south on paved Forest Road 48 at the White River East Snow Park.  Travel 7 miles and turn left on FR 4890 (unmarked until you turn onto it).  Travel 3.75 miles and turn left onto FR 4891.  Follow signs to Bonney Meadows Campground.  Shortly beyond the campground you will come to a marked gate and a gravel parking area.  From here, you’re on foot to the observation post about ¼ mile up the road.

Be prepared for variable weather at an elevation of 5,000 feet: sun, wind, fog, hot or cold temperatures all in the same day! Bring plenty of water and food. 


Fern Ridge Reservoir

Twice a year, the statewide Audubon chapters meet at a roving location to strategize on our statewide priorities and how to maximize our collaborative effectiveness.  The fall meeting was hosted by Lane County Audubon in Eugene, who, by lengthy tradition, guided the visiting chapters on an outing to a nearby Important Bird Area, in this case, to Fern Ridge Reservoir west of the city.

Oregon's 2006 state wildlife action plan, the Oregon Conservation Strategy, was drafted to ensure the preservation of our statewide natural resources, identifying both target species and habitats.  The OCS includes mapping of priority focus areas known as Conservation Opportunity Areas, of which Fern Ridge Reservoir is one.  Over 286 species of birds have been documented here, a 12,780 acre complex of wetland, grassland, wet prairie (lowland grasses), oak woodland, and freshwater aquatic habitats.  The property is owned by Army Corps of Engineers, with 5,261 acres of it licensed to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage as a Wildlife Area.  ODFW manages FRWA with three explicit goals in mind: to attract and support waterfowl, to protect, enhance, and restore habitat diversity, and to provide recreational and educational opportunities to the public (including hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing).

Fern Ridge Reservoir was established in 1941 for flood storage for Long Tom and Coyote Creeks, but years of successful management at FRWA has improved habitat and increased wildlife diversity.  Together with the 2,500-acre West Eugene Wetlands to the east (a restored wetland area acquired by BLM, the City of Eugene and The Nature Conservancy), the area provides a green anchor in the city and acts as a storehouse of Willamette wet prairie, of which less than 1/2 of one percent remains in the valley today due to urbanization.

A Sunday morning drizzle didn’t drown our birdwatching spirits, and the eight of us who ventured out to West Eugene found several Acorn woodpeckers active among the Oaks in a small stand north of Royal Avenue on the way into the Royal Amazon Unit of the FRWA.  Visiting an IBA in our host chapter helps us envision the focused efforts of chapters in their respective backyards.  And spying a housecat in a willow stand on FRWA property identified a century-old conservation challenge: how to keep cats out of urban natural areas.

Species of Ornithological Significance

Fern Ridge represents habitat for a diverse assemblage of bird species, of which 118 species are confirmed breeders.  ODFW sensitive species found at FRWA include Purple martin, Yellow-breasted chat, Western meadowlark, Willow flycatcher, Western bluebird, and Grasshopper sparrow.  Over 30 species of ducks, geese, swans and pelicans use FRWA.  

Breeding season and spring migration populations include Cinnamon teal, Blue-winged teal, Red-shouldered hawk, White-tailed kite, and Bald eagle.  Peak winter waterfowl counts reach up to 27,000 birds, excluding the 8,000 to 20,000 Canada geese and 100 to 1,500 Tundra Swans which roost nightly on the lake and migrate to the surrounding fields at daybreak.  Wintering populations of Northern pintail, Great egret, and Ring-billed gull are present.  Marsh breeders include Pied-billed grebe, Western grebe, Clark’s grebe, American bittern, Virginia rail, Sora, American coot, Black-necked stilt, Wilson’s snipe, Wilson’s phalarope, Marsh Wren, Willow Flycatcher, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.  An estimated 25 pairs of breeding Black Terns nest in loose colonies among bulrush, cattail, sedge and rush in the marsh.  Fern Ridge is also important for Solitary sandpiper, Spotted sandpiper, Western sandpiper, Dunlin (flocks up to 20,000 in winter), Black-bellied plover, Semipalmated plover, Greater yellowlegs, Long-billed dowitcher, Wilson’s snipe, and Black-necked stilt.  Up to 140 American white pelicans summer at Fern Ridge but are not yet documented to be breeding.

If You Go

I-5 South toward Eugene to the I-195 B exit toward Junction City/Florence.  Merge onto Beltline Road/ OR-569 W.  Turn right at W 11th Ave/OR 126-W and continue.

There are options here:  To visit the experimental Caspian Tern Island at the Royal Amazon Unit, turn right on Fisher Road (at the West Eugene Wetlands Meadowlark Marsh).  Left on Royal Avenue to the parking lot (just after the turn onto Royal is the Acorn woodpecker Oak stand where you may be lucky enough to spy a Lewis’ woodpecker).  To get to the FRWA Headquarters, return to I-126 W and turn left at Central Road and left again on Cantrell Road.  HQ is signed on the left.

Questions?  ODFW FRWA office: 503.935.2591


Saddle Mountain

North of Highway 26 and just east of US 101, a double peaked saddle of pillow basalt rises 3,283 feet out of the surrounding forest to form the highest peak in the north Coast Range and the highest in NW Oregon.  Saddle Mountain was named for its conspicuous geologic formation in 1841 by a US Navy Lieutenant, but had been previously known to Native Americans as Swallalhoost in honor of a slain chief who legendarily became an eagle and conjured both thunder and lightning on this very peak.

Saddle Mountain itself is a registered Oregon National Heritage site and the surrounding state natural area has been designated an Oregon Important Bird Area for both Marbled Murrelet and Sooty Grouse (formerly Blue Grouse).  A rigorous 2.5 mile hike draws visitors through  forests of vine maple, red alder, huckleberry and oregon grape into a  coniferous zone of Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir, and ultimately  through mountain meadows of both rare and endangered plant species. 

The exposed basalt peak was formed by the eruption of a sea-floor volcano 20 million years ago, later providing Ice-Age refuge to a now  rare plant community that persists there today.  This ecologically  isolated rise hosts saddle mountain bittercress, frigid shooting star,  saxifrage, alpine lily, pink fawn-lily, fritallaria, indian paintbrush, and larkspur, making it a favorite destination for botanists and for the enjoyment of spectacular wildflower meadows in May and June.

The elevation gain of 1,650 feet to the viewing area affords sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and on a clear day, the Olympics in the distance to the north.  It is a spectacular nearly 360 degree view, and we were treated to the antics of barrel rolling ravens who broke from their play to mob a soaring red-tailed hawk.  Sitting atop the 35 million year old coast ridgeline, the foreground below is a mosaic of industrial logging clearcuts scattered across the forest below. After the ascent through State Park-owned intact forest, the viewshed provides an unnaturally geometric reminder of our extraction economy land management policies.  Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet, both Endangered Species Act-listed species, rely on this very habitat.

To endure the effects of habitat loss, global climate change and a myriad of other anthropogenic stressors, these species will require responsible management of our remaining forests and conscientious preservation of a global network of significant parcels to support
healthy bird populations.  The IBA program makes a major contribution to retaining landscape and ecological complexity, and but cannot alone ensure the survival of species in peril.  Populations of both the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet continue to be in precipitous decline, and beyond that, the March 2009 "State of the Birds" Report estimated that roughly 1/3 of forest-breeding bird species are in decline, with nearly 20% of them being either species of conservation concern or ESA-listed species.  Such findings underscore the importance of conservation measures which the IBA program endeavors to leverage both in our state and around the world, and should entreat land  managers to minimize uses that lead to forest fragmentation.

Species of Ornithological Significance

Saddle Mountain was nominated and accepted as an Important Bird Area based on occupied Marbled Murrelet territories, breeding Sooty Grouse (a Yellow WatchList species), Hammond's Flycatcher, and Hermit Warbler, as well as Northern Spotted Owl.  Calliope Hummingbird is a
suspected breeding species here as well.

If You Go

From Portland, take Highway 26 west for 66 miles to the Saddle Mountain State Park sign.  Turn north (right) onto the paved but bumpy Civilian Conservation Corps road for about 7 miles to the parking lot and trailhead.  Bring plenty of water, good shoes, and layers of clothing.  We found a stockpile of hiking sticks left at the trailhead portending of the climb ahead.  The ascent is varied, at times rather mild in the cover of forest, at times steep and exposed, and though the upper areas of trail have been improved to make the scree scramble less treacherous, care should still be taken, as the footing can be irregular. For both safety and habitat preservation, please stay on trail.


Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Don Baccus
Yellow-headed Blackbird - Don Baccus

In 1908, when conservationist William L. Finley visited the Harney Basin to photograph birds and wildlife, he discovered the carnage of Great egrets stripped of their feathers by plume hunters in order to satisfy a demand for feathered hats.  The decimation of the egret population and the reduction of tern, ibis, and grebe colonies spurred him to lobby President Theodore Roosevelt to add Malheur to the growing list of National Wildlife Refuges.  Thus, it became the 3rd NWR in Oregon, and the 19th of 51 refuges that Roosevelt would designate during his presidency.  Today, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is 187,000 acres of protected rivers, wetlands, wet meadows, playas, alkali flats, and lakes in the Northern Great Basin ecoregion, a diversity of habitats supporting 320 bird species, 58 mammal species, and 10 native fish species.  A combined concentration of visiting birders and outstanding bird habitat along the Pacific Flyway has afforded Malheur what may be the highest all-time bird list of any location in Oregon!

Common Snipe - Don Baccus
Common Snipe - Don Baccus

While it is one of the premiere properties in the refuge system, Malheur is not free of complex and controversial challenges.  The Refuge is currently undergoing a public Comprehensive Conservation Planning process to draft a new Management Plan which will guide the next 15 years of wildlife, habitat, public use, and cultural resources management.  Management of the refuge involves over 500 water control structures, an invasive carp problem that’s stifling avian productivity on the lake, invasive plant species, elevated water temperatures in the channelized Blitzen River (before it ever enters the refuge), mounting fuel costs associated with moving staff and equipment between 3 substations, and budgetary constraints influencing all of this.  Refuge Manager, Tim Bodeen, has reached out to outside organizations (Oregon Audubon Chapters, High Desert Partnership, The Burns-Paiute Tribe, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Harney County Court, Ducks Unlimited, Harney County Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, and others) and has held numerous public meetings about the CCP throughout Oregon.  He has convened a “Carp Coalition” to address carp solutions, is working to build relationships in Harney County, and is thinking about the value of a landscape approach to the Blitzen Valley as a whole. 

A sign of the times in Oregon, and of particular conservation interest, is the proposal to run a wind energy transmission line across the Refuge, a proposal that is currently undergoing a USFWS compatibility assessment to determine whether such activity supports the National Wildlife Refuge System mandate that the original purpose of the refuge not be undermined.  While Audubon supports alternative energy development, we are concerned both about the siting of wind facilities near Steens Mountain and placement of transmission lines across miles of sensitive wildlife habitat, including, but not limited to, Malheur.

Ornithological Significance

White-faced Ibis - Don Baccus
White-faced Ibis - Don Baccus

The avian resources at Malheur NWR are staggering.  Malheur is important to the Watch-listed Western Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Franklin's Gull, Short-eared Owl, Greater Sage-Grouse, Bobolink, and Trumpeter Swan, all of which breed here. The Refuge has one of the highest Breeding Bird Survey counts for the Watch-listed Brewer's Sparrow and its riparian habitat supports the highest known densities of Willow Flycatcher.  Malheur supports up to 20% of the world population of White-faced ibis, up to 1,500 pairs of breeding American white pelican, and 20% of Oregon’s breeding population of Greater sandhill crane.  Up to half of the entire population of Watch-listed Ross' Geese migrate through here.  The Refuge regularly supports hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl, including Snow geese, Green-winged teal, Mallard, Northern pintail, Northern shoveler, Canvasback, Ring-necked duck, Lesser scaup, and Ruddy duck. Breeding populations include Green-winged teal, Northern pintail, Blue-winged teal, Northern shoveler, Gadwall, American wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser scaup, and Ruddy duck.

August concentrations of up to 25,000 Ring-billed Gulls have been recorded on the Refuge and Forster's tern, Franklin’s gull, Black tern, and Caspian tern all breed here.  During spring and fall migration, Harney and Malheur lakes have hosted up to 25,000 Western sandpipers, 350 Pectoral sandpipers, 35,000 Long-billed dowitchers, 15,000 Wilson's phalaropes, 15,000 American avocets, and 200 Black-necked stilts.  Up to 400 Western snowy have nested at Harney and Stinking Lakes.  Great blue heron, Great egret, Snowy egret, and Black-crowned night heron all breed on the Refuge.

Rough-legged hawk, Red-tailed hawk, Northern harrier, American kestrel, and Bald eagles have all been recorded during Christmas Bird Count.  Golden eagle and Prairie falcon are present year-round.

If You Go

30 miles south of Burns in Harney County, thousands of birders visit Malheur each year to witness the sheer spectacle. Driving directions are available at http://www.fws.gov/malheur/driving.html.  For volunteer or internship opportunities, contact Carey Goss, Volunteer Coordinator at (541)493.2612.

Images courtesy of Don Baccus.


Jackson Bottom Wetlands

Jackson Bottom Wetlands - tammi miller
Jackson Bottom Wetlands - tammi miller

Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is a 725-acre wildlife preserve located within the city limits of Hillsboro, Oregon. The Preserve is a tranquil sanctuary for both people and animals. The quiet open waters, rolling meadows and upland ash and fir woods are home to thousands of ducks and geese, deer, otters, beavers, herons and eagles.

Jackson Bottom has always been a special place. Native peoples used the rich bottom lands to gather food and to hunt. Waterfowl passed through in great numbers. Early settlers homesteaded the uplands.  Unfortunately, lack of understanding led to years of abuse and degradation of the wetlands. The wetlands were ditched and drained for agricultural purposes, cattle grazed on the native vegetation, and the wetlands were used over time for disposal of cannery wastes and construction debris.

Hyer Jackson, born in 1806, married Elizabeth Craig in 1831 and studied law in West Virginia, passing the bar in 1836.  They moved to Indiana and in 1854 followed Hyer’s brothers and sister to Oregon.  Hyer obtained land through the Oregon Donation Land Law.  He wanted the site by the Tualatin River so he could establish a steamboat landing for the purpose of transportation of people and farm produce, although he was not a farmer. While he was Country Treasurer, he died of a heart attack in 1873.  Read more about Hillsboro’s Jackson Family.

In 1910 the City of Hillsboro installed sewers in the downtown area and was connected to a septic tank located in the north end of Jackson Bottom.  In 1935 the City constructed a sewage treatment plant along Highway 219 to replace the inadequate earlier system.

By the 1930s Hillsboro’s population had reached approximately 3,500 people and its economy was centered on cannery and lumbering activities.  Cannery wastes were discharged directly into the Tualatin River, polluting the river to such an extent that the dairy farmers could no longer use the river water for their herds.

Many farmers were incensed about river pollution and at least a few threatened to sue the city.  With the effects of the Depression prevalent in Oregon, money was tight and the City leaders were hesitant to take action against the canneries.  In 1939 the largest cannery, Maling & Company, purchased the 120-acre Trent farm to eliminate the most vocal opponent of river pollution.  The farm was then resold to the City and became the first publicly owned property in Jackson Bottom.

State and local pressure to clean up cannery waste increased and by 1945 the City of Hillsboro started experimenting with land disposal techniques.  James Burns, the operator of the Hillsboro Sewer Farm from 1935 to 1969, returned from his World War II service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with many innovative ideas about land disposal.  He experimented with intermittent flooding, spray irrigation, crop production and pasture enhancement.

These activities proved successful and at one time the sewer farm employed over 200 people to grow, harvest, and process crops grown on the farm.  At its peak, the project produced a $36,000 profit for the City.  Additional private properties were acquired over the years and by 1956 the City owned most of the Jackson Bottom east of Highway 219.  The City continued to operate the sewer farm into the early 1970s.  Once intensive farming ceased, reed canary grass took over the area and was allowed to become pasture land.

The 1970s also spawned a lengthy chronicle of caring people working hard and forming important partnerships to restore the Preserve to an area of growing beauty and productivity.  Dedicated individuals known as the Friends of Jackson Bottom began a number of projects to improve the wetlands and increase wildlife habitat. In 1989 the Jackson Bottom Coordinated Resource Management Plan was completed to fulfill the goals identified by the Jackson Bottom Steering Committee.  This plan encouraged the creation of ponds for wildlife enhancement in Jackson Bottom.  To improve conditions, ponds were constructed, forage and shelter vegetation planted, nesting boxes constructed, and gambusia fish placed in the ponds to control mosquitoes.

The Friends of Jackson Bottom merged efforts and energies with the Steering Committee which obtained non-profit status in 1997.  Soon after, one governing body with a common vision emerged — the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve Board.  September 2003 marked the Board’s successful completion of a $2.5 million dollar capital campaign to build the Wetlands Education Center.

Today, Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is managed under the City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department helping to provide diverse, innovative and exceptional recreational and cultural opportunities for the public.

The Preserve is a premier resource center for information and services related to wetlands and aquatic education in the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of pre-school and school-aged children, bird watchers, university staff and students, researchers and others benefit from the programs and services provided by the Preserve.

Providing interpretive education on wetlands and wildlife, panoramic views, water quality, weather, natural resource management, trails, bird watching, recreation, exhibits, displays and an eagles nest,  Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is a treasure of the Hillsboro community.

Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in Hillsboro, Oregon, United States, is a 725-acre (293 ha) wetlands area along the Tualatin River in Washington County, Oregon. Located on the south end of the city along Highway 219, this lowland area is a designated Important Bird Area and hosts such birds as Buffleheads, Dusky Canada Geese, and Tundra Swans.[1]

History

The Atfalati band of the Kalapuya people, who were the first inhabitants of the area, hunted and gathered in the area including hunting waterfowl and digging up camas roots. Then when European pioneers settled the area beginning in the 1830s farms were established in the area, with the wetlands area usually not being used due to the annual flooding. However, bridges were built across the river and steamboats plied the river before the railroads came to the valley.[2]

In 1910 the city of Hillsboro began using the Jackson Bottom area for water waste disposal. By the 1930s farmers in the community protested the water pollution that resulted from waste dumping into the river. Then in 1939 the city purchased part of the area and began using it as a sewer farm that produced a variety of produce and the city made some money off the venture. By the 1970s the city had acquired most of the land in that area, stopped using the farm, and let the area become grassland.[2] Next, in 1980 the Jackson Bottom Coordinated Resource Management Plan was developed and the area was transformed into a wetlands area.[2] In 1999, the wetlands received a National Wetlands Award for Education and Outreach from the Environmental Law Institute.[3]

This area contains forest areas along the river bank, a forested wetland area, ponds, marshes, meadows, slough areas, and a forest section of mixed deciduous and conifer trees.[1] Jackson Bottom is home to a diverse group of plant and animal species. Animals that call the wetlands home include beavers, minks, nutria, ducks, blue and green herons, warblers, frogs, owls, red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, opossums, deer, raccoons, newts, sparrows, finch, coyotes, and many other small rodents, birds, and reptiles. Migratory waterfowl include Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Dusky Canada Geese, and Tundra Swans.[1] Plant life there includes, reed canary grass, dogwood trees, Douglas fir, white oak, cocklebur, Columbia River sedge, red willow, Oregon ash, and other grass and tree species.[2]

Human oriented features of Jackson Bottom include hiking trails,[4] an education center, environmental monitoring and research,[5] and bird watching.[6]

Education Center at Jackson Bottom

On September 27, 2003, an education center was opened at the preserve.[7] The 12,000-square-foot (1,100 m2) building is used to educate visitors of the wetlands. The Wetlands Education Center includes an exterior 3,000-square-foot (300 m2) deck that wraps around the structure.[7] This building houses a classroom, nature store, and exhibits.[6]

In January 2007 the education center received a new natural exhibit piece. Inside the building is an intact bald eagle nest. This 7-by-11-foot (2.1 by 3.4 m), 1,500 pound nest is believed to be the only intact nest on display in the United States. The nest was built in 2001 by an eagle family along the Tualatin River and removed in 2005 when the tree it was built on began falling down. Inside the nest are the remains of the animals the eagles dined on including fish and other birds.[8]

Jackson Bottom also conducts many education programs in cooperation with local schools, operates summer camp programs, and has a teacher education program. These are all designed to increase knowledge about wetlands, water resources, and preservation of the natural environment.[9]

 

Visit them at:

http://www.jacksonbottom.org/index.php/  for a wealth of information including an events calendar.  The Preserve hosts a variety of fun and educational activities.  Check this listing to find out what programs are coming up.


William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Finley National Wildlife Refuge - Joe Staff
Finley National Wildlife Refuge - Joe Staff

As I reported last November, twice a year, the statewide Audubon chapters converge on one chapter’s birding grounds for a Saturday meeting in which we share updates on our statewide workplan and collaborate on program effectiveness.  Sunday is reserved for a visit to a local Important Bird Area.  Last month’s spring meeting was held in Corvallis with a visit to William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), 11 miles south of town.  Will Wright, President of Corvallis Audubon, arranged for a tour of Finley NWR led by refuge biologists Jarod Jebousek and Molly Monroe, who provided tremendous insight into the history, habitats, threats, and current management programs of the refuge. 

Dusky Canada Geese - George Gentry
Dusky Canada Geese - George Gentry

Back in 1964, the now over 5,300-acre Finley refuge was established to provide winter habitat for Dusky Canada Goose, a subspecies that winters primarily here in the Willamette Valley.  The site is the southernmost of three Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges in the refuge complex, together with Baskett Slough (West of Salem) and Ankeny (South of Salem).  These refuges were set aside in part to preserve habitats that have been decimated in the Willamette Valley: seasonal wetlands, native wet prairie, and riparian forest, habitats that host a diverse array of bird species.

The Willamette Valley NWR complex is now involved in a Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) which invites landowners to voluntarily establish long-term or permanent easements on their land and thereby contribute to wetlands enhancement, protection and restoration.  Participating landowners receive technical guidance and are eligible for financial assistance and grants.  These easements represent thousands of acres of wildlife habitat where there would otherwise be marginal agricultural land, and in a refuge area that lacks an approved acquisition area, these WRP’s are the future of habitat expansion and are credited with increasing species diversity on the refuges.

A testimony to this diversity, we had in fact compiled a list of 48 bird species by just past noon, a list that included the siting of a single Lewis’ Woodpecker in an Oregon White oak stand along with Acorn Woodpeckers and Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlark and Western Kingbird in the Willamette Floodplain Research Natural Area wet prairie at the north end of the refuge (the largest undisturbed remnant of this habitat type in the Willamette Valley at 475 acres!), and a number of others, seen and heard over the course of half a sundrenched spring day: Savannah Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, White-fronted Goose, Dunlin, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Purple Finch, White-crowned Sparrow, American Kestrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Brown Creeper, and Pileated Woodpecker to name just a few.

Before we left, we were treated to a walk along the now 1,700-foot Homer Campbell memorial boardwalk trail and observation blind overlooking the 125-acre Cabell Marsh.   The trail wends its way through riparian forest of ash and alder, abuzz with both Myrtle and Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers and singing Black-throated Gray Warblers.  The trail was a collaborative effort of Audubon Society of Corvallis, Finley NWR, Friends of Willamette Valley Refuges, and Greenbelt Land Trust.  While many of the refuge trails are seasonally closed to protect wintering Duskies, this trail is open year round.

Species of Ornithological Significance

Finley NWR was nominated as an Important Bird Area for Dusky Canada Goose, but has been host to over 230 species of birds, including good numbers of focal species.  Partners in Flight focal species that use the refuge include: Yellow Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, Bushtit, Bewick’s Wren, Western Wood Pewee, and Streaked Horned Lark (St. HOLA have been reported along Bruce Road at the southern end of the refuge).

The refuge supports also large concentrations of wintering waterfowl and shorebirds, including: Mallard, American Widgeon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Tundra Swan, Dunlin.

If You Go

Take I-5 exit 228 West to Corvallis.  Travel south 10 miles from Corvallis to mile marker 93 on Highway 99 w.  Watch for the refuge entrance sign on the west side of the road.  Follow refuge signs for 2 miles to the Refuge Headquarters.  Finley NWR also includes the disjunct 376-acre Snag Boat Bend Unit which includes riparian forest, backwater sloughs, and seasonal wetlands.  Travel East from Corvallis on Highway 34 to Peoria Road.  Head south on Peoria Road for 11 miles.  Watch for entrance signs along the road.


Alsea Bay

Pelicans and Heerman's Gull Alsea Bay - Roy Lowe
Pelicans and Heerman's Gull Alsea Bay - Roy Lowe

Of the nearly 100 Important Bird Areas in Oregon, 14 are bays and estuaries--productive, dynamic, biologically-rich mixing zones of fresh and saltwater ecosystems.  Birds abound where this tidally-influenced billowing occurs, and Alsea Bay is no exception.  This over 2,500-acre IBA captures a full 5 of the 150 birding sites designated along the Oregon Coast Birding Trail, boasting high-value habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, waders, pelicans, terns, raptors, as well as elk, deer, river otter and harbor seals.  The estuary has also been identified as an Important Aquatic Bird Area to be surveyed as part of the Oregon Coordinated Aquatic Bird Monitoring Program, a joint effort organized by Klamath Bird Observatory.  The area’s habitat diversity--open water, exposed mudflats, emergent salt marshes, aquatic beds, and the adjacent Siuslaw National Forest--provides outstanding avian habitat and associated birdwatching opportunities.

The Alsea River watershed drains approximately 475 square miles of land, and the estuary it feeds is considered one of the more pristine estuaries on the Oregon Coast, though anthropogenic impacts from deforestation, overgrazing, overfishing, draining and filling of wetlands, chemical pollutants, and diking practices have all taken their toll.  Although Oregon Department of State Lands exercises authority over tidelands with a mandate to conserve water quality for human consumption, wildlife, fish, and aquatic life, it takes collaboration by conservation nonprofits, agencies, and private landowners to ensure estuary protection and restoration here. 

An Alsea Bay Action Plan was written in 2004 to define conditions in a bay that has seen a 40-60% loss of intertidal habitat, and to identify conservation issues and set priority target areas.  A number of conservation success stories have occurred around Alsea Bay since the penning of that Action Plan.  Restoration of Lint Slough at the southwest part of the bay was identified as a top restoration priority, and dike and levee removal now allows for natural (pre-1963) hydrological function of the Slough.  The Wetlands Conservancy (in cooperation with The Central Coast Land Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant program and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board) has acquired 240-acres of high-priority estuarine marsh habitat along West Bayview Oxbow, as well as tidal marshlands and forested uplands along Starr Creek at the northeast end of the bay.  The Siuslaw National Forest has also acquired a riparian old-growth forest parcel along the lower Drift Creek, which flows into the Alsea River just east of the bay.  Restoration in this watershed goes a long way toward improving avian and salmonid habitat value in what was once the best coho salmon spawning river in the state!

Species of Ornithological Significance

Alsea Bay was nominated as an IBA primarily for substantial congregations of Caspian Tern and Brown Pelican, as well as for thousands of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl.  Estuaries along the coast provide feeding and resting areas in spring and fall, relative shelter in winter, and feeding grounds for offshore nesting seabirds in spring and summer.   Possible sightings at Alsea Bay by season are listed below.

October: White-fronted Goose, American Widgeon, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Brandt’s Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Common Merganser, Horned Grebe, Merlin, Bald Eagle, Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Ring-billed, California, and Western Gull.

Winter: Surf Scoter, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Common Loon, Pied-billed and Eared Grebe, American Widgeon, Ring-neck Duck, Pigeon Guillemot, Belted Kingfisher.

Spring: Surf Scoter, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Eared, Pied-billed and Western Grebe, Pelagic Cormorant, Mallard, Common Loon, Western Gull, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Merganser, Brown Pelican, Greater Yellowlegs, Black Turnstone, Belted Kingfisher.

Summer: Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Canada Goose, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Western Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Osprey, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Bald Eagle.

If You Go

Visit the Oregon Coast Birding Trail website at www.oregoncoastbirding.com for more information on coastal birding sites or contact Bob Sallinger at bsallinger@audubonportland.org for more information.


Fernhill Wetlands

Fernhill Wetlands, co-owned by Clean Water Services (CWS) and the City of Forest Grove, was once a 160-acre effluent holding pond site that incidentally hosted wildlife.  Under CWS (formerly Unified Sewerage Agency) management, the site has enjoyed both considerable expansion and restoration over the last decade and a half.  It is now transformed into 600 acres of critical wildlife habitat near the confluence of Gales Creek and the Tualatin River.  Just outside of Forest Grove, the site is today characterized by a mosaic of open ponds and wetlands that host thousands of migrant and resident bird species throughout the year. 

Fernhill provides habitat connectivity for local wildlife, as well as critical marsh, lake and riparian habitat for resting and foraging migratory birds travelling the Pacific Flyway in Spring and Fall.  What’s more, this site’s importance is underscored because of its location along the Tualatin River bottomlands, adjacent to the newly designated 4,300 acre Wapato Lake Unit of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.  In this area alone, there is potential to connect over 5,000 acres of wetland habitat, and to this end, efforts are being made by Metro, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, Tualatin Riverkeepers, City of Forest Grove and others to leverage funds for future Fernhill Wetlands and Gales Creek restoration opportunities.  Wetlands are some of the most productive natural ecosystems in the world, acting not only as habitat, but also providing for natural hydrological function of rivers, flood protection, erosion control and water quality improvement. 

The proximity of the Fernhill site to the metropolitan region also allows for accessible recreation opportunities, wildlife viewing, bird watching, education, and research. Visitors can take advantage of extensive trail access year round, and the site offers both a sense of expansive lake and wetland openness, as well as views of St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Jefferson.

Species of Ornithological Significance

In John Rakestraw’s 2007 publication of Birding Oregon: 44 Prime Birding Areas, Fernhill is listed as the top priority destination among Washington County sites for good reason.  Waterfowl populations here can number in the thousands daily from November through March and may include Cackling Goose, Tundra Swan, American Widgeon, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Western, Horned, Eared and Pied-billed Grebe.

Seventeen species of shorebirds occur in numbers frequently exceeding 100 in spring, fall, and sometimes winter.   These include Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Red-necked Phalarope.

A wide variety of wetland, forest and grassland species occur.  American Bittern, Sora, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Savannah, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s, Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrow, California Quail, Lazuli Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, American and Lesser Goldfinch have all been seen here.

Bald Eagles and Osprey nest on site, and Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine are not unusual.  Rare but increasingly regular this far north in winter, the Red-shouldered Hawk may be viewed hunting the wetlands.

Visiting Fernhill

From OR 8 (Pacific Avenue) in Forest Grove, turn south on OR 47 Bypass toward McMinnville.  After 0.5 mile, turn left on Fernhill Road, and after 0.2 mile, left again into a gravel parking lot.    There are no bathroom facilities on site, so be prepared.  1399 S.W. Fern Hill Road, Forest Grove, OR 97116


Government Island

Historical and Ecological Significance

Government Island 2
Government Island 2 - Port of Portland

One of four Important Bird Areas in the Portland metropolitan region, Government Island State Park represents over 2,000 acres of unique urban green space. This vital open space hosts both resident and migratory birds that live in or visit our urban environment. 

Located in the Columbia River just northeast of the Portland International Airport (PDX) airfield, it is actually a small archipelago of islands accessible only by boat or an adrenaline-driven canoe trip.  The islands represent a variety of wildlife habitats including Pacific Willow, Oregon Ash and Black Cottonwood stands interspersed among meadow grasslands, ponds and lakes; together these support a robust array of wildlife including 80 avian species, 2 herptile species, and 8 mammal species amidst Portland’s most industrialized corridor!  Government, Lemon and McGuire Islands are predominantly owned by the Port (Metro owns a 224-acre section), but are managed by Oregon State Parks for wildlife habitat, cattle grazing, and passive recreational opportunities.

Envisioned for development into expanded airfield space when the Port bought it in 1969, Government Island got a new lease on life when airport development intentions were halted.  Once visited by Lewis and Clark, farmed by the US Government, and hunted by European fur traders, Government Island is now used in part as a Port mitigation site, is leased in part to a cattle rancher, and in part offers passive recreation opportunities to the public on perimeter beaches.

Government Island
Government Island - Port of Portland

Jewit Lake and West Pond mitigation sites on Government Island were mandated to offset loss of wetlands resulting from 65 acres of filled wetland in the SW Quadrant of PDX.  The site encompasses 450 acres of emergent and forested wetlands, and uplands, fenced to exclude cattle.  A fish-exclusion structure installed in 1993 prevents salmonid species from entering the lake, per National Marine Fisheries Service.  Invasive plant removal including himalayan blackberry, tansy ragwort, and reed canarygrass are part of the island’s habitat restoration program. Weed control efforts by the Port and Oregon Department of Agriculture include mowing, herbicide application, and biological controls.  Required monitoring on the mitigation site was performed by Portland State University students for the first five years, and now continues on a monthly basis by Port property management staff.

Shad, smelt, and sturgeon use the south channel of the Columbia along Government Island for both feeding and passage.  This relatively protected channel is characterized by sandy beaches with a water depth of less than 10 feet, depending on tidal cycle and river stage.  The considerably deeper north shore navigation channel occasionally hosts Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeon.

Species of Ornithological Significance

A diverse array of bird species utilize Government Island, including Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Pileated Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Olive-Sided Flycatcher, Western Meadowlark, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Bufflehead, and Purple Martin according to a 1993 PSU study. The island has historically hosted a Great Blue Heron rookery, which peaked at 94 nests as recently as two years ago.  Heron are attracted to the plentiful prey base, including meadow voles and fish in shallows of Jewit Lake. Nest trees eroding out along the edges of the island have led to a rookery shift in recent years.  Nests on Government Island have dwindled, but with a concurrent rise on both McGuire and Tri-Club Island, as well as Reed Island to the east (where nest counts have risen to 73).

Migratory waterfowl congregate in emergent wetlands, seasonal ponds and upland meadows on the islands.  Pied-billed Grebe, American Widgeon, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and Canada Goose are all common species.  Other species found on Government Island include American Crow, California Gull, Green Heron and Hooded Merganser, with seasonal wetlands and grasslands attracting Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Dowitchers and Wilson’s Snipe.  Raptor presence includes Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Merlin, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon.

Access

Two docks and a floating tie-up on the north side of the island will welcome your arrival by boat.  Restrooms are located on Government, Lemon and McGuire Islands, and overnight camping is permitted below ordinary high water (the vegetation line) around the perimeter beaches and in limited upland areas where picnic tables have been provided for visitors.  Hunting is allowed only below ordinary high water to minimize flushing birds toward the airfield, and interior access is accessible only by permit.  Trails along the north sides of Lemon and Government Islands facilitate day hikes where access is allowed.

Get Involved

If you’d like to get involved in future monitoring of bird species on this IBA, contact Bob Sallinger at bsallinger@audubonportland.org.


Killin Wetlands

“This is the singular magic of birds--to exist on two planes, as biological entities of bones and tissue, but also to live a separate existence in the human heart, and in both respects--physical and metaphysical--tying up the scattered and beleaguered wild places of the world and knitting them into a seamless whole by the simple act of flight.” --Scott Weidensaul, author and naturalist.

On a recent visit to Killin Wetlands, I drove west out of Portland that morning with my cup of coffee in anticipation of Willow Flycatchers, elusive marsh birds, and yes, even eager to put my binoculars on the Common Yellowthroat that had been eluding me on two recent wetland outings.  I was not to be disappointed on this trip.

Just west of Banks, Oregon, Killin Wetlands (aka Cedar Canyon Marsh) is situated in a landscape of rolling hills, farmland, and gathering coniferous forest.  Arrival at the wetland is presaged by an Oak forest stand along the two-lane Wilson River Highway.  Metro Regional Parks and Greenspaces acquired this 373-acre parcel as part of the 1995 Greenspaces bond measure used to build a regional network of protected natural areas.  Killin represents the last two percent of Willamette Valley scrub-shrub marsh habitat on organic peat soils.  The 98% decline in this habitat that has occurred since the 1850’s is concurrent with Neotropical migratory bird declines.  The Killin Wetlands parcel contains one of the largest intact contiguous stands of the uncommon Geyer’s willow (Salix geyeriana) in the valley, as well as other native wetland vegetation which provides important habitat for breeding migratory birds.  Metro is working on site to remove exotic Reed canarygrass, reintroduce native plants, and support concurrent avian monitoring to quantify the effects willow, cattail, sedge, and rush restoration.

Species of Ornithological Importance

The stocky and secretive American Bittern is a wader that cloaks itself in tall, emergent wetland vegetation.  It is often detected only by its resounding and eerie watery call.  Twice on this visit, a Bittern flushed from still grass, flashing its blue-black flight feathers for just seconds before alighting, swallowed wholly in the grass.  This was that magic moment of birds that Scott Weidensaul talks about, the moment that Killin lodged  in my heart.  And this simple act provided a poignant reminder that every habitat harbors birds in need of conservation.

Visitors to Killin can expect to hear or see a number of other wetland bird species. Wood Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Hooded Merganser, Sora, and Virginia Rail grace the site.  These wetlands support one of the highest densities of American Bittern in the state, and as many as 200 Greater Yellowlegs have been present here in March (one of Oregon’s highest concentrations), thus earning an Important Bird Area designation and inclusion on the Willamette Valley Birding Trail list. 

The site also supports a number of nesting Passerines: Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-wing Blackbird populate the marsh, with adjacent on-site wooded areas hosting Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-Breasted Sapsucker, and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Projects

The Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax trailii), is an Oregon State Sensitive Species that occupies wet, brushy areas.  It is best identified by its distinctive voice, a song that is, unlike those of most songbirds, innate and not learned.  It is a Neotropical migrant subject to Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism, and has declined considerably in northwest Oregon during the last century, primarily due to habitat degradation.  Like nearly ¼ of all U.S. birds reliant on freshwater wetlands, conservation of this species relies on the protection and restoration of wetland nesting habitat.  More than half of our nation’s original wetlands have been drained or converted, and though wetland bird populations are still well below historic levels, conservation efforts have helped many species remain resilient.  According to the 2009 State of the Birds Report, many of these species show an increase over the last 40 years, reflecting an era of strong wetland protection campaigns.

Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has awarded biologist Max Smith a grant to monitor Willow Flycatchers during habitat restoration and Reed canarygrass suppression at Killin for the next two years in an effort to identify management actions that result in increased site use by this species.  Monitoring will entail a combination of both Point Counts (recording detections of all species present at a series of preset stations) and Area Searches (Willow Flycatcher territory mapping).  Reports suggest that breeding Willow Flycatchers are on the rise at Killin Wetlands.  Biologists will attempt to quantify this by monitoring nest success, and visitors to the wetland are certain to be rewarded with a crisp chorus of fitz-bews.

To assist with Willow Flycatcher monitoring at Killin Wetlands IBA or to monitor on another IBA, contact Bob Sallinger at bsallinger@audubonportland.org.


Lake Abert

Lake Abert - George Ostertag
Lake Abert - George Ostertag
Except for the sound of the occasional passing truck or car on lonesome Highway 395, Lake Abert is a wild place where the wind carries the cries of birds, insects whir in the underbrush, and the ghosts of ancient petroglyph artists haunt the mighty rim.
--John Howard

The great salt lake of Oregon, Lake Abert stretches majestically across nearly 55 square miles of Lake County desert, making it the largest saline lake in the Pacific Northwest, and as enchanting as it is remote.  Bordered on the east by sheer face of Abert Rim, the lake itself is ringed with alkali playas and mudflats and supports high density of brine shrimp and brine flies, themselves the major attractant to staggering numbers of waterbirds.  Breeding and staging shorebirds ferry between Lake Abert and two neighboring lakes—Goose and Summer (both also IBA’s)—and together these three are proposed as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site.

Lake Abert 2 - George Ostertag
Lake Abert 2 - George Ostertag

The Bureau of Land Management owns and manages Lake Abert, its shoreline and surrounding habitat as a 49,900-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), a designation that identifies features on the landscape that warrant special protection.  Lake Abert was identified as an ACEC in 1996 for a myriad of reasons including: significant prehistoric cultural resources, importance to wildlife (including state sensitive and threatened species), scenic value, and important aquatic ecology.  Within this management area, Off-Highway Vehicle use is restricted to existing roads and trails, livestock grazing is limited (though still occurs on the north and south end of the lake), and mineral extraction is limited.  Owing to its outstanding habitat value, Lake Abert is also a Conservation Opportunity Area designated by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and has therefore been prioritized for cooperative conservation investments.

Allies of this place have identified what may be the most pressing issue at work in the fragile Lake Abert ecosystem: fluctuating water levels and the cascade of associated effects.  Reduced water level increases salinity beyond the upper tolerance for brine shrimp reproduction.  This in turn impacts breeding and migrating birds that depend on this vital food source.  Lake Abert’s elevation has now dropped below a critical low point (Kiester 1992), which is likely a combination of both drought conditions and anthropogenic factors.  Water rights on the Chewaucan River are arguably over-allocated, and restrictions on diversions for irrigation during low flows (which were at one time written into such permits) need to be considered by Oregon Water Resources Department when evaluating water allocations.    Portland Audubon will soon be meeting with a group of interested parties to consider potential measures to conserve the ecological integrity of the lake.

Ornithological Significance

Lake Abert (and the adjoining Chewaucan Marsh) is a critical resource for numerous waterbird species.  Shoreline habitats of alkali playas, mudflats, and sand and gravel beaches have supported peaks of over 30,000 American Avocets and 150,000 phalaropes here.  This lake is particularly important to Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, American Avocet, Eared Grebes, and Northern Shoveler, as well as other species of grebes and gulls.  Total waterbird use is estimated at more than 3.25 million bird-use days (one bird use day=one bird spending 24 hours within a study area during a study period).  Peak numbers of shorebirds occur from mid-July to mid-September.

Lake Abert also has what may be the largest breeding population of Western Snowy Plover in Oregon.  The Snowy Plover is a federally and state-threatened species, with a total of 298 adults counted here in 1990.  Other common breeders here include Killdeer and Willet.
The Lake and its surrounding also host Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Kite, Prairie Falcon, and American Kestrel.

If You Go

The best time to visit is during fall migration in August and September when most shorebirds are present.  The Lake is approximately 240 miles from Portland in south central Lake County.  Take US-26 East to US-97 South (The Dalles-California Hwy) to Madras.  Continue on US-97/Bend Pkwy through Bend and La Pine.  Turn left at OR-31 South/Fremont Highway toward Paisley.  This road will take you past Summer Lake Wildlife Area, which deserves more than a passing glance.  Continuing on to Lake Abert, once in Paisley, take a slight left at OR-31 South/West Street and turn sharply left onto US-395 North. Contact Lakeview District of the BLM 1300 S. G Street, Lakeview, Oregon 541.947.2177.


Salmon River Estuary

Salmon River - Jack Boyle
Salmon River - Jack Boyle

If you’ve driven past the Otis Café on Highway 18 and turned north on Highway 101 toward Cascade Head or the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, you have knowingly or unknowingly had a close encounter with the Salmon River Estuary.  On September 11th, Lincoln City Audubon hosted their monthly 2nd Saturday bird walk here, and we launched a 12-person flotilla of kayaks and canoes to explore the river from Knight’s Park to the mouth by boat.  We labored against the tide, spirited on by Belted Kingfishers, and followed this short stretch of the river as it carves its way inland along the south slope of Cascade Head, a grassy promontory flanked by Sitka Spruce. 

The Salmon River is one of the few relatively undeveloped estuaries on our coast, and though it hasn’t been free of human manipulation, much has been done to both preserve and restore it.  Both the headland and adjacent estuary are included in the 9,670 acre Cascade Head Scenic Research Area (CHSRA), a designation championed by Senator Packwood and Congressman Wendall Wyatt in the early 1970’s. If not for their efforts, the Cascade Head area would have been developed into hundreds more private homesteads than the relatively sparse 100 that were built here before 1974, and the 1,260 acres of estuary included in the Scenic Research Area might not have remained so undeveloped.  Upon establishment by President Ford on December 22, 1974, the CHSRA was the first Scenic Research Area in the United States. 

The goal of the CHSRA was “to provide present and future generations with the use and enjoyment of certain ocean headlands, rivers, streams, estuaries, and forested areas, to ensure the protection and encourage the study of significant areas for research and scientific purposes, and to promote a more sensitive relationship between man and his adjacent environment.”  An ambitious and noble aim!  The 1977 Management Plan for the CHSRA that followed articulated the long term goal of restoring a functioning estuarine system free of human influence.  Today, most of the tidally influenced land in the Salmon River Estuary is within the Siuslaw National Forest.

Much work has already gone into restoring the natural hydrology and estuarine condition of several sites within the estuary as part of the Lower Salmon River Project, which details a series of restoration projects planned for the estuary and associated uplands.  Among the target areas undergoing restoration are: Pixieland, Tamara Quays, and Crowley Creek. 

Pixieland is a now-defunct amusement park just east of the Highway 101 and Highway 18 interchange, and has been in Forest Service ownership since the late 1980’s.  The legacy of the 50-acre Pixieland included culverts, dikes and ditches, an 11-acre asphalt parking lot, and multiple invasive species.  Restoration efforts by the Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council and the Forest Service with funding from OWEB, DSL and the Forest Service are ongoing. There has already been building demolition, dike removal, pond filling, re-grading, and plant restoration, but truly recovering the soil structure and tidal channels is a long term project.  Restoration of the natural path of Fraser Creek is a crucial step that will require building a bridge for Highway 101, which Oregon Department of Transportation has not yet scheduled. 

Tamara Quays is by all accounts a restoration success story: the defunct 40-acre trailer park just west of the Highway 101/ Highway 18 interchange was acquired by the Forest Service in 2003.  After asphalt removal, culvert replacement for fish passage in Rowdy Creek, and dam and tide-gate removal, in September of 2009, tides returned to Tamara Quays for the first time in 40 years! Crowley Creek has seen some of its natural hydrology restored, and more work is planned to further the de-channelization and habitat restoration process.

Species of Ornithological Significance

We saw a modest 15 species on our trip, owing to a combination of time of year and time of day, but the sky overhead was brilliantly blue and the mood was bright.  Our list of species encountered included: Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Double-crested Cormorant, Stellar’s Jay, Western Gull, American Crow, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pacific Wren (formerly Winter Wren, recently split by the American Ornithological Union), Red-shafted Flicker, Tree Swallow, American Robin, Brown Pelican.  We later spied Gray Jays on the Sitka Center grounds.

The Salmon River Estuary was nominated as an Important Bird Area for Brown Pelican, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and for the presence of 1,000 or more shorebirds at a given time.

If You Go

From Highway 18 W (Salmon River Highway), take the US-101N ramp toward Tillamook/Astoria.  Turn right onto US-101 North/Oregon Coast Highway.  Turn left onto North Three Rocks Road.  Follow 2 miles and take the left fork into Knight’s Park Parking lot where there is a public boat ramp to access the Salmon River.  From the Parking lot you can find the trailhead that will take you up to Cascade Head.  Some guidelines: please no dogs and no bikes due to habitat sensitivity. 


Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

My first climb of Hart Mountain is in memory like a haunting melody.  This is an exotic ridge, different from any I have known…Here is a vast expanse of dry, windblown land that to the untrained eye paints a picture of desolation. 
--William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court Justice, in My Wilderness, 1960

Hart Mountain - Marilyn Stinett
Hart Mountain - Marilyn Stinett

Sixty-five miles from the nearest major town, Hart Mountain’s western ridge rises 3,000 feet out of the surrounding expanse of desert, a looming 30-mile rimrock escarpment stretching from Warner Peak north to Poker Jim Ridge in Lake County.  From this ragged rise, the land descends gently to the east.  The visitor’s western approach to this isolated and rugged 278,000-acre refuge was aptly described (above) by William O. Douglas, the 36-year Supreme Court Justice who dedicated himself to a lifelong personal exploration of wilderness and advocated for its conservation.

Hart Mountain is arguably as iconic as neighboring Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain, and was established in the 1936 by Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide habitat for Pronghorn Antelope, “sage hen” (Greater Sage Grouse), and other sagebrush obligates. Pronghorns here number as many as 1,900 today, many of which spend spring and summer at Hart and migrate 20 miles south to winter at Sheldon NWR in northwestern Nevada.  Some 300 wildlife species have been documented using the richly diverse landscape of the refuge, including California bighorn sheep, mule deer, sagebrush lizard, and redband trout.  Hart Mountain contains some of the most extensive and high-quality sage steppe habitat in Oregon, laced with both dry and wet upland meadows, riparian habitat of aspen and willow, mixed deciduous shrub habitat, and snowpocket Aspen stands.

Hart Mountain Aspens - Don Baccus
Hart Mountain Aspens - Don Baccus

The removal of cattle from the high desert riparian habitat on Hart Mountain in 1994 may be the primary contribution to an increase in measured avian abundance, and today it is one of the largest wildlife areas in the arid west that hosts no cattle and is relatively feral horse-free.  The livestock grazing exclusion allowed USFWS and Oregon Natural Desert Association volunteers to remove hundreds of miles of fence line to allow for unrestricted movement of wildlife.  Hart Mountain is due for an updated management plan, but their Comprehensive Conservation Planning process is likely to be delayed for a year or two.  This is a refuge in remarkably good shape, thought management challenges do exist, including potential development on privately owned in-holdings, recreation management, and staff shortages.

Douglas’ writings on Hart Mountain conclude with faith in the immeasurable value of land conservation.  Upon leaving Hart Mountain, he writes: “after I travel a few hours and turn to see its great bulk against a southern sky my heart rejoices.  This refuge will leave our grandsons and granddaughters an inheritance of the wilderness that no dollars could recreate.  Here they will find life teeming throughout all the life zones that lead from the desert to alpine meadows.”

Ornithological Significance

Hart Mountain was designated as one of Oregon’s 97 Important Bird Areas in 2003 for Greater Sage Grouse, and today nearly the whole of Hart Mountain is encompassed within the Sage Grouse Core Area identified by ODFW.  ODFW’s goal is to provide recommendations for protection of essential habitat in order to preclude Endangered Species Act-listing.  USFWS’ recent finding that the Greater Sage Grouse listing is “Warranted but Precluded” reflects the decline in this species’ population and a shortage of funding to manage a growing list of species nationwide whose populations are slipping precipitously. 

Stanley Jewitt’s bird list of the area published in 1940 named 120 species, and now 239 species have been recorded, including: Short-eared Owl, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Common Nighthawk, Horned Lark, Common Raven, Vesper Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Cassin’s Finch, Sage Thrasher, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Great Horned Owl, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Poorwill, Western Wood Pewee, Chipping Sparrow, Gray Flycatcher, Bushtit, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Meadowlark, Lazuli Bunting, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Rough-legged Hawk, and American Kestrel.  Blue Sky Hotel, an isolated stand of Ponderosa Pine and riparian habitat, has been the site of some rare sightings on the refuge during spring migration including: Summer Tanager, Flammulated Owl, Least Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, American Redstart and Red-eyed Vireo.

If You Go

From Lakeview (where the NWR complex office is located in the Post Office Building), take US-395 north.  Head right on OR-140 east for 19 miles, and left at refuge sign through Plush.  Right at sign to refuge.  The climb up Hart Mountain’s western escarpment affords a sweeping view of the Warner Valley Important Bird Area below. From Malheur NWR, head west from Frenchglen on a 36-mile gravel road.

For more information, contact:

Sheldon-Hart Mountain NWR
Post Office Box 111
Lakeview, OR 97630
541-947-3315


Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge - Marilyn Stinnet
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge - Marilyn Stinnet

Stand anywhere on the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (TRNWR) near Sherwood, and it’s pretty impressive to imagine that this expansive urban oasis just west of Portland was born of a citizen-led movement and a 12-acre land donation in 1993.  When a group of community members recognized that there was growing pressure on the Tualatin River and its floodplain from agriculture and urbanization in Washington County, they lobbied the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect and enhance this area as part of the refuge system.  Together with Metro, local agencies, and conservation nonprofits, they convinced the Service to acquire an area of interwoven floodplain, wetland, and riparian habitat along the Tualatin.

Today, this refuge has grown to over 1,300 acres, and in 2007, USFWS established an additional unit of the Tualatin River NWR near Gaston.  This property, known as the Wapato Unit, now measures 788 acres (and growing).  The Approved Acquisition Boundary for these two parcels, an area that represents the broader scope of property that USFWS has authority to acquire from willing sellers, together totals a staggering 7,370 acres.

Golden Crowned Kinglet - Mike Liskay
Golden Crowned Kinglet - Mike Liskay

Flanked by the tides of regional growth, Tualatin River NWR is among only a small handful of such urban refuges across the nation.  Surrounded by traffic and development, the refuge manages to retain an air of rural tranquility, offers sweeping views across expansive wetlands, provides critical flood storage, serves a vital ecological role in providing connectivity for birds and wildlife residing in and migrating through the Willamette Valley, and helps to reestablish natural Tualatin River floodplain hydrology.  A predominantly-bottomland floodplain, the refuge parcel is cut-through by rivers and streams, seasonal and scrub-shrub wetlands, Oregon ash riparian hardwood and coniferous forests, grasslands, wet meadow prairie, and oak-pine uplands.  This vibrant mosaic of habitats supports nearly 200 species of birds, 50 mammal species (including 10 bat species), and 25 herptiles (reptiles and amphibians).  Many of these habitat types have been decimated by development in the Willamette Valley, making them a high priority for conservation activity. 

Bald Eagle vocalizing TRNWR - Mike Liskay
Bald Eagle vocalizing TRNWR - Mike Liskay

Refuge staff are in the process of drafting a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), the blueprint that will guide management of the refuge for the next 15 years.  The primary directive of the refuge remains unchanged: to protect habitat for wildlife, and to provide compatible wildlife-dependent recreation and education, but the planning process will evaluate the current management strategy and weigh future alternative plans for best management of wildlife and habitat, as well as public use needs of both units of the refuge.  Special emphasis will be placed on public use at the Wapato Unit, how to increase public involvement in citizen science and habitat restoration, identification of research needs to help inform adaptive management, consideration of various methods for control of invasive plant and animal species, and whether to institute user fees.  You can weigh in on the CCP!  USFWS welcomes your comments by January 10, 2011.  Email TualatinCCP@fws.gov.  Include “Tualatin River CCP/EA” in the subject line.

Species of Ornithological Significance 

Savannah Sparrow TRNWR - Mike Liskay
Savannah Sparrow TRNWR - Mike Liskay

The Tualatin River NWR wetlands support thousands of ducks, arctic-nesting Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, and a variety of other waterbirds.  Dominant ducks include Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, and American Wigeon, and at the Wapato Unit: Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, and Lesser Scaup. Both Dusky and Cackling Canada Goose can be found at the main unit, and Dusky, Lesser, Tavener, Western and Aleutian have all been documented at the Wapato Unit.  Documented waders and shorebirds include Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Spotted, Western, and Least Sandpiper.  Significant breeding populations of Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser and, to a lesser extent, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, and Mallard. The Refuge is a stopover and breeding area for a wide variety of songbirds as well, including: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Western Bluebird.   Raptors recorded here are a cast of usual suspects, including: Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk.

If You Go

The Refuge HQ is located at 19255 SW Pacific Hwy (503.625.5944), about15 miles southwest of Portland near Sherwood.

From the north: Drive southbound on Highway 99W and continue through the town of King City. Approximately 0.7 miles beyond the Cipole Road traffic light, turn right into the refuge. Look for brown highway guide signs.

From the south: Drive northbound on Highway 99W, approximately 1 mile north of Tualatin-Sherwood Road. Look for brown highway highway guide signs directing you to make a U-turn in order to enter into the refuge.

Bike there! Bike racks are provided in visitor parking areas, though bikes are not permitted on refuge trails.

Bus there! Tri-Met route #12 stops at the refuge entrance on Highway 99W. The #12 leaves from SW 3rd and Yamhill, 2 blocks from the MAX stop in downtown Portland.


Redfish Rocks

“Wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…an area retaining its primeval character and influence.” -Wilderness Act of 1964

Red Fish Rocks - David Ledig
Red Fish Rocks - David Ledig

Along the rugged southern Oregon coast, a cluster of five bare-rock islands known as Redfish Rocks jut out of the Pacific Ocean south of Port Orford.  This cluster, which teams with breeding seabirds, is among 1,854 rocks, reefs, islands and headlands included in the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a refuge which spans 320 miles of Oregon’s coastline and supports a large percentage of the over 1 million seabirds that nest in Oregon. Wilderness protection is also provided to all but one acre of the 371 total acres of islands within the NWR, an area that is closed to human visitation as a means of protecting wildlife and supporting the refuge conservation mission.

Redfish Rocks, along with 10 other colony rock clusters and headlands within the Oregon Islands NWR, was designated in 2003 as Important Bird Areas for the superb nesting habitat they provide for many thousands of seabirds.  Most notably, Common Murres have exceeded 20,000 breeding birds.  The IBA designation includes the 5 breeding rocks and an additional buffer area of surrounding waters, an area which provides for foraging and loafing for breeding birds during nesting season, and represents a rich marine ecosystem that supports both migrant and resident seabirds throughout the year.

In 2009, Redfish Rocks gained new prominence in the marine conservation arena when it became one of Oregon’s first two pilot Marine Reserves.  Instrumental in this designation, the local non-profit Port Orford Ocean Resource Team collaborated to develop and forward the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve (MR) proposal, which was accepted along with the independently-developed Otter Rock Marine Reserve near Depoe Bay.

The Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve (MR) established a 2.6 square mile area around the colony rocks, within which no extraction activity may take place, a restriction which protects valuable habitat and conserves biodiversity.  The adjacent 5 square mile Marine Protected Area (MPA) to the east is less restrictive than the MR, but still affords partial ecosystem protections.  Given mounting pressures on our marine environment—from ocean acidification to invasive species to overfishing—such sanctuaries are critical for allowing marine life to breed and flourish, and provides for the many seabirds that rely on Oregon’s rich nearshore ocean resources.  MR’s have been shown to result in dramatic and measurable increases in size, biodiversity and abundance of marine life.  This is a conservation tool that both builds resilience into our marine ecosystems and provides opportunities for scientific research.

The Redfish Rocks Community Team—a group of fishermen, business owners, conservationists, and elected officials—was developed to work with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) scientists to draft a management plan for the MR and the adjacent MPA, a plan which addresses biological research and monitoring goals as well as socioeconomic goals.  It may take years to detect anticipated changes in community structure, but baseline data being collected now will help to characterize the current ecology of the site based on various measures, including: presence of indicator species, presence of rare and endangered species, pH, and salinity.  Decades of USFWS aerial surveys of nesting seabirds may also provide important information about the impact of changing habitat conditions on seabird productivity.   This site is among the first to provide a model for scientific research on MR effectiveness and to help guide management decisions both here and elsewhere.

Back in 2002, then-Governor John Kitzhaber endorsed the establishment of marine reserves off Oregon's coast.  It will now be up to the state legislature to review the three newest Marine reserves brought forward by ODFW—at Cape Falcon, Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua (which falls within the Central Coast Marbled Murrelet IBA)—for designation and funding, and to the governor to sign on to their passage.  If approved, the five reserves and marine protected areas would still comprise less than 10% of Oregon's ocean, leaving most of our waters open to fishing and other activities while protecting marine health and productivity.

Ornithological Significance

The five Redfish Rocks nesting colonies host most predominantly Common Murre and Pelagic Cormorant.  Other species that have bred here include Brandt’s Cormorant, Western Gull, Tufted Puffin, Pigeon Guillemot, and Black Oystercatcher.  The thriving nearshore marine ecosystem provides not only for foraging birds during the breeding season, but also provides for the many pelicans, shearwaters, murrelets, storm-petrels, terns, cormorants, gulls, grebes, scoters, and loons that migrate along or overwinter on our coastline.

Access

The only publicly accessible part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge that is open to the public is Coquille Point near Bandon, but many of the colony nest islands can be seen from land.  Redfish Rocks can be seen from Humbug Mountain State Park, off of Highway 101, 6 miles south of Port Orford.


Table Rocks

Table Rock Basalt

Twin volcanic mesas in Southwestern Oregon, Upper and Lower Table Rocks are as rich in geologic and cultural history as they are in present day species diversity.  These rocks are reminders of Miocene era lava that flowed down the meandering Ancestral Rogue River canyon over 7 million years ago.  The surrounding sandstone has since been eroded by the Rogue River, a steady workhorse that left these two basalt caps to stand 800 feet out of the valley below.

For 15,000 years, this area was occupied by the Takelma Indians, the Native peoples of the Upper Rogue River Valley.  They referred to Table Rocks as Di’tani (Rock above) and Titanakh (Little Indian Plums).  It is easy to see why they relied on the natural abundance of this area, which today hosts over 70 species of animals and 340 species of plants, 200 of which contribute to the astonishing wildflower displays of April, May and June. Concerned about development of these islands of biodiversity, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) began its conservation of Lower Table Rock in 1978 with a purchase of 1,881 acres.  In 2008, they acquired an additional 1,710 acres.  Today, a combined 4,800 acres on and around Upper and Lower Table Rocks are owned and managed by TNC and The Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  BLM has designated much of its acreage here as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher - Michael Liskay
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher - Michael Liskay

Table Rocks is both an Important Bird Area and a Conservation Opportunity Area highlighted in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) Conservation Strategy.  This IBA supports a remarkable species diversity, 20 of which are imperiled: this includes 5 ODFW Conservation Strategy bird species (Western Meadowlark, Streaked horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lewis Woodpecker, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher), the Vernal pool fairy shrimp, and 13 plant species including dwarf wooly meadowfoam, large-flowered wooly meadowfoam, and Gentner’s fritillaria.

Four ecological regions have been identified on Table Rocks: Oak Savanna, characterized by open grassland spotted with oaks; Chaparral, dry shrubland characterized by Manzanita, buckbrush, and Gentners fritilaria; Mixed woodlands of Black oak, Douglas-fir, Pacific madrone, and Incense cedar; and Mounded Prairie atop the mesas, which describes a mosaic of grasses, wildflowers, and vernal ponds.

TNC and BLM are working to control invasive species, evaluate fire cycles, and to facilitate both recreational and cultural activities.  Native species of birds, bats, plants and butterflies are all closely monitored.

Species of Ornithological Significance

Western Meadowlark - Jim Cruce
Western Meadowlark - Jim Cruce

Table Rocks IBA provides valuable habitat for three bird species at the northern extent of their range: Oak Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and California Towhee.   At a time when breeding bird data shows that our songbird species are in decline, it is important to preserve places on which migratory birds depend.  Climate change and its potential to impact on current habitat arrays makes protection of land at birds’ current range limits especially critical.

In addition to the imperiled bird species listed above, birds of interest that have been found in the Table Rocks’ habitat mosaic include: Acorn Woodpecker, Band-tailed Pigeon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Oregon Vesper Sparrow, Peregrine Falcon, Pileated Woodpecker, Western Bluebird, Willow Flycatcher, and White-breasted Nuthatch.  Turkey Vulture and Rock Wren can also be expected.

If You Go

Table Rocks are open all year.  Upper Table Rock is an easy 2.8 mile trip (720’ elevation gain).  Lower Table Rock is a moderate 5.4 mile hike (780’ elevation gain).

From I-5 in Jackson County, SW Oregon, take the Central Point Exit (exit 33, just north of Medford) and drive east on Biddle Road for 1 mile.  Turn left on Table Rock Road & continue for 5.2 miles to a curve.  Turn right on Modoc Road for 1.5 miles to the Upper Upper Table Rock trailhead parking lot on the left, just opposite and electric substation.

To get to the Lower Table Rock trailhead from here, drive 1.5 miles to Table Rock Road, turn right (away from Medford) to milepost 10, and then turn left on Wheeler Road 0.8 mile.

Be mindful of poison oak, rattlesnakes, ticks, and steep cliffs.  Dogs, horses, fires, and flower-picking are banned on Table Rocks.


Zumwalt Prairie

Zumwalt Prarie - J Fields - The Nature Conservancy
Zumwalt Prarie - J Fields - The Nature Conservancy

At the time when this remote area of northeastern Oregon was home to the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce, this sprawling grassland would have stretched a good 330,000 acres between the majestic Wallowa Mountains and the chasm of Hell’s Canyon.  Today, Zumwalt Prairie covers approximately 160,000 acres or over 200 square miles of land.  High grassland plateau may not be what we think of as iconic Oregon terrain, but many of us have probably not made the trek to stand on this rolling prairie.

Zumwalt, named for German pioneers, is the largest remnant of a system of Palouse grasslands which extended into Washington, Idaho and Canada.  It is home to the one of the highest diversity of breeding raptors in North America, including the grassland-dependent Ferruginous Hawk and the Argentine-wintering Swainson’s Hawk.  The prairie also hosts a number of sensitive grassland songbird species including grasshopper sparrow and vesper sparrow as well as other wildlife including Rocky Mountain elk, gray wolf, black bear, cougar, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Zumwalt Praire - R V Taylor - The Nature Conservancy
Zumwalt Praire - R V Taylor - The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) owns and manages the 33,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, a 51 square mile area within the larger prairie area which has been recognized as an Important Bird Area as well as an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Opportunity Area.   Much of the critical restoration work being done on the prairie is happening on TNC land.  The Preserve contains both shallow and deep-soiled bunchgrass prairie, steep canyon grasslands, pine woodlands, quaking aspen groves, spring-fed meadows and riparian ecosystems.   TNC’s work here is, in a nutshell, to manage invasive species and protect sensitive species, and research and develop sustainable grazing and other land management practices.  They have approached this work creatively, and in partnership with local landowners, conservationists, and government agency staff, and with countless hours of on-the-ground work.

Prescribed fire and managed grazing are among the varied approaches to grassland management used on the Preserve.  Oregon State University helps to study the effect of various livestock-grazing intensities on soil, native plants, insects and birds.  TNC has planted native willow, alder and dogwood in riparian areas, fenced sensitive wetland areas, and removed stream dams.  This helps to improve watershed function and water quality, a benefit to both fish and birds.  They’ve planted chokecherry, currant, and elderberry in the Zumwalt uplands, and fenced elk, cattle and deer out of fragile aspen stands, which protects critical nesting area for birds.  

In all, the prairie hosts over 491 plant species, including over a dozen native bunchgrasses and a federally-listed threatened flower known as Spalding’s catchfly.  Blooming wildflowers (over 100 species!) make for a spectacular display both early in the season (hoary balsamroot, yellow fritillary, cous biscuitroot,) and late-season (goldenrod, pleated gentian, Gardner's yampah).  And, as you can imagine, over 54 species of butterflies make good use of this plant diversity.

I’m planning my 340-mile trek.

Ornithological Significance

Breeding raptors include Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson's Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk.   Golden Eagles are a common site soaring high above the prairie. The Zumwalt also supports important breeding populations of grassland songbirds many of which are experiencing range-wide declines. These grassland species include: Savannah Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow,  and Brewer’s sparrow.  Wintering species include Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Snow Bunting, Northern Shrike, and Rough-legged Hawk. Extirpated from the area in the 1940’s, the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse was reintroduced by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1991, and there is ongoing monitoring of a small persisting population.

The species list for the TNC Zumwalt Prairie Preserve includes, among others: Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, American, Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Chukar, Gray Partridge, Ring-necked Pheasant, Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Mountain Quail, California Quail, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk Cooper's Hawk, and Northern Goshawk.

If You Plan To Go

You would be wise to first call the Enterprise TNC office (541-426-3458), or visit The Nature Conservancy Oregon’s website for more information and for directions to specific public access trails and a driving tour: www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/oregon/

Keep in mind: access is day use and by foot only.  Dogs, horses, bicycles, camping and campfires are not permitted on the preserve.  Collecting (plants, animals, shed antlers, artifacts, etc.) from the preserve is not allowed.  TNC asks that you leave all gates as you find them and that you do not disturb scientific research markers during your visit.

Last, for more information on the management and resources of the Preserve, visit:
http://conserveonline.org/workspaces/ZumwaltPrairieWorkspace

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