There’s goose ‘song’ in the air – have you heard the excited sound? It’s hard to miss as the flocks seem seem to shout: “We’re here – in Oregon - at last!”
It’s especially loud and strong at places like William Finley National Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis along the Homer Campbell Memorial Boardwalk.
“The refuge is a magnet for wildlife we’ll have thousands upon thousands of ducks and geese and swans here within the next few months,” noted US Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Molly Monroe.
The 1700 feet of elevated, wheelchair accessible boardwalk leads to an observation blind and it is a fine choice to duck in and escape foul weather because there’s so much wildlife here.
“We’re kind of a little known secret right now,” added Sallie Gentry, spokesperson for US Fish and Wildlife. “But I think we’re going to become more well-known.”
Fast on the tail feathers of the abundant waterfowl flocks are the raptors – the hundreds of hawks and eagles that pass through or winter over in Oregon.
You’ll want to stop in and winter awhile at the Cascades Raptor Center near Eugene. It’s a wildlife rehabilitation clinic that helps the sick and injured birds of prey.
Scores of birds, most of them seldom seen so close, like a red-tailed hawk, a barn owl, a white tailed kyte, arrive at the Center each winter thanks to well-intentioned folks who often recover the hurt birds in the field.
“I wanted to create a nature center that helped raptors,” said the Center’s Director, Louise Shimmel. “My goal for the past thirty years has been to have representatives from each northwest species of raptors for the public to see and learn from and now we’re very close to that goal.”
In fact, the Cascades Raptor Center has been in operation since 1990 as a wildlife hospital and education site. You can see and learn about 34 different raptor species across the three acre site.
Shimmel says education about raptors has made a big difference to our understanding and appreciation of the birds.
“Absolutely! Raptors have had a huge perception shift from vermin and bounties to majestic and beautiful! Back in the 1950’s, there were bounties on hawks and eagles and today we understand the value of the predator-prey cycle.
Still – thoughtless injuries persist! Shimmel showed off a Swainson’s Hawk that was shot by a poacher. Its pelvis shattered, the young raptor will never fly again. So, it has become an ambassador of sorts – in schools and at the Center - teaching people more about raptors.
Volunteer Dan Gleason said that the Cascades Raptor Center is a fine place to visit and learn what the varied raptors look like before heading out to see them in the wild.
“That’s one way – to see them up close and then go out and see them in their natural habitat. That helps folks understand what they see especially since you can see them up close here.
Gleason added that bald eagles are a favorite for many birders because the big birds are more common – even abundant in some parts of Oregon and because they are easy to spot – especially sporting the tell-tale white head and tail feathers that mark a mature bald eagle.
“We have reached a point in the Willamette Valley – particularly throughout Lane County where people see bald eagles more often than other raptor species. We really get a big influx of the birds moving thru here in the winter.”
One of the best places to spot a bald eagle or two or three is the nearby Fern Ridge Wildlife Area that’s managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is made up of more than 5000 acres of wetlands, ponds and sloughs and upland areas according to Kevin Roth, the wildlife area’s Assistant Manager.
“We are a fine place to start --- not just to view the waterfowl that use the wetlands and ponds but the raptors too. Our number one goal is to provide food, water, sanctuary for wintering birds and at times we’re like a magnet. You will see several species in just one visit.”
Gleason added that his best tip to spot birds of prey is to simply “drive around.”
“Especially the back roads of farmland - stop and look often too – especially scan the trees – chances are you will see an eagle or a hawk – they are that common and without leaves on the trees, easier to spot this time of year.”
The Cascades Raptor Center is also a perfect place to begin your raptor watching adventures. The center offers “handler talks” each Saturday and Sunday at 1pm sharp. It’s a great chance to get a close up view of many raptor species and the handler will teach you much about the species too.
You can also find additional places to watch for waterfowl and raptors at the new ODFW Wildlife Viewing Map. It’s a fine resource for locating the best wildlife viewing sites across Oregon.