CAPE LOOKOUT WHALE HIKE
The Cape Lookout State Park Trail lures you along with splendid scenery at every turn with moments of wonder and surprise and sights that are simply breathtaking.
Clyde Reid, a Whale Watch volunteer (an Oregon State Parks program,) cautioned that the Cape Lookout hike is not for the feint of heart.
“It’s not an easy walk! It’s a bit of a scramble, so you should wear layers of warm and water/wind resistant clothing and sensible shoes – I’ve seen people out there in flip-flops and cut offs and that’s not a good idea.”
The trail courses the full length of Cape Lookout and while it is fairly flat there is a slight gradient drop which means it’s slightly uphill all the back out to the parking area.
It’s a five mile round trip and you should allow up to four hours of hiking to complete the entire trip.
It is also muddy in spots and marked by steep drop-offs.
Each spring, the trail is flanked by one of the most prolific stretches of blooming trillium you’ll ever see. Many other colorful wildflower species are also at hand in a forest of old growth fir, spruce, and hemlock trees.
Along the way, be sure to keep the binoculars easy to reach and ready for anything.
On our adventure, we spied eagles, lounging harbor seals and thousands of murres, (a common sea bird) floating on the ocean surface far below.
At end of the line, you will discover why many call Cape Lookout the “best seat of the house” to watch gray whales parade past Oregon’s shores each spring.
There is not other experience along the Oregon coastline quite like this for whale watching; not only are the giants of the deep passing by seemingly just out of reach – but many of the 60-foot long mammals detour around the cape’s southern flanks where they lounge about, resting and feeding before continuing their ten thousand mile journey.
Gray whales have left warm Baja lagoons far behind and they are bound for the cold, productive waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea.
Reid said that your best chance to spy them is when they rise to the surface to take a breath and mark the moment with a “blow” or exhale.
“It’s not a water spout as many think,” said Reid. “It’s a big cloud of compressed CO2. These animals are the size of school busses and they have lungs the size of refrigerators. There’s no mistaking it.”
Here’s a hint that may help you to find the whales faster too: scan the ocean with your naked eye, looking for the tell tale blow. Once you see that, focus in with binoculars to get a good close up look.
Reid added, “You might see their backs, might even see their flukes or tail when they dive to go deep. That’s always exciting.”
Even more exciting (and a bit rare) is a breech when the giants seem to fly out of the water.
Local landscape and wildlife photographer, Don Best, was ready for that dramatic moment with his camera, tripod and a 500mm telephoto lens.
In his photos he likes to show the true size of the animal – how does he do it?
“How do I get that perfect shot?” Best quickly fired back. “Oh, that’s easy – patience, patience and more patience. You have to be looking at just the right spot at just the right moment – so it takes real concentration not to look away. I don’t always get that good shot right away and I take many, many pictures for just the right one, but that’s the beauty of digital cameras.”
Gray whales swim up to one hundred miles a day and most rarely stop to rest so hurry to the coast and especially Cape Lookout and do it soon before their show is gone.
“Even if you didn’t have a camera, this is a great place to come,” added longtime photographer, Don Best.
Reid nodded in agreement as another whale surfaced just offshore and noted: “It’s just really fun! When you can get so close to a wild animal the size of a school bus it’s really great. That’s probably why there are more than a thousand Oregon State Park’s Whale Watch volunteers up and down the coast. It’s a fun way to spend your time.”
When is a birdhouse a ‘home?” Oh, that’s easy! It’s when feathered residents move in and build a nest.
“Birding” is a popular outdoor recreational activity for many Oregonians– whether it’s watching for varied species, filling a feeder or even building the songbirds a home!
Grant shows us a man who makes sure native songbirds get more than a simple roof over their heads: they get a backyard resort for a home.
There’s quite an outdoor show for those in the know as Oregon’s wild places are prime at this time of year - rain or shine – places like Sauvie Island Wildlife Area are at their showy best.
”No better time of year,” I like to say as eagles soar or waterfowl dive and it gets even better at places like Smith–Bybee Wetlands when you’ve an expert who shows the way for a walk on the wild side:
“It t may be wet, it may be cool but it’s not freezing and there’s lots of food for the birds,” noted James Davis, wildlife author and teacher.
Davis works for Metro and he is a an accomplished wildlife expert who wrote the comprehensive “Northwest Nature Guide.”
He said folks don’t have to travel far to find wildlife at this time of year.
“There are hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and swans and hundreds of raptors coming to and thru the heart of the Willamette Valley.”
It’s hard to imagine a better place to watch the show, but Davis added that there are many easy to reach sites that could be considered “close to home,” like the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood.
It offers a wonderful visitor center and two miles of easy trail that combine to put you in touch with wildlife that’s practically as close as your own backyard.
“This is ‘the south’ for half a million birds. We have a warm, mild, wet climate that is great for them. But many people think, ‘Well it’s cold here, why would they come here?’ Well, just imagine what it’s like in northern Manitoba right now? Brrrrr!”
Don’t forget Ankeny Wildlife Refuge near Salem. It offers visitor friendly boardwalks and viewing platforms that give you a front row seat to wetlands and feeding waterfowl that also keeps you out of foul weather.
Molly Monroe, aUS Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist, keeps a sharp eye for the many wildlife species that use the refuge.
She said it’s a perfect place for newcomers to “stop in and visit and hike the varied trails.”
“It is a wonderful thing when you can sit somewhere, observe the finest little things, and enjoy an outdoor spectacle – a great way to come out and enjoy the refuges.”
Spectacular shows are easy to come by in winter; not just the huge flocks of waterfowl or solo raptors like hawks and eagles, but also the smaller songbird species.
In fact, consider attracting wildlife species like songbirds into your own backyard.
Hillsboro resident, Dennis Frame, loves the sights and sounds of the wild – so he builds feeders and houses for native songbirds.
Frame’s structures aren’t really homes – but his elaborate wooden abodes are more akin to – well, bird resorts @ Quality Made 4 You.
Washington County resident, Irene Dickson, has two of Frame’s beautiful yet functional feeders firmly planted in the ground on fence posts in her yard. She said that they “really work.”
“They add such pleasure and peace,” said the avid bird fan. “They’re real de-stressors too. Plus, the resort detail is fabulous and impressive with the little rock walls, benches and other details. It looks like a little cabin by a lake.”
Frame is a builder of human homes by trade, but in his cozy and well organized carpentry shop, he said his greatest pleasure comes from crafting the elaborate “bird resorts.”
“This is my little getaway and I can come in here and get away from it all and get creative too.”
He’s always been a fan of simple, rustic log cabin homes and will often scour the countryside for “models” that he can reproduce on a small scale for the birds.
“I’ll drive and spot one and ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Maybe snap a photos or make a mental note and then recreate it in a bird house.”
Frame has been ‘chippin’ away’ at his hobby for 15 years and said it ‘s the tiny details that impress most people.
The resorts sport stone and mortar chimneys, decks with handrails and small pieces of character that set them apart from ordinary store-bought models – including a wooden front door.
“The door actually opens. I do that because you must clean out the resort following each nesting year. In fact, the birds seldom return the following year unless you do that. I try to make it an easier job.”
Frame also trades, barters and salvages for everything – recycling for the birds!
Many people must agree with Dennis! His wildlife work is “red hot” popular and he can’t make them fast enough.
On top of that - he rarely sells a house; instead, through the years he has given them away to non-profits like his local Rotary Club and the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center. The groups then sell Frame’s bird resorts and raise hundreds of dollars to support their educational programs.
“This is my way of giving back to the community. I believe in community; they help me out so I help them out. And getting people out of their houses and learning more about the outdoors is a positive way to go in my book.”
A DOG-GONE GREAT GETAWAY
As spring season kicks into gear, chances are you’ve got a canine best friend who loves to get outdoors too…for hiking, camping and travel across Oregon.
Curt Smith and his best friend, Chase, explore the Oregon outdoors together.
In fact, Curt has made a point of taking his four-year-old sheltie on his travels ever since the dog was a pup.
“If I don’t travel with him, I feel like I left somebody important behind,” noted the lifelong Oregonian.
The two see the state together and Curt has the photos to prove it.
Smith especially enjoys Oregon State Parks like Stub Stewart SP that provide off leash areas so Chase can do what he loves most.
“He loves to run and just loves people, loves to meet people and he knows that he’s posing for pictures too – don’t know how he’s figured that out.”
The two are inseparable for sure and share their love of the outdoors when they go indoors too.
You see, Chase is a certified “therapy dog” and he loves to make house calls.
He visits hospice and senior centers each Sunday and helps brighten someone’s day.
He’s been doing it since he was 16-months old and it’s easy to see that Chase’s visits make a difference to folks who rarely get outdoors.
“He knows he’s doing something and he just wants to make their lives better for that moment,” noted Smith.
Making other “lives better” may be one of the reasons Chase was made first choice for new recognition.
This spring, Chase is the cover shot and first-ever Oregon dog selected for the newest edition of the AAA’s annual “Pet Book.”
It’s a guide to pet friendly hotels, campgrounds and activities across the country. The text includes animal hospitals, dog parks and pet-accessible properties.
Parks like Stub Stewart, where pets are welcome on the trails and in the campground.
Park Ranger Steve Kruger said 21 state parks offer yurt or cabin rentals that allow the family pet.
Kruger explained that 14 state parks also offer off-leash areas where your dog can run free. But there are pet rules, it’s not a free for all.
Rules include keeping your dog on a six-foot leash across the campgrounds, day use picnic areas and hiking trails. In addition, there’s a pack it in – pack it out dog waste policy. It’s important to clean up after your dog.
“We want to have people bring their family with them – human or pet – and so we make sure we have these rules in place will create a safe environment for everyone to enjoy it,” said Kruger.
Dr Bob Bullard is a Washington County veterinarian who said simple preparation before you travel with your pet can save headaches, even heartache, when vacation time gets underway.
He introduced five year old golden retriever named “Asti,” and explained that he always carries her photo identification when they travel.
“Photo I-D is a cool idea because if they get lost, what do you do? If you carry your pet’s paperwork with a photo and the microchip number, you can save lots of time as the search gets underway.”
Bullard always carries a pet first aid kit when he travels too. While his supplies are extensive and include many medications most people wouldn’t have access to, anyone can assemble a simple kit inside a stuff sack.
Be sure to carry any pet prescriptions and a handful of emergency bandages, eye drops and other medications for nausea or diarrhea.
Bullard also recommends pet owners carry a critical item with them when they’re on vacation with their pet – a leash.
“Leashes save lives! It’s that simple,” noted Bullard. “You may have the best trained dog in the world but your dog will see things in the campground or down the trail that she’s never seen before. If you want to keep her away from that porcupine or skunk, it sure is nice to whip out a leash that doesn’t take any room in your pocket and now you’ve got control over your dog.”
Finally, consider the way your dog travels with you in the car.
Asti has been crate trained since a pup according to Bullard. He explained that important because: “It protects her from injury and protects other people in the car if an accident happens. A lot safer arrangement.”
Back out at Stub Stewart State Park, Curt Smith said that regardless of where or how you choose to go, the important thing is to take your best friend along and not leave him home alone.
“We accept them into our homes…we understand them by their body language and they understand us the same way – we want that with us all the time – that unconditional love; it’s magical!”
TROUT FISHING WITH KIDS
Spring has certainly arrived! You can see it at every turn; brilliant sunshine, a new flush of green leaves across the Willamette Valley hillsides and at area lakes and ponds, anglers casting their lures or baits for rainbow trout.
If there is a better way to spend the day than fishing with your family or friends, I surely don’t know where or when. You seem trout fishing is contagious!
That’s especially true when the small fry take over a place like St Louis Ponds near Woodburn and experts like state fishery biologist Tom Murtagh are close at hand to offer advice.
Tom is one of a couple dozen experts and volunteers who recently helped put kids in touch with fishing at the ponds through ODFW’s Youth Fishing Clinic.
“We provide the instruction, the gear to use and the correct bait too, noted Murtagh. “Plus, we have instructors, volunteers and angler educators onboard here to help us out to help the families and teach the kids how to fish.”
It’s a perfect setting for folks who don’t know much about rods, reels, and the varied lures or baits that trout prefer to bite.
The experts provide all of that and more – they even stock the lakes with legal-sized trout for the young anglers to catch. Tom added, all of it is free!
“Fishing is a great way to get outside, just enjoy the outdoors; it’s a healthy, fun thing to do with family. We get a lot of moms and dads who get a kick out of it too because it really helps them connect with their kids.”
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks more than one million catchable trout at 96 locations in northwest Oregon. There are scores of area lakes and ponds where the trout fishing is close to home and easy to find.
For example, Canby Pond in Clackamas County is stocked year round and it is open to kids, 17 and under or disabled anglers too.
In Washington County, be sure to check out Bethany Pond, just outside the Beaverton suburbs for another favorite year-round site.
That holds true for Commonwealth Lake in Beaverton too. It offers a neighborhood park that’s kid friendly and ADA-accessible and it is a delightful stop for a picnic lunch as well.
If you’re casting about for larger lakes to wet a line, Henry Hagg Lake and Scoggins Valley Park is a delightful destination where trout fishing along the shore or from a boat is most popular pastime.
“Perfect activity for kids,” noted longtime angler Trey Carskadon. “When you’re trolling along and a trout comes up and grabs it, they (the kids) get hooked. They reel fish in with a smile and it’s so easy to deal with – Hagg Lake is heavily stocked with trout and it’s got some whoppers in here too.”
More than a hundred thousand rainbow trout are planted in Hagg Lake each year according to Carskadon who favors a simple, but effective technique to catch them.
He called it “flat-line trolling.”
“On the end of my line is a snap swivel and I attach the lure to it – either a black rooster tail, a panther martin with a dark body and a bright blade or a crushed orange crippler. Many people like to go out to the middle of the lake and troll for fish, but the trout really congregate and feed along the break lines (drop offs between shallow water and deep water) that are close to shore. I simply let out about 60-feet of line behind the boat and slowly motor along– maybe twenty yards off shore.
Carskadon carried a small crew of anglers on a recent spring day; Ashley Massey and her daughters, Maddy, aged 5, and Sophia Massey, aged 11. Each enjoyed the chance to catch rainbow trout from a boat.
Ashley Massey is a life vest expert with the Oregon State Marine Board who leads her kids by example: she always wears a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and she reminded parents that kids 12 and under must wear a PFD whenever they’re on the water.
“Conditions can change in an instant,” said Massey. “So, the key is to wear a life vest or jacket at all times. You never know when something’s going to change and there really isn’t time to put one on in an emergency, so find a life jacket that’s comfortable and wear it.”
Massey advised that parents should “read the label” when they shop for life vests and make certain that the ones they choose are marked “US Coast Guard Approved” and that they are suitable for the activities that they choose to do.
Finally, if you choose to visit Henry Hagg Lake, be ready to fall in love with a sprawling parkland where recreation waits at every turns – a place that makes you feel right at home since it’s less than an hour’s drive from Portland.
“We have a number of picnic areas,” noted Chris Wayland, Scoggins Valley Park Manager. He added, “We’ve some covered shelters which are available by reservation for group picnics and get-togethers. We also have 15 miles of master level hiking trail that is multi-use for both hiking and mountain bike use. So, we have a lot of things to here besides fish, although fishing is he number one activity here.”
There are two outstanding resource guides that are published by the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife for folks who want to learn more about trout fishing that’s close to the Portland area:
ODFW’s “50 Places to Go Fishing 60 Minutes From Portland” is a superb resource that provides directions to all of the local lakes and ponds where trout fishing is available. You can pick up a free copy of each at any ODFW District Office or visitor center or online too.
In addition, be sure to go to Boat Oregon for all of the details and information about boating resources across Oregon.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH “EGGS TO FRY”
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department Hatcheries like Roaring River Hatchery raise more than a million catch-able trout for stocking at 96 locations in Northwest Oregon –
In fact, Roaring River Hatchery’s super-large rainbow trout produce so many trout eggs that something special happens to the surplus: they go to school.
Each spring, thousands of surplus eggs leave Roaring River in the hands of volunteers like Tom VanderPlaat and Kent Reemers
Tom and Kent belong to the “Association of Northwest Steelheaders;” a non-profit sport-fishing and conservation group.
The NW Steelheaders donate their time, expensive equipment and lots of enthusiasm to scores of Oregon classrooms like Banks Elementary School in Washington County.
“It’s almost like being Santa Claus,” noted VanderPlaat with a smile. “We visit classrooms and see the kids light up over fish eggs of all things. The future of fishing is sitting in this classroom so we need to make sure they have a connection – maybe not to fishing, but to the fish.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s program is called “Eggs to Fry” to make the connections between youngsters and fish.
A second grade classroom becomes the launching point of teachable times ranging from vocabulary lessons to math and science.
In addition, scissors, glue and strips of colorful paper help imaginations flow on a school window that turns into a stream for the underwater world of trout eggs and fry that each student has created.
Six weeks later, it’s moving day as each student fills a bag with water and their fish. The kids, the fish and a school bus travel to a small stream that flows into Henry Hagg Lake.
Parents Linda Markam and Jeramie Peterson agreed that it’s special to see volunteers like the NW Steelheaders donate so much energy, time and commitment:
“The kids have a hands on experience rather than just reading it from a text,” said Markham. “They actually get hands on time and that builds ownership, so it’s great to do this.”
“And then they become stewards of the environment,” added Peterson. “Plus, they take care of it when they grow up and become adults.”
“When the students actually see this cycle happening brings it home to them,” noted second grade teacher Chris McOmie. “It’s a sense of ownership; a way to learn more about their community through a meaningful experience.”
“Water’s important to all of us and to the fish - especially cold, clean water – this reinforces that message,” said VanderPlaat. “By taking care of the fish and releasing them into this stream, it’s a lesson but and important experience for them.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Department offers programs that many schools can tap into for valuable educational opportunities like Eggs to Fry.
Finally, be sure to connect with the Association of NW Steelheaders for more information on how your classroom or school can get involved in the program.