AFOOT AND AFLOAT ALONG THE NESTUCCA RIVER
Take a deep breath and savor a place meant for the quiet times along the Little Nestucca River in Tillamook County
The waterway cuts a beeline thru the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the trip is so easy anyone can try on a river paddle with local guides called “Kayak Tillamook” who cater to beginners.
“The paddle trip flows right next to the forest and through the wildlife refuge,” said guide Marcus Hinz. “As you paddle out toward the bay you quickly forget there’s anything else around you except the wildlife.”
You may see bald eagles, red tail hawks, osprey, deer, elk, beavers, river otters and more – in fact, the bird life is remarkable.
Be sure to dress warm – and in layers to accommodate your level of activity. Avoid cotton – don’t forget a rain jacket cap and gloves.
A PFD is provided and it is mandatory on a trip where safety comes first!
“When you’re paddling in a kayak, you’re much less intrusive than a car,” added Hinz. “You get pretty close to the Canada geese and other waterfowl because – (in a small boat) - they’re not as frightened away from you.”
Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge is also a place where you can leave the paddles behind and take a stroll along the refuge trail, just off Cannery Hill Road, that meanders across heart of the refuge.
US Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Roy Lowe, said that NBWR was established in 1991 to protect Canada geese that migrate to coastal Oregon from Alaska.
“You are missing something special if you don’t come up and take a look,” noted Lowe. “While you drive may drive by the site on Coastal Hwy 101 and see this ridge, folks should really take a drive up here. The refuge is spectacular!”
It is also a refuge that’s been successful for wildlife protection. Lowe added that in the late 80’s, up to 1,000 geese wintered across the refuge marsh and pastures. Now, nearly 10,000 geese show up here from November through March,
The stunning viewpoint atop the wooden deck offers a breathtaking panorama that reaches from the mountains to the sea.
“Sunset is spectacular, sunrise too,” noted Lowe. “In fact, if you come here once that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same the next time – it can be spectacular anytime depending upon the conditions.”
Back on the river, our paddling party easily glided through the refuge property on the rising tide.
Hinz added, that the Little Nestucca River is a timeless and easygoing adventure.
“It really the best of both worlds because you’re seeing the land from the water as opposed to seeing the water from the land, so it is a much more intimate experience and you really feel like you’re in nature.”
In addition to the NBWR trip, you’ll also be pleased to know that there are more than 800 miles of water trails in Tillamook County that reach across rivers, estuaries and sloughs. There’s even a map to guide your way: “Tillamook County Water Trails.”
HOT SHOT FOR A COLD SPELL
The McKenzie River Scenic Byway may leave you slack jawed and spellbound.
State Highway 126 is timeless transition on western approach into Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
“It is scenic and it is beautiful,” noted local travel expert Meg Trendler.“You are driving along the river and you get these glimpses of an absolutely crystal clear river all along the way and lots of greenery too.”
Like century old drawing cards along the way, Lane County’s covered bridges including “Goodpasture Covered Bridge;” at 165 feet it’s Oregon’s second longest and “Belknap Bridge,” a river cross-over since 1890.
“The bridges were generally made of wood back in the 20’s and 30’s but if you covered them the timbers would last twice or three times longer in Oregon’s wet weather.”
Wet may be what you’ll get when you reach the plunge pool world of Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls – the trail is always open and easily reached along off the highway.
“The water just comes shooting out like a fire hydrant,” said Trendler with a smile. “It’s a huge wall of water any time of year and then there’s a great path you can walk from Sahalie to Koosah falls so it’s not even five minutes from your car to the falls.”
The McKenzie River Valley is a year round recreation destination and centerpiece for many is the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail.
The trail is 26 miles long and about half that distance is below the snow line, so you’ve good opportunities for hiking and biking anytime.
People have long enjoyed the McKenize River; often called Oregon’s first fishing and boating playground.
Local historian and owner of River’s Touch, Roger Fletcher, said that “drift-boating” was spawned on the McKenzie River; the birthplace for the “All Oregon Boat” with its unique style of riding atop the rapids.
“The McKenzie boats evolved in the 1920’s as fishing guides searched for boats with maneuverability and capacity... it made water previously inaccessible, accessible. Of course, that was a two edged sword…because as people discovered the opportunities, more and more people came to the river.”
When they came, many visitors also found a distinct way to warm up after a long day on the water.
Belknap Hot Springs has been a hot shot for a wintertime cold spell since the 1850’s and you can even see the water bubbling out of the ground.
It’s 200 degrees at the source, according to Marlene Watson the Belknap Resort Manager, who noted that at that temperature, you could cook an egg.
A series of underground pipes cool the water so by the time it reaches the nearby pool, it’s a warm and relaxing environment.
“We have family groups who get together here because it is so relaxing,” added Watson. They can swim, hike, read and relax and they love it.”
Belknap Hot Springs Resort offers full service accommodations including overnight camping for RV, tent or trailer – even rental cabins and a full service lodge.
Watson adds that the McKenzie River draws visitors back along a scenic drive that is “steady and serene.”
“You hear the river go by and it’s just a wonderful place to get away and forget all your troubles – relax!”
OASIS IN THE DESERT
When daylight cracks the horizon, Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge is a marvel!
That’s especially true along Foster Flats Road when a bit of sagebrush romance is underway.
It is a stunning strutting show as more than two-dozen sage grouse meet on a communal breeding ground called a “lek.”
Ecologist and wildlife guide Steve Shunk joined me as we sat alongside a not-so-camouflaged lineup of vehicles filled with folks who similar ideas oh how best to begin their day.
We were drawn to an intriguing show as male sage grouse puffed up their chests and strutted in quick-step back and forth displays with tail feathers fanned out in impressive display.
Nearby, Shunk pointed to a group of smaller, drabber females or “hens” that watched the male or “rooster” grouse go to such great lengths to win over their favors.
Shunk noted, “ We have our own mating rituals – we get all primped up and wear fancy clothes and go out on dates – but to do what these birds do; distend their bodies and make the odd sounds is just something that most people don’t have any perspective on. There’s just nothing like coming to see it in person.”
Every now and then a real battle royal would break out between two male sage grouse – Shunk offered that dominance is the key word in order to understand the bird’s behavior.
“If you’re a younger male and you want to challenge the older male, you have to go right up to him – stare him down and wait to see what happens.”
What most often happened was a flurry of feathers and dust as the birds went round and round across the sage covered flat.
And within seconds it was over – and usually the older, larger male assumed his victorious position near the females.
Sage Grouse were once common species in the high desert, but today half has reduced their habitat. So refuges and protected wildlife areas are critical to the bird’s survival.
“There are at least a dozen leks scattered around the refuge,” noted Shunk. “Not just upland but even higher because the birds need the open sage flats. Also, the sage has to be very low and on an open flat.”
That’s because the grouse need to be able to see predators that might be approaching the lek – coyotes and bobcats and foxes are common species that hunt the grouse.
Shunk added, the sage grouse strutting is an incredible way to start a day’s adventure at Malheur Refuge:
“If people are willing to get up early, yes we’ll start here – I love being up at sunrise. To come up here and see this and then travel thru the wetlands, it’s a nice diverse nature experience.”
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Lake Malheur Reservation, an 81,786-acre preserve and breeding ground for native birds.
This designation followed decades of neglect and misuse that included draining and diking historic marshes and heavy cattle grazing that denuded stream banks and eroded soils.
Unrestricted bird hunting--not only by settlers for food but by market hunters who killed egrets, swans, and terns for feathers to adorn women’s finery--decimated the local bird population.
Protection for wildlife continued to expand, and by 1940 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge stretched thirty-nine miles in width and extended forty miles in length.
At 187,540 acres, today’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is an oasis in the middle of Oregon’s arid high desert country.
It consists of marshes, ponds, meadows, uplands, and alkali flats, diverse habitats that attract a wide variety of bird species that arrive at peak numbers each April through June.
During the spring migration, more than 250,000 ducks--mallards, pintails, teals, redheads, canvasbacks, and ruddy ducks, among others--join more than 100,000 geese and 6,000 sandhill cranes.
In the deeper marshes, gulls, terns, ibises, herons, egrets, and cormorants find ideal nesting habitat.
The refuge is primarily located in the lush Blitzen River valley, the surrounding sage uplands and basalt rimrocks, and the immense bodies of water that collect the Blitzen’s outflow.
I like to begin each visit at the refuge’s visitor center, with its interpretive exhibits and bookshop. The visitor center overlooks Malheur Lake, and the trees and shrubs offer homey habitats to many migrating songbirds each spring.
The adjacent Benson Memorial Museum contains nearly two hundred mounted specimens of local birds in one of the buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and 1940s. CCC workers constructed the buildings with volcanic rock that was mined from a quarry on the refuge.
Head south from the visitor center on the forty-one-mile-long automobile tour route. In about twenty miles, you’ll come to the Buena Vista Overlook, where you’ll find an outstanding view of the Blitzen River valley with towering Steens Mountain as the backdrop.
You’ll appreciate the short, easy hiking trail around the overlook, as well as the restroom. This viewing area also offers wheelchair accessibility.
In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers a wealth of wildlife viewing opportunities – many are located in Eastern Oregon including 25 different state managed areas.
Water is a magnet to wildlife, and along this route you’ll need to slow down to savor the spring season that’s bursting with birds. You’ll be rewarded with views of migratory waterfowl
Sandhill cranes and shorebird species, as well as songbirds such as warblers, vireos, and tanagers, use the many wetland areas, including Krumbo Reservoir and Benson Point.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Carey Goss said the birds are waiting for you to enjoy: “You’ll see a lot of large flocks, like snow geese, sandhill cranes and that’s why people get excited about this place when they see those large numbers of birds in one little area – being able to drive for miles on a tour and see those opportunities is very unique.”
This area is remote and rugged. Plan on traveling long distances on gravel roads, and make sure your transportation is reliable and your spare tire is in good shape.
In fact, this area is so remote I suggest carrying two spare tires if you’re planning to travel the back roads much. It’s also a good idea to carry plenty of food and water (it can get pretty hot during summer months).
That said, some areas are wheelchair accessible. The refuge is heavily signed and restrictions are plentiful, so heed where you’re going and tread lightly.
Remember that the refuge is full of marshy areas that are ideal breeding grounds for hungry mosquitoes. If you go between April and November, take plenty of insect repellent.
And remember that hiking is restricted only to designated and signed areas. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to hike only on roads that are open to automobiles.
The John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival is held during the first full weekend in April following Easter and offers non-stop birding activities as well as historical and cultural information sure to entertain you and your family. So whether you're a beginner or a life-long wildlife enthusiast, the Burn’s based festival has something for everyone.
Spend an amazing weekend witnessing the spectacular spring migration in the Harney Basin of Southeast Oregon. View thousands of migratory birds as they rest and feed in the wide-open spaces of Oregon's high desert. From waterfowl to shorebirds, cranes to raptors, wading birds to songbirds, you'll see it all!
WINTER STORM WATCH
Wintertime in Oregon offers a weather roller coaster ride of sorts when the gray shaded days of wind and rain are quickly followed by breaks of soothing warmth and sunshine.
There’s never a dull moment this time of year.
As winter surf floods and ebbs, beachcombers wander...seeking secrets from the tides.
Along the beach near Cape Meares, Don Best uses his camera to find the secrets that many of the beach strollers miss.
The longtime local has a passion for pulling out the best in a winter scene and his Best Impressions prove it.
“Sometimes it takes quite a few pictures to get the right one,” said Best. “There’s a lot of dynamic action; wave movement, breakers hitting the rocks or logs. Shooting the wind and the waves with a camera is exciting.”
That much is true on a day when sparkling sunshine clears away the gloomy gray as a powerful east wind stirs up a show on the ocean.
Best says those are the days to watch for “Spindrift” or “King Neptune’s Horses:”
“The wind blows the tops of the breakers back out to sea,” said Best. “It is stunning and the spray is like a white sheet that even has rainbows if you get the right angle.”
His photo collection of stormy coastal moments provides a unique angle to Oregon coastal life that many people never get a chance to see.
Many shots from Best’s collection of coastal photographs date back nearly a century and show that winter storms weren’t always so nice. In fact, they were terrible.
Like the winter of 1915, shortly after the Tillamook North Jetty was built and the Barview community was flooded by giant ocean waves.
Best’s album shows off images of railroad wreckage and homes that were lost as people watched helplessly when sweeping waves wiped out the town during a disastrous storm.
What were folks thinking about at the time?
“An escape route, where to run!” noted Best with a chuckle. “That’s what I would do too.”
Robert Smith, Oregon State Park’s Beach Safety Manager, said that when you head to the beach in winter it’s critical to stay alert because huge logs are often washed ashore. He said that just 5 inches of water can move a five-ton log.
“It’s such a big powerful ocean and we enjoy looking at that power, but people have to recognize that power can also prove dangerous and turn a log into a weapon.”
Smith added that rocky jetties might seem inviting because they offer a front row seat to the ocean’s action, but people should stay in their cars to enjoy the show and not walk out on the jetty rocks.
“The jetties are designed to protect the channels for safe shipping traffic and not designed for pedestrian use. The rocks – as large as they are – shift and can have caverns and sinkholes that you never see. Plus, you’ve got poor footing because it’s slippery. It’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Smith added that even the popular coastal hiking trails require caution:
“The amount of water and rain that we get here – coupled with the amount of sea spray - adds up to increased erosion on our trails.”
But there’s no shortage of Oregon State Park Beach Waysides to enjoy winter storms, and Smith noted that some of his state park favorites include overlooks like Cape Meares or Heceta Head State Parks because both are fine vantage points that have lighthouses too.
“These sites are a little higher up, a little further away and definitely safer,” noted Smith. “You get a bird’s eye view of the power of the ocean. Perhaps the premier location for storm watching along the entire coast is Shore Acres State Park. It’s simply amazing when the surf crashes along that shoreline.”
There are many amazing places to watch nature’s drama play out along the northern Oregon coastline too – and if you’d like to enjoy a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide to show the way, check out Oregon Storm Tours in Seaside.
Darren Gooch and Patricia Murphy joined an ‘Oregon Storm Tour’ because it’s a safe and educational option and importantly; they “weren’t sure where to go.”
OST’s David Posalski said that his driving tours stop at many north coast sites, but the Columbia River South Jetty viewing tower at Ft Stevens State Park is a favorite among the visitors who join him each winter.
“Usually it’ll be a single couple, like Darren and Patricia, and we decide what they want to see, what they want to do depending on their time and how active they want to be.
The wonderful thing about the tour is that David can present varied location options and you can tailor the trip to suit your time and budget and interests.
“We are the least touristy tour anyone has ever been on,” noted David.“I really like to put people in new situations – outdoors in the elements, but in a safe way. Storms can be dangerous when you’re down by the water but there are safe ways to enjoy it - like the tower - and still feel the power of the wind and the elements during storm events.”
Posalski added with a laugh that there is one certainty about the Oregon coast during the winter months: “Whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot, there will be weather, whether or not. It is always exciting!”
Back on the beach at Cape Meares, Don Beast agreed that winter weather is exciting – and he advised visitors to bring a camera when they come to the coast so to “capture the drama:”
“It’s fun to catch just the right moment when a big wave crashes – it’s what I call the ‘ooo-ahhh shot.’ You may have to shoot a hundred pictures to get that oooo-ahhhh shot, but it’s sure worth it.”
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, a US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist, keeps a sharp eye for the many wildlife species that use the refuge and 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.
Washington County resident, Irene Dickson, has two of Frame’s beautiful yet functional – feeders and each is firmly planted in the ground on fence posts – 6 feet off the ground in her yard. She said that they “really work.”
“They add such pleasure and peace,” said the avid bird fan. “They’re real de-stressers 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!
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.”
Many people must agree with Dennis! His wildlife work is “red hot” popular and he can’t make them fast enough.
In fact, Dennis created a special edition that’s a one of a kind dandy home that he has named the “Grant’s Getaways Bird Resort.”
He has donated the avian abode to one of my favorite non-profits: the Banks Community Auction.
The popular and annual Washington County event raises money to support programs in the local schools. In addition, I’ll contribute two of my “Grant’s Getaways” books to go with Frame’s wonderful bird resort.
So, consider attending and bidding on the package to help the birds and local children. This year the auction will be held at the Banks HS on April 28.
To learn more about the event: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can learn more about Dennis Frame's work here.