Grant's Getaways: Cascades Raptor Center

"The refuge is a magnet for wildlife!"

There’s goose ‘song’ in the air – have you heard the excited sound? It’s hard to miss as the flocks 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 Molly Monroe, a former US Fish and Wildlife Biologist.

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Photos: Cascades Raptor Center

The 1,700 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.

Fast on the tail feathers of the abundant waterfowl flocks are the raptors; 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; 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 Louise Schimmel, the Center’s Director. “My goal for more than 35 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 said 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 1950s, there were bounties on hawks and eagles and today we understand the value of the predator-prey cycle."

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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.

Dan Gleason is a volunteer at the center and 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 through here in the winter.”

One of the best places to spot a bald eagle or two or three is the nearby Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fern Ridge Wildlife Area.

It is made up of more than 5,000 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,” said Roth.

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.”

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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 1 p.m. 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.

If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures With the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.

In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” You’ll enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures." The book highlights adventures that reach into every corner of Oregon.