Breaking News
More () »

The Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge is a birder's paradise

Just a short drive from Salem, the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge serves as a home or migratory stopover for more than 200 species.

SALEM, Ore. — There's a remarkable show for those in the know at a wildlife refuge near Salem. The Ankeny Wildlife Refuge is a place where photographers can turn outdoor moments into works of art.

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge is a birder’s paradise, and Jim Leonard has the photos to prove it! More than 200 species live in the refuge or pass through the area each year, he said. 

"What’s that? Ahhh, it's a hawk and it's coming this way — get ready," the famed Oregon wildlife photographer said while on a trip to the refuge.

The refuge is just fifteen minutes from Leonard's home in Salem, and he said it's one of his favorite sites because it's so easy to reach from Interstate 5, and there are many hiking trails available to explore — including trials leading to wetlands or ponds where it's easy to spy wildlife species.

Credit: KGW

Leonard follows a simply and patient strategy to take great wildlife shots.

"I have found that the more I sit in one spot, the more often varied wildlife comes to me because if you drive to an area and hop out of out of your vehicle, well anything that's close by will simply fly away," he said.

Ankeny Wildlife Refuge was established in the 1960s to keep wintering Canada geese at the site rather than neighboring private fields, and also to protect a goose sub-species called "Dusky."

He said his world changed as he learned all about the birds that live in or migrate through western Oregon, and it was a surprisingly recent hobby. 

Leonard said nine years ago, he didn't know a robin from a ruddy duck, but then he attended Salem Audubon Society classes and joined The Friends of Ankeny Refuge

Credit: Jim Leonard

Leonard said his best photos capture wildlife in the great outdoors in some sort of action.

"I do like the action shots, especially birds of prey — the raptors!" he said. "The other day I got a dandy when I came across an immature eagle sitting on a tree branch, minding his own business, when this mature bald eagle comes flying in and just attacked him. Its talons were extended out and aiming right for the younger eagle's head. The immature (one) just fell off the branch backwards and took off as the mature eagle chased him out of his territory."

Leonard is also a teacher for friends and newcomers who show up at Ankeny Refuge — especially on weekends — to endure the cold and wet for a chance to capture a wildlife moment.

His friends, Ron Mulbery and George Crock, said Ankeny Refuge is a real treasure that more folks should visit.

"I really enjoy photographing eagles, and the shots of the eagles out here are just something special all the time. One day our high count was 21 bald eagles roosting in nearby trees. That was remarkable," said Mulberry.

Credit: KGW

"I came out here one Thanksgiving Day with a pair of binoculars," added Cronk. "Oh my goodness, I was amazed at the waterfowl migration that was underway. After that, I started coming out here as often as I could. I was hooked."

Most weekends see quite a gathering of photographers, Leonard added.

"I’ve threatened to bring out a barbeque and cook up some hot dogs for everybody," he said with a chuckle.

Leonard freely offers tips to anyone who asks, and he said a tripod is a must for a steady shot. Nearly half of the 700 shots he takes each day are from inside his truck, with a contoured rest that supports his 10-pound, 600 millimeter lens.

"If you get out of your vehicle, everything may fly away, whereas if you stay in and shoot out of the vehicle, then you have a lot better luck," he said.

Leonard said it's the challenge of it all that he enjoys the most.

"You kind of get a high I guess, like when you catch the big fish or hit the good golf shot or something. As the seasons change you see so many different species — plus, you just never know what you’ll see next. I think it's just the joy that comes from being outdoors."

Credit: Jim Leonard

More of Grant's Getaways

Be sure to watch the weekly half hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday at 4pm on KGW.

For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The Adventures with Kids book collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

You can reach me at Gmcomie@kgw.com.

Before You Leave, Check This Out