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Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Monday, March 23, 2009

On Sunday afternoon, Perrie and I braved the rain to check out Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, in Washington about 25 miles north of downtown Portland.

We were fortunate that it stayed basically dry for our whole visit, even verging on sunshine at one point, although we did get caught in a brief downpour on the way back to the car.

The refuge is a 5,150-acre preserve in a swampy stretch of land in the floodplain of the Columbia River. We visited the "Carty unit" because it is the only one with a year-round trail. (The "River-S unit" has a driving loop and seasonal trail; the other three units are not open to the public.)

Birds and other wildlife abound, particularly during migration seasons. However, neither my lens nor my patience were long enough to get any particularly good wildlife shots, so you'll have to trust my description.

In the refuge we saw bald eagles, owls, several different types of du
cks, a great blue heron and various sparrows and thrushes, as well as the standard robins, scrub jays (below right), crows, and hundreds of Canada geese (right).

The highlight, though, were the Trumpeter Swans. Apart from a cluster in the Yellowstone area, this is about as far south as these huge birds (up to 72" from tip to tail) venture. They summer in Alaska and the Yukon, and their winter range is mostly along the coast of British Columbia. We found a flock of a couple dozen of the big white birds idling in a shallow pond just north of the refuge boundary. They seemed very shy, staying mostly out of sight behind a hummock, and never venturing within a couple hundred yards of our position.

The trail is nominally a two-mile loop, but there are numerous side-trails and bypasses. I think we walked all of them on Sunday afternoon. It's generally well-marked.

There are numerous plaques along the way identifying trees and plants (including Poison Oak), but it was often hard to figure out which piece of vegetation the labels refered to. We didn't touch any of them.

The only bad thing about the refuge, from a people-perspective at least, is that the trail (which barely enters the park at all) is almost right next to the main rail line between Seattle and Portland. In our brief visit, the pleasant stillness of the forest was routinely interrupted by the heavy rumble of freight and passenger trains. Not much you can do about that, I suppose, but it was rather a distraction. Still, I look forward to a return visit in the summer when the weather is nicer.


Carley said...

That is one of my favorite places to bird! Dave and I were very jealous to hear about yours and Perrie's owl sighting - we went on an group owl walk there, and we only heard 1 owl.

I was telling Perrie that you two should check out the Sandy River Delta Confluence Project for your next nature walk.

And we want to go hiking/birding with you two some time - will all of that owl luck! We are fair-weather birders/hikers, too.