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Bald Eagle at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Corvallis, by Nikki Cross
Guest Author | 03/05/2024 | Outdoor Recreation, Winter

Chasing Winter Birds in Corvallis

In anticipation of bird watching in the winter, you’ve packed your waterproof daypack with snacks, binoculars and/or spotting scope, notebook and pen, travel phone charger, extra clothing layers, and portable rain shell (because Oregon winters can be unexpectedly wet!). You’re ready with your hiking boots or favorite mud boots, digital camera and favorite birds of the PNW ID book. You may have even made arrangements for your pup to stay with friends.

The next question is, where are the winter birding hotspots? Corvallis!

Winter in Corvallis offers ideal weather for watching many kinds of birds, especially the waterfowl that gather in the seasonal ponds. In light rain, fog, or mist, you're likely to spot a greater variety of ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl. The gentle rain activates the aquatic life they feed on. However, during heavy downpours, these birds seek shelter to avoid getting their wings saturated, and it's a good idea for you to find cover as well!

Since in the winter birds often congregate in mixed flocks, it’s easier to tally multiple sightings in one visit. Less leaves on the trees also means it’s easier for you to observe migrating birds. Identifying not just the birds but also their tracks and foraging signs becomes much simpler during the winter months. You can also check the trees for spots where birds will nest in upcoming seasons.

Winter is a key time to see raptors in the Willamette Valley. While you may have heard a rumor that Corvallis is home to a convocation of eagles, the experts at Chintimini Wildlife Center, which rescues birds and has eleven raptors you can visit, say the rumor is no longer true and based on outdated information from 2009. However, Karan Fairchild, the Co-President of the Audubon Society of Corvallis, mentions she sees “eagles pretty regularly just flying along near the Willamette River or over downtown Corvallis or just about any other part of town.”

Bringing the family along? Every year, for the month of March, the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Service hosts a bilingual, accessible, and free event, Winter Wildlife Field Days. Many ‘Field Stations’ are around Corvallis and Finley NWR, offering hands-on wildlife activities, as well as nature and bird walks with local naturalists.

Two bald eagles at Finley NWR, Corvallis, by Nikki Cross.

With the winter setting the stage for an avian spectacle, pick an area from the list below to explore across the Corvallis area. To find them, the East Cascades Audubon Society offers great birding information for the Benton County areas, including a filter for seasons. Nikki Cross of the Audubon Society of Corvallis recommends “an online citizen science database called eBird (www.ebird.org) to query winter birding hotspots,” guiding you to research which birds have been recently spotted at each location. If you prefer a local guide, Spencer Mair of Nature In Flight Tours is your avian expert.

Tip: the East Cascades website connects each listed area to its counterpart on eBird. It has printable checklists, which is good for times when WiFi is inaccessible.

Around Town

North of Town

Philomath

  • Evergreen Mitigation Bank (private lands available through birdwatching tours or 3 pullouts)
  • Marys Peak Recreational Area (9 miles to the top, but note in winter the last 4 miles are closed. Be aware of the winter conditions for unsafe driving!)
  • Marys River-Blodgett Area (a great drive for seeing Coastal birds, especially where the road crosses over Marys River)
  • Philomath Sewage Ponds (check in with the Philomath DPW for access; a nice detour if you’re driving Bellfountain Road to an entrance to Finley NWR)

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

  • The top birding spot on many birder lists is the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, which was created in 1964 as a safe wintering habitat for Dusky Canada Geese. With over 250 bird species recorded here, you can tick a lot of checks off your birder list. The Visit Corvallis offices and the Finley offices have Seasonal Bird Checklists if you want one. Golden and Bald Eagles have been seen here recently, and it’s possible to see swans, ducks, herons, hawks, owls, and the occasional Peregrine Falcon.

Karan Fairchild from the Audubon Society of Corvallis recommends following Bruce Road to the boardwalk trail to the McFadden Marsh viewing blind. Most of the wetland trails are closed in winter to protect wintering waterfowl, but the west-end trails are open year-round (and you may see a herd of elk!)

Pack your curiosity, binoculars, and a touch of Oregon winter resilience, and set your sights on Corvallis to experience a birding adventure. Winter in Corvallis is not just a season; it's an invitation to witness avian magic flying around the city's scenic landscapes. So, explore Corvallis this winter, where birding dreams take flight.

Article by Stacey Newman Weldon. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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