A couple of weeks ago, tired of photographing my local stomping grounds, forest and rivers, I opted to take a day’s outing to the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis and about an hour and a half from me. It’s funny that living so near rivers and woods, that while hiking I rarely see a lot of wildlife except for the occasional deer. And the ducks, geese, and other birds, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, are not tame and prefer wider boundaries when it comes to encounters with humans than at other places where they are more used to us funny two-legged creatures. Often when I’m on a trail, it is utterly quiet with no signs of visible life, except for my dog and I, of course. You might get to a spot where suddenly there are the sounds of birds or running water, but passing through, it becomes quiet again.
The coast is a good two hours away and that’s if there’s no work being done on the highway, and I was looking for something closer. So I Googled it and found there are three wildlife refuges between Eugene and Portland. William L. Finley was in easy driving distance, providing a day’s outing without the additional cost of having to spend a night away from home.
I had never heard of the refuge before, and speaking to others in my area, later, they hadn’t either. It is named after a wildlife photographer and conservationist, born in 1876 in Southern California and dying in 1953 in Portland, Oregon. He served on the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals, (later National Audubon Society) in 1905 and became the second president of the Oregon Audubon Society in 1906.
The Refuge appears to been established in 1964 and contains over 5,000 acres of diverse habitats which was one of the things I found fascinating.
I drove up Hwy 99 , through farmland, and then turned down a gravel road which bordered a neighboring farm. After several hundred feet, I came upon a large field in which there were at least 15 Great Blue Herons spaced out. On the other side of the road were marsh ponds with many ducks and some geese.
Many of the trails are closed during the winter as the primary purpose of the refuge is to provide a safe wintering spot for the birds, notably the dusky Canada Geese. There are also some historical buildings within the refuge, and one that is spotted early on is the Cheadle Barn built in 1900.
The road comes out of the refuge, first going south and you then turn right and head north on Bellfountain Road, where you re-enter the Refuge.
There is a gift store and a Refuge Office and the chipping sparrow, seen to the right, was near those buildings and taking advantage of the sun and the nearby bird feeder.
One of the trails starts from this point – the Mill Hill Loop (3 mi. loop), a very woodsy trail. I had taken this trail last, so I ended up only going in a mile or so. At the beginning of the trail were numerous Stellar Jays flitting about from tree to tree. This is also a trail where bobcat, beaver and even a cougar might be spotted. Two months earlier, a cougar kill of a deer was found near the trail.
The auto route road continues meandering through the refuge to the Woodpecker Loop trail which is the first trail I walked. This is a lovely trail. It winds through a wooded area where the trees are alive with the rustling of birds, the sound of woodpeckers, and songs of other birds. I’m not a birder, and there were many birds flitting about, most hard to see due to the density and shade of the area, and even when seen, too fast for me to photograph in the low light.
However, the trail works up a hill, and I felt as if I had been transported to California. There were oak trees and golden meadows. There were jays flitting from tree to tree and the oaks were huge and lovely. There were also extraordinary views of Mt Hood and the Cascade Range.
You then continue back into a wooded area, although at one point you have a view of another section of the refuge.. I found this remnant of a fence, and I loved the way it looked, despite the fact that it no longer served any purpose.
The spotted towhee is also one of the birds I spied among the beautiful branches of the surrounding trees. He’s so dark and I don’t think I would have spotted him, except for the glint of his eye as he turned his head.
Past the Woodpecker trail, the auto route continues on past Cabell Marsh. There is an overlook area for Cabell Marsh, less than a quarter of a mile from the parking and down a trail, but the other trail from this point that goes all the way down to the marsh is closed until Spring.
Past this, I spotted a car pulled to the side, and thus was able to see some bull elk in the shadows across a pond. Then another mile down the road, there was another overlook area. There were many raptors about. One bald eagle in a tree, many young ones in another tree, and off in the misty distance a large herd of elk. Later, around that area, I also passed a field, where I spotted a large bird in the field feeding on something. When I took the photographs, I thought it was a hawk, but after reviewing them on my computer screen, I see that it was an owl, exciting for me since I’ve never seen one in the wild before, although the images can’t be used as the owl is just too far away.
The refuge is definitely a place I will return to, not only in the winter but at different times of the year. Two birders I met, indicated winter is the best time in their opinion. They lived in the area and therefore are lucky enough to be able to visit it often. I am such a novice when it comes to birdwatching, and it was interesting to note how they could often tell what type of bird it was from a long distance from the flight or call. They said in November there are murmurations of thousands of starlings – another thing I would love to see. However, I will also be going in Spring as I really enjoy getting out of the car and walking – I’d love to explore the other trails.
I drove out of the refuge and headed back south on Hwy 99, but couldn’t resist turning in again at Bruce Road and looking at the marsh and geese once more. I spotted this little fellow, a killdeer hunting for worms. I also have a shot of his success, but haven’t processed it yet. The first photograph in the post also resulted from pulling in again to the refuge. I could barely stand to leave, but I knew my poor dog, banished from the refuge, was waiting at home for me.
As I was leaving, something stirred the geese up. Up hundreds of them flew in the sky. It’s a beauty to watch them fly and turn almost as one mind. However, I noted when reviewing the photographs – most of them show that pattern of synchronized flight – that there was one image where there is a moment of chaos. Some are turned left, some right, and others seem to be flying towards my camera. It’s such a cool thing to be able to rediscover something about a moment that has passed – like seeing it was an owl in that field, or seeing that there was a second of chaos in perfection – it just one of the many things I love about photography.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this and will get out to see what a little bit beyond your normal stomping grounds. And I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. See you in a few weeks after my return from my week’s vacation in Kauai!