Multnomah Waterfalls Photo: Rich Hoyer
There aren’t enough superlatives to do service to the grand state of Oregon. The variety of habitats and landscapes is nothing less than astounding, and compared with other parts of North America, they’re in such close proximity. We’ll begin west of the Cascades in the lush ancient forests and a picturesque coastline of alternating beaches and rugged cliffs that teem with waterbirds, and move eastward into the rain shadow of the Cascades where one finds dry, open coniferous forests and desert-like shrub-steppe with endless vistas of sagebrush, vast canyons, and immense fault-block mountains. This amazing geography combines with a meeting of Pacific, Continental, and Mediterranean climates to give the state of Oregon an avian diversity greater than any other area in the world at a similar latitude—especially in woodpeckers and owls – and we’ll explore it in scenic state parks on the coast, vibrant national wildlife refuges in the Willamette Valley, extensive coniferous forests on both sides of the Cascades, and isolated lakes and marshes in the Great Basin wildlife refuges.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour Oregon: Birds and the Shakespeare Festival
Newport Pre-Tour Pelagic
Day 1: The pre-trip extension begins as we convene at the Portland Airport in the early afternoon and start the three-hour drive to Newport. Once at the coast we’ll have dinner, stock up on snacks for the boat trip and check into our hotel. Night in Newport.
Day 2: We’ll get to the Newport harbor early in the morning for our all-day boat trip, which departs at 7:00 a.m. As soon as we leave the jetties of the Yaquina River behind, we could start seeing nearshore species such as Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot, and we’ll make a special effort to look for Marbled Murrelet as well as mammals such as Gray Whale. We’ll then motor for a couple more hours to the edge of the continental shelf, stopping whenever we see birds, such as the likely Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. At the farthest point we should see Black-footed Albatross, migrant jaegers (all three species are possible), Arctic Tern, and both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. We’ll be back in port by about 3:00 p.m. Night in Newport.
Day 3: We’ll have a relaxed start and will have some time to check another birding spot or two this morning. Then we’ll drive back to the Portland area by lunchtime, ready to meet the main tour group for dinner. Night in Portland.
Day 3: The main trip begins at 6 p.m. in Portland. Night in Portland.
Day 4: We’ll begin the tour heading south from Portland up the Willamette Valley, a major trough for the river of the same name that flows north between the Coast Range and the Cascades. Although it is the most agriculturally productive region in the state (with such diverse crops as wine grapes, irises, berries, filberts, grass seed, and Christmas trees), large stretches of riverine forest are well protected, and three major national wildlife refuges (Baskett Slough, Ankeny, and Finley) are within driving distance of each other. Western Scrub-Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, Violet-green Swallow, and Vaux’s Swift are examples of common breeding species, and the improved wetlands at the refuges have recently hosted such surprises as Black-necked Stilt, and breeding Wilson’s Phalarope and Black Tern. The large cottonwoods and riparian thickets along the Willamette River and its tributaries are home to Pileated Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, and the sometimes spotless oregonus race of Spotted Towhee. Night in Corvallis.
Day 5: Early this morning we’ll drive to the meadow-capped top of Mary’s Peak, at 4,097 feet the highest point in the Coast Range, where one can often see and sometimes even hear the Pacific Ocean 27 miles away. Northern Pygmy-Owl, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Varied Thrush are some of the forest birds we might see, but our main targets are the elusive Sooty Grouse and Mountain Quail. Both are actually common here though hard to see; late summer is the best time to look for them. The regenerating clearcuts in the foothills can also be surprisingly productive and offer prime habitat for Wrentit, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Cassin’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Lazuli Bunting. An evening outing to a local park should yield Western Screech-Owl and possibly also Barred Owl. Night in Corvallis.
Days 6-7: Shorebird migration will be in full swing, so we’ll head a bit south and west to Florence and spend the next two days on the stunningly beautiful and rightfully famous Oregon Coast. From towering headlands and rocky shores we’ll spot Western Gull, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird and Wandering Tattler and scan the ocean for Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, and oversummering rafts of scoters. We’ll check estuaries and mudflats for concentrations of migrant shorebirds which could include Western, Least, Baird’s, and Pectoral Sandpipers, loons, and Heermann’s Gulls. Nights in Florence.
Day 8: Today we head east over the Cascade Mountains. Following the Mackenzie River into the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains, we’ll stop to admire the lovely, rushing mountain streams while eyeing the boulders for American Dippers. A short stroll through a grove of ancient Pacific Silver Fir, Douglas-fir, and Western Hemlock could reveal mixed flocks including Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet, while a higher-elevation lake usually hosts breeding Barrow’s Goldeneye. As we climb the higher mountains and cross the divide, the habitat changes abruptly and dramatically, from a dripping, dense fir-hemlock rainforest to Lodgepole Pine on lava flows only a few thousand years old, to a dry, open Ponderosa Pine–Western Juniper woodland punctuated by willow- and aspen-lined streams. In these drier east-side forests we could see Red-naped Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Green-tailed Towhee. Five species of chipmunk are possible (though telling them apart is a challenge), and if it’s warm enough we could see some delightful butterflies, such as Great Arctic and Behr’s Hairstreak, and bright blue-tailed Western Skinks are common here. Night in Bend.
Day 9: After some morning birding on our hotel grounds where Cassin’s Finch, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Lewis’s Woodpecker may be trip additions, we’ll continue eastwards today, driving through Western Juniper woodlands, home to Ash-throated Flycatcher, Pinyon Jay, and Gray Flycatcher. The primary birding area en route is the landlocked basin of Summer Lake and Lake Abert, where numbers of gulls, avocets, stilts, and phalaropes breed and stage on their migrations. Some years the numbers of birds are staggeringly high, and we hope to witness such an unparalleled spectacle. Night in Hines.
Days 10-12: We’ll have three full days to explore the watersheds of the Harney Basin. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses the heart of this landlocked basin as well as the Donner und Blitzen river valley to the south, is located only 30 miles south of Burns. Well before we actually arrive at the refuge we’ll be birding along the route south of town. Water levels can vary greatly from year to year, but with luck roadside stops will feature ponds and lakes with many species of ducks, Clark’s Grebes, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Willets, and Wilson’s Phalaropes. Even dry meadows can host Long-billed Curlew, Swainson’s Hawk, and Burrowing Owl. We’ll check the wildlife refuge headquarters, an isolated oasis of spruce, pine, cottonwood, and elm planted around a former ranch. It acts as migrant trap in spring and fall but this time of year will host locally breeding Bullock’s Orioles, California Quail scurrying between the bushes, and usually a family group of Great Horned Owls roosting in the trees. However, much of the magic of Malheur (which doesn’t live up to its name—malheur means “misfortune” in French) lies in the extensive marshes, lakes, and wet meadows. Flocks of White-faced Ibis, American White Pelicans, and Franklin’s Gulls pass between feeding and nesting areas on islands. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are numerous in the cattails while Sora and Virginia Rail are common but more often heard than seen. Sandhill Cranes share moist meadows with Eastern Kingbirds in the shadows of Steens Mountain. We’ll also check the dry upland habitats for sage and juniper specialties such as Sage Thrasher and Sage Sparrow, and we can always hope for a wandering Sage Grouse on the roadside as we also keep an eye on the cliffs and rimrock for White-throated Swift and Chukar. One of the tour highlights will be our drive to the top of wonderfully scenic Steens Mountain, a fault block mountain with Oregon’s highest road at 9,500 feet, not passable before about July 4 each year due to snow. The wildflowers are stunning, and the view of the Alvord Basin, Oregon’s driest desert, stretching 5,600 abrupt feet below, is awesome. We even have a chance of seeing Black Rosy-Finch in its only known breeding location in the state, as well as an isolated introduced population of Bighorn Sheep.
On the day between trips south to the refuge we’ll venture north into the Silvies River drainage in the superb pine-fir-larch woods of the Ochoco and Blue Mountains. Here we have an excellent chance of finding Williamson’s Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, and Dusky Flycatcher, among many other species. We’ll also make an evening visit here to look for Flammulated Owl, which though difficult to see well can be surprisingly common. Nights in Hines.
Day 13: Our drive back to Portland will take us west and north along the scenic John Day River, the second-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. Stops along the way may reveal breeding birds of the coniferous forests such as Red Crossbill and Townsend’s Warbler, and we’ll include a visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument visitor center. Once we reach the freeway east of The Dalles, we’ll head downriver through the rightfully famous Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, where the continent’s second-largest river cuts right through the Cascade Mountains, and waterfalls (such as Multnomah, the nation’s tallest) and windsurfing opportunities attract many tourists. We’ll stop at Crown Point to enjoy a panoramic view of Lewis and Clark’s route before continuing to Portland. Night in Portland.
Day 14: The trip concludes this morning in Portland.
Updated: 23 January 2013
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
This tour is limited to seven participants with one leader.