Spring has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest and with each passing year my longing for a life in the country grows. My ears strain to hear the croaking toads through the rain and my eyes scan the grey skies for lines of geese and ducks returning to their summer retreats.
To get my springtime nature fix I hop in the car and head out on Highway 99W to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood, Oregon.
Encompassing 1,856 acres within the floodplain of the Tualatin River basin, it is one of only ten urban wildlife parks located within the United States. Forested areas, wetlands, and grassland common to Western Oregon are all represented in the park, and in twenty years of development by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nearly two hundred species of birds, over fifty mammal species, and twenty-five species of reptiles and amphibians common to the Northern Willamette Valley have been cataloged.
Visitors approach the refuge via a walking trail that descends into the basin and crosses a small, shaded pond. Benches are available there for people who’d like to stop and listen as a group of frogs croak out a happy welcome to you. Continuing on, the land opens up into a savanna where offshoots of the trail curve around hundreds of transplanted trees in this birdwatchers’ paradise. The trail then turns west to run alongside Rock Creek, the main river system inside the refuge. At several points along the trail natural and planned overlooks provide excellent opportunities to watch animals living along its shores.
The creek and its companion trail flow into an old growth forest where a natural aviary composed of tall coniferous trees host several species of birds. If you listen closely, you may hear the beats of a woodpecker as it carves out a home or the whoosh of hummingbirds as they gather nectar from wild berry bushes. Mounds of ferns at your feet are perfect places to watch slithering lizards racing from one hiding place to another. Further along, a bridge crosses over an area of Rock Creek where enormous tadpoles, fish, and newts are visible in the rushing water.
The grand conclusion to this mile-long trek is a nearly 360 degree view of the wetlands area. This wide expanse of the refuge is dotted with trees and covered with wispy grasses and stiff reeds. Hundreds of ducks and geese can be seen throughout the year, along with several cranes and a pair of resident bald eagles, who perch high in an old oak tree to watch the wetlands below with wary eyes.
Access to the refuge is free from dawn until dusk and facilities, including a shaded area with picnic tables, are available for public use. During the summer months when the water table recedes a second, two mile trail branches out from the main route, circling around the refuge and returning to the Wildlife Center and its “Nature’s Overlook” gift shop (open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. — 4:00 p.m). Educational events are planned throughout the year, including the Tualatin River Bird Festival in May to kick off the summer season with family-friendly activities and lectures about the refuge’s environment, animals, and planning for further development. Trails are for walking only and no pets are allowed inside the refuge. For more information, please, visit their website at: http://www.fws.gov/tualatinriver/wildlife.html