Field Notes

Trail of the Month: Bird-Watching at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Head south of Salem for wetlands and winged visitors.

By Brian Barker August 14, 2017 Published in the September 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Scenes from Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Image: Brian Barker

THE TRAIL: Established in 1965 as winter habitat for migratory Canada geese, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge sprawls across a 2,800-acre floodplain dipping between the Willamette and Santiam Rivers south of Salem. This humid mix of wetlands, forests, ponds, and fields is a beacon for winged visitors like the threatened streaked horned lark. Witness this menagerie from a shaded boardwalk and a network of grassy, marsh-bordering dikes. The latter close annually on September 30 for wintering fowl, making this month your last chance this year to fully explore the refuge.

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Image: Brian Barker

Access the highest concentration of walking trails from the well-signed Rail Trail Loop Area off of Wintel Road. Here, the mile-long wood-plank trail cleaves into a landscape seemingly grafted from an East Texas cypress swamp. Beyond the rails, a canopy of Oregon ash rises above a dark bog rippling with red-legged frogs and western pond turtles. At the three-quarter-mile mark, a bird blind peeks over Wood Duck Pond, offering hikers furtive glances at snowy egrets, Virginia rails, and other late-summer visitors.

Depart the Rail Trail onto seasonal options like the three-quarter-mile Dunlin Pond Loop, which traces a sunny path through reedy ponds and expansive marshes to link with the South Pond and Killdeer Marsh trail extensions. Expect Townsend’s warblers, red-winged blackbirds, and song sparrows flitting amid the cattails and cottonwoods. At toe level, witness another show, as dozens of large (nonvenomous!) garter snakes congregate in the late-summer sun. 

POST-HIKE WATERING HOLE: At four-year-old Salem Ale Works15 miles from the refuge near the Salem airporttasting trays shaped like buzz saws await thirsty walkers. Tawny stumps and gleaming kettles line the newly expanded, hangar-size pub. Try the crisp SAW saison or a lightly hopped Sgnarly ale, paired with upmarket sandwiches like smoked wild chinook with capers and red-onion jam.

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