In a way, it almost seems as if Mother Nature designed the Willamette Valley specifically to be a birder’s paradise.

After all, the region sits along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route that spans the Arctic tundra of Alaska and the wetlands of South America. (Every year, more than one billion birds make their annual migration along the flyway.)

Not just that, but the valley is home to myriad landscapes that provide the perfect habitat for more than 200 species of bird—including riparian forests, upland prairie, seasonal and permanent wetlands, wide-open meadows, and countless waterways.

It all adds up to a pretty perfect place to bask in the bevy of birds, says Samantha Bartling, visitor services manager with the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges. “You’ve got the Cascade Range on one side, the Coast Range on the other, and this really unique valley in between,” she says. “Every day, you have the chance to see something rare, unique, and wonderful.”

Situated in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Independence is ground zero for new birders and eagle-eyed veterans alike. (The city even serves as the northernmost point on the Luckiamute Loop, part of the wider Willamette Valley Birding Trail.) So if you’re looking to get outside and go bird watching soon, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite parks, refuges, and (because this is the Willamette Valley and all) wineries for doing just that.

Two bird watchers look for avian friends

Birdwatching on the Independence Waterfront

You don’t have to go far to start birdwatching around Independence; in fact, you don’t even need to leave city limits to get your feathered fix.

Riverview Park sits between downtown Independence and the Willamette River, offering an easy opportunity to spy native species and the occasional migrating bird all year long. Trees line the park, and a quiet forest sits across the river—both offering ideal habitats for bald eagles, cackling geese, and the occasional sandhill crane. The park is also the start of the Willamette River Trail, a paved and soft-surface footpath loop that leaves Independence and enters a quiet riparian zone, where birds can be seen in abundance.

Not far from Riverview Park is The Independence Hotel, home to perhaps the community’s most famous resident: Olga the Osprey. For years, Olga has maintained a nest on a power pole next to The Independence—and has long been the star of a seasonal YouTube livestream in spring and summer. Olga hasn’t been seen in 2021, but the hope is that she—or another osprey—returns to the nest soon.

Birdwatching at Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges

A trio of Willamette Valley national wildlife refuges were established in the 1960s largely to protect the dusky Canada goose—which winters almost exclusively in the region—so it’s no surprise that, decades later, the refuges have attracted avid birders from all over the world. Best of all, two sit within a short drive of Independence.

More than 230 species of bird have been recorded in the forests, farmlands, grasslands, and seasonal wetlands at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which sits between Independence and the Coast Range foothills. Wintering waterfowl appreciate the mild, rainy winters, though several species maintain a year-round presence on the refuge. Keep an eye out for black-necked stilts, great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and tundra swans. “They’re such big, majestic, striking white birds, so they have a pretty big following,” Bartling says of the swans. She notes that visitors may see up to 500 tundra or trumpeter swans at the refuge in the heart of winter.

Meanwhile, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge sits on the site of a former dairy farm and is home to prairies, riparian forests, agricultural fields, and other habitats that attract American white pelicans, dusky Canada geese, and several other species. The Ankeny Overlook Trail offers a fine introduction to the refuge’s many ecosystems and hosts several interpretive panels for better understanding the region’s ecology.

Pro tip: Visitors can pick up a paper “bird list” from kiosks at both wildlife refuges; the lists outline which species are present at each refuge, how common they are, whether they nest at the refuge, and when throughout the year you might catch a glimpse.

Birdwatching at Parks Just Outside Independence

The area’s national wildlife refuges get most of the love, but several parks host their fair share of migrating and native birds just a few minutes from town.

For starters, stop by Luckiamute State Natural Area, which sits near the confluence of the Luckiamute, Santiam, and Willamette rivers. That junction makes the quiet riparian forest of oak and maple a popular place to see all manner of wildlife, including migrating and native birds. (As a bonus, keep an eye out for western pond turtles in the park’s ponds, which are actually the remnants of old gravel quarries used to build nearby Camp Adair in World War II; remarkably, the disused gravel pits make for excellent turtle habitat.)

Just 15 minutes south of Independence, E. E. Wilson Wildlife Area sits on the site of the one-time Camp Adair, a World War II camp that housed up to 40,000 people. (That would have made it the second-largest city in Oregon at the time.) Today, the former camp sits surrounded by a variety of ecosystems—such as ponds and wetlands—that attract birds en masse between April and August. Keep an eye out for turkey vultures, great blue herons, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and other species.

Birdwatching From Independence Wineries

With more than 20 award-winning wineries within a 20-minute drive of town, is it any wonder several offer excellent birdwatching opportunities?

Ankeny Vineyard, for instance, sits near the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge and the Willamette River—giving imbibers a front-row seat to seasonal wildlife displays. The vineyard sits on the site of a former fruit orchard (first developed by an Oregon Trail emigrant in the mid-1800s), and the surrounding forests—coupled with close proximity to diverse habitats—have created the ideal conditions for a variety of birds.

The family-owned Left Coast Estate prides itself on restoring an on-site oak savanna—the kind of habitat that once dominated the Willamette Valley. (Only about 3 percent of the valley’s original oak trees remain today.) The hope is to create an unofficial wildlife refuge next to Left Coast’s tasting room that provides habitat for native bird, plant, and wildlife species.

Just northwest of Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge sits Van Duzer Vineyards, perched atop a knoll and surrounded by several ecosystems. A pond and oak savanna add to the area’s natural diversity and offer suitable habitats for migrating birds, especially in spring and fall.

So whether you spy a northern pintail while sipping Pinot noir or frequent one of our national wildlife refuges, chances are good you’ll walk away with new memories and a better appreciation for the abundance of the Willamette Valley. Says Bartling: “Every day, in every season, there’s a chance of seeing a rare, threatened, or endangered species of bird.”

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