Wings at the wetlands

Two Portland preserves are great for birding
Karl Samson

Head south out of downtown Hillsboro, Oregon, at this time of year and you might think a dam has broken. Floodwaters lap at the shoulders of the highway, and summer's farm fields lay hidden beneath acres of water.

In fact, this flooding occurs almost every winter, when the slow-moving Tualatin River overflows its banks; the resulting wetlands attract tens of thousands of wintering birds.

For many years, two of the largest wetlands, Jackson Bottom and Fernhill, were nothing but sewage treatment ponds. Over the past decade, however, both have seen the creation of marshes and islands that provide improved habitat for wildlife. For human visitors, trails have been added and viewing platforms have been constructed.

That's good news for birders. Both wetlands are home to Canada geese, green-winged teals, Northern pintails, American wigeons, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, double-crested cormorants, and many other species. Both preserves also have resident pairs of eagles. Best news of all for those looking to log a lot of birds: you can easily visit both of these wetlands in a morning or afternoon.

At the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, join "Lunch with the Birds" at noon on Wednesdays (through June), when a naturalist or volunteer is on hand to answer questions, spotting scopes are set up, and binoculars and bird books are available for visitors.

Fernhill Wetlands has no lunchtime program, but it does boast a four-mountain view: Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Jefferson are all visible on clear winter days. Fernhill's other main selling point is its nearly 2-mile network of trails through the wetlands. "You can walk out into its heart, to the east viewing shelter, and be surrounded by wildlife," says Eric Brattain, director of Friends of Fernhill Wetlands.

Where the birds are

WHERE: To reach Jackson Bottom from Portland, take U.S. 26 west to Glencoe Rd. (exit 57); drive 6 miles south past Hillsboro (Glencoe becomes First Ave. north of town and State 219 south of town). To reach Fernhill, drive north from Jackson Bottom into Hillsboro, turn left onto State 8, drive 6 miles; turn left onto State 47 Bypass, go 1/2 mile, then left on Fernhill Rd.

CONTACT: Jackson Bottom Wetlands: www.jacksonbottom.org or (503) 681-6206. Fernhill Wetlands: (503) 357-5890.