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Birding in Corvallisby Merlin (Elzy) Eltzroth
edited by Marcia Cutler and Don Boucher

Editor's note: This is a Web versions of Elzy's popular booklet, which can be purchased at our general meetings or by contacting the Sales Table Coordinator

Contents

  1. Chip Ross Park
  2. Jackson-Frazier Wetland
  3. Skate Park, BMX Track and Pioneer Boat Basin
  4. Willamette Park
  5. Avery Park
  6. Oregon State University Campus and Grounds
  7. Bald Hill Park
  8. Martin Luther King (formerly Walnut Park)
  9. Rare Birds
  10. Acknowledgments


Corvallis boasts of some 38 parks and open spaces and is working on additions which will help form more greenbelt around the city. Over 1,700 acres are already set aside for public use. However, this site guide covers only seven of these areas and one other—Oregon State University campus and farms. All eight locations are city or university owned and are accessible to the public. For those interested in bicycling, Corvallis has 18 miles of hard surfaced off-street bike paths, plus an additional 88 miles of bike lanes painted on major streets. The town lies on the western edge of the Willamette Valley and abuts foothills of the Coast Range. Hence there is a representation of both forest and open area birds. The citizenry (about 52,000) is friendly and does not view persons carrying binoculars with undue suspicion. No checklist of birds found only in the city has been published.

The selected sites are presented in clockwise fashion, starting from the north (see city map below). In order to save space, common or abundant species found on most or all outings in the appropriate season will seldom be mentioned; see list on next page:


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1. Chip Ross Park. 125.6 acres.
Drive west on Lester Avenue off NW Highland Drive, where you will find ample parking space at the park boundary. This is a forested hilltop, mainly in oak and conifers, which adjoins the southeast corner of McDonald State Forest, a substantial Oregon State University (OSU) research tract; obviously forest-type birds predominate but to the east and south large open fields attract other interesting species. Also to the south is a superb view of the city. Sharp-shinned Hawk, rarely Ruffed Grouse and on one occasion an immature Spotted Owl was reported. On another occasion a Red-naped Sapsucker, rare west of the Cascades, was seen here. Hairy and Pileated Woodpecker can be found as well as Olive-sided Flycatcher in spring or summer. Brown Creeper can be seen and a Wrentit is often heard calling. The hillside south of the park is good habitat for Western Bluebirds in spring or summer, while oak trees with mistletoe in the canopy should be checked for bluebirds in the fall and winter. Hutton’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Chipping Sparrow and Bullock’s Oriole may be observed around the fringes by lucky birders in the appropriate season.

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2. Jackson-Frazier Wetland. 144 acres
Located in northeast Corvallis at the north end of Lancaster Street. You get to Lancaster Street by way of Conifer Blvd., which is accessible from near the northern end of 9th Street, Highway 99W or Highway 20. The Wetland was established as a Benton County Park in 1992 to protect the natural features of the area and allow for education, research and public use. Much of the 144 acre wetland is administered by Benton County Natural Areas & Parks Department with the assistance of the Jackson-Frazier Wetland Advisory Committee. There is a two-thirds of a mile wooden boardwalk on the southeast corner of the park. Displays at the entrance kiosk provide general and topical information, and interpretive panels can be viewed throughout the wetland. Brochures are also available on selected topics.

Jackson-Frazier serves as an important refuge and stopover for birds, of which more than 80 species have been identified. Common and conspicuous all year, especially during spring and summer, are the Red-winged Blackbirds which nest in the cattails and marshy areas. Unique birds are the Virginia Rail, Sora, and Marsh Wren. The Virginia Rail is found in the marsh and is very secretive but always present and sometimes numerous. As many as a dozen have been heard on certain occasions but you will typically hear one or two. The typical call heard is a series of four to six, descending duck-like grunts. Another vocalization of the Virginia Rail is a metallic series “tink-t-tink, tink-t-tink, tink-t-tink.” Marsh Wrens are somewhat secretive but it’s not uncommon to spot one if you sit and watch for a while. The Marsh Wren’s raspy song sounds like a broken lawn sprinkler. Other marsh birds include Great Blue and Green Heron, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe and ducks.

The shrubs over dry land and water are good habitat for sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens, Wrentits, Common Yellowthroats and Spotted Towhees. In the trees one can find finches, winter and summer warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Western Tanagers, and thrushes, like robins. Northern Harriers patrol the open areas and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks hunt in the trees for their avian prey. Birders frequent this site for its accessibility and for the possibility that uncommon birds like kites, shrikes and others are found several times a year.

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3. Skate Park, BMX Track and Pioneer Boat Basin.

Combined acreage 35
These parks skirt the north bank of the Marys River and the west bank of the Willamette River at their confluence. If driving, park near the corner of B Ave and South 2nd Street. A bike path extends through both parks, passing under the 3rd and 4th Street bridges over the Marys River. In past years Barn Owls have nested and roosted under the overpass where US Highway 20 crosses 4th Street. Habitat varies from the mowed grass of playing fields to riparian trees and shrubs, weeds and brambles. Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant and Common Merganser can sometimes be seen on the rivers. Green Heron is possible and large flights of waterfowl common to the valley can often be seen flying over the area from mid-fall to early spring. These may include both Snow and Greater White-fronted Goose — neither locally common. Osprey and Sharp-shinned Hawk have been reported, as have Spotted Sandpiper, Western Screech-Owl and Belted Kingfisher. Hairy Woodpecker, Pacific-slope (western) Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Brown Creeper, House Wren and even a Yellow-breasted Chat add to the avian diversity in this varied habitat where the two rivers meet.

Western Tanager and migrating warblers appear in the spring. A few years ago this was a reliable place to find Lesser Goldfinch on the Christmas count. In all, at least 75 bird species have been recorded at or over this downtown area.

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4. Willamette Park. 287 acres
This park lies near the southeast corner of the present city limits. Enter at Goodnight Avenue, from Oregon Highway 99W (Southwest 3rd Street) a little over 1.3 miles south of the Marys River, and park in a designated area (A). This is the only city park where overnight camping is allowed. Two or three spaces have hose bibs and there are permanent restrooms in the vicinity, nothing more, so motor homes or trailers must be self-contained.

Willamette Park extends along the west bank of the river for about a mile and a half and contains playing fields, a picnic area, and a trail with several branches which more or less follows the river to the boat ramp at the north end of the park (B). Except for the picnic area and playing fields, the entire park is wooded, with some dense understory and a number of ponds or bogs depending on how wet the season has been. Aside from the common to abundant birds there is the occasional Green Heron, while overhead one might see Osprey, Bald Eagle or a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Spotted Sandpiper may forage along the rip-rap that protects the high river bank in front of the picnic area and playing fields.

Western Screech-Owls have been known to respond to reasonable imitations of their calls along the wooded fringe at the western boundary of the park. Belted Kingfishers hunt along the river, while Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers may be found by persistent or lucky observers. An Olive-sided Flycatcher may sing “quick, three beers” and Brown Creepers scurry mouse-like up the large trees. The Yellow Warbler, a bird whose numbers seem to be declining in the city, is easily found here. MacGillivray’s Warblers should be somewhat easier to find in brushy areas in springtime, while Western Tanagers and an infrequent White-throated Sparrow might be present in the proper seasons.

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5. Avery Park. 75.3 acres.
Enter from either US Highway 20/Oregon 34 at the stoplight on SW 15th Street, or from Oregon Highway 99W (SE 3rd Street) on Avery Avenue at the first stoplight south of the Marys River; there are designated parking places along all paved roads. Habitat in Avery Park ranges from the Rose Garden and Community Gardens to riparian river bank, maple groves, and towering Douglas-firs. There is a secluded trail along the Marys River at the western edge of the park where Sharp-shinned Hawks have been found, as well as a Rufous Hummingbird’s nest. Along this trail, wildflowers bloom in profusion in the springtime. Ring-necked Pheasant and California Quail are sometimes seen or heard in or near dense undergrowth. Great Horned Owls have nested in the tall firs. Belted Kingfishers fish the river and Red-breasted Sapsuckers drill neat rows of holes in some of the smooth-barked trees. Pileated Woodpeckers are also possible, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Brown Creepers and House Wrens have all been found. This is probably one of the better spots for early-arriving vireos and warblers in the spring. Cassin’s, Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos should be present in April and May as well as Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Hermit and MacGillivray’s Warblers along with Common Yellowthroat. Wilson’s, Nashville and Yellow Warblers shouldn’t surprise anyone and Western Tanagers join the bunch in late April. This is a favorite spot for OSU ornithology classes each spring and over 75 species have been recorded at Avery Park.

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6. Oregon State University Campus and Grounds.
This is a large area generally bounded by SW 11th Street on the east and 53rd Street on the west, by Monroe or Harrison Boulevard on the north and Western Boulevard or the railroad on the south. The key word here is “generally,” since there are several exceptions to the described boundaries. Parking is a problem when school is in session and the rules are enforced. Visitors can obtain parking permits valid by the hour or day from pay and display lots: three at Reser Stadium, one at Nash Hall and one on Washington Street between 11th and 13th. On weekends and after 5 PM however, one may park free in any staff, student or visitor parking lot, but not in reserved spaces. However, one should check to see what parking rules, if any, are in effect by calling 737-2583. Most of the campus proper is closed to vehicular traffic but sidewalks and surfaced bike paths abound.

This beautiful campus has an extremely wide range of shrubs and trees which includes a still-healthy elm population and, just to mention one of many exotic plants, an avenue of ginkgo trees along 30th street.
Two campus birding attractions might be the hundreds or even thousands of Vaux’s Swifts spiralling down any large chimney, on or near campus, just before dark in mid- to late September. Another interesting spectacle usually occurs in early spring when hundreds or thousands of Evening Grosbeaks can be observed and heard in a near feeding frenzy on catkins of elm or similar trees around the quadrangle north of the Memorial Union Building. Passersby are advised to use umbrellas in that area.

The main campus is a good place for both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. Merlins have been recorded around Reser Stadium, and a Peregrine Falcon was also seen there. Western Screech-Owls have been reported near Gleeson Hall and Northern Pygmy-Owls near the Women’s Gym. Barn Owls have been spotted around Reser Stadium and Orchard Avenue.

Acorn Woodpeckers wage a losing battle with Starlings in the oak grove south of Dryden Hall on 30th Street. Red-breasted Sapsuckers, as well as Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers may be encountered infrequently. Willow and Pacific-slope (Western) Flycatcher also occur. A Mountain Chickadee hung around the stadium one winter and Bohemian Waxwings appeared on the lower campus near 11th Street in December 1987. A Northern Mockingbird was seen in January 1988.

The area west of 35th Street is mainly fenced range for cattle or exotic animals and experimental crop lands. An east-west bike path transects this acreage, while Oak Creek angles through from northwest to southeast. The railroad forms the south boundary. Within this rectangle many interesting birds have been observed: Green Herons hunt along Oak Creek, Wood Ducks and other waterfowl visit the creek or watering ponds, while Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers and accipiters fly over or hunt through the property. Occasionally, American Pipits can be found in the fields.
Amongst gallinaceous birds, Ring-necked Pheasant and California Quail appear from time to time, while Ruffed Grouse is only rarely seen. In the swampy bottomland north of the railroad tracks and west of the Corvallis Fire Department Substation on 35th Street, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers and Wilson’s Snipes have been located. Gulls are not often seen in or around Corvallis, but both Ring-billed and Herring have overflown the west campus; California and others probably have also. Band-tailed Pigeons may also be tallied there and Belted Kingfishers course or perch along Oak Creek. If an Acorn Woodpecker can’t be found near Dryden Hall, or by the School of Veterinary Medicine, one or more will surely be seen in the oak grove near the west end of the bike path at 53rd Street.
Western Kingbirds may sometimes be present and a Wrentit can be skulking in brushy patches; this is about the eastern limit of the Wrentit’s range. A Palm Warbler was located just across the tracks from the Fire Substation in April 1979 and this area is also a good place to look for vireos and other warblers in April. Yellow and MacGillivray’s Warblers and Yellow-breasted Chats are possible along with other more common varieties. Chipping Sparrows and Northern Orioles may be added to the list of over 100 species sighted around the University grounds.
Benton County Fairgrounds on 53rd Street across from the OSU cattle range is another place to find Acorn and other woodpeckers. An Ash-throated Flycatcher was located south of the parking lot in 1987. Western Kingbirds and a variety of warblers may be seen or heard along the southern edge of the parking lot in the springtime.

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7. Bald Hill Park. 284 acres.
This park lies west of the Benton County Fairgrounds. A parking area is available off Oak Creek Drive about 0.8 miles west of the intersection of Harrison Boulevard and 53rd Street. Another parking area is off Reservoir Road about 0.5 miles west of 53rd Street. Parking is also available at the Fairgrounds where the Midge Cramer path leads westward.
Significant vegetative features include large White Oak savannas, native grasslands and wetlands along Oak and Mulkey Creeks. From a wildlife conservation standpoint, mature oak woodland provides essential habitat for nesting, roosting and feeding not available in smaller trees or in conifer forests. Furthermore, oak woodlands are disappearing rapidly all over Oregon, and none are being replaced. Two key features of old oak trees — natural cavities and dead wood — make these stands extremely important to many birds and other animals, but all too often, trees with these characteristics are the first ones removed for reasons of “safety” and park grooming. For ideal bird watching, study or research, this fine addition to the Corvallis park system should be maintained as near to its original natural state as possible. From the park summit there is an excellent view of the countryside and the village of Philomath to the southwest.

Both accipiters — Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks — hunt through and may nest in this area. Barn Owls have roosted in the sturdy old barn and could nest in the large oaks. Great Horned Owls and smaller owls are expected. This is another good spot for Acorn Woodpeckers and Red-breasted Sapsuckers. The Willow Flycatcher, whose numbers may be declining, has been observed in the riparian strips. Oaks attract White-breasted Nuthatches (also thought to be declining in numbers) as well as Western Bluebirds, which are especially drawn to mistletoe berries in the treetops in winter. Both of these species need the available cavities for nesting. Cassin’s Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting and Evening Grosbeak are among species which have been tallied.

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8. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park (formerly Walnut Park). 30 acres.
This park is located along Walnut Boulevard in northwest Corvallis and over 80 species of birds have been seen in or over this pleasant area. Enter at the parking lot, where you will see a bike path which traverses the grounds, and a jogging trail which loops south from near the parking lot and rejoins the bike path further to the northwest. The jogging trail passes through oak and ash woodlands, past sports fields, through early successional fields of grasses, weeds and brush, crossing two small creeks.

Ravens, Ospreys and Bald Eagles have been noted flying over. A Barn Owl has roosted in the picnic shelter and California Quail have been seen or heard nearby. This is one of few places in the city limits where a Lewis’ Woodpecker has been reported; however Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers are more easily found. Western Bluebirds nest in boxes on nearby open hills, while Red-tailed Hawks often hunt around the area. Olive-sided, Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers appear in the spring. A Western Kingbird was seen just outside the park and Chestnut-backed Chickadees and House Wrens aren’t too hard to find. Northern Shrikes may be present in the winter and Western Tanagers in the spring. Lazuli Buntings should be found regularly in season and excellent sparrow patches exist in the weedy/brushy fields near the park’s western boundary. Among several more common sparrows, Chipping and Lincoln’s are frequently noted there.

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Possible Rare Birds
As you travel from one birding spot to the next, keep in mind that there have been several special birds around or near town in recent memory: Cattle Egret, 1978, and another just west of the urban growth boundary in 1984 with others from 1990 to 1993; Snowy Owl at Christmas 1973 and 1993; a Black-chinned Hummingbird in 1989 and 1995; an Allen’s Hummingbird, 1979 and 1983; Red-naped Sapsucker, 1986 and 1991; Gray Flycatcher, 1984; Blue Grosbeak, 1975, the first verified state record; Indigo Bunting, 1979, just west of the UGB, 1987; Harris’ Sparrow, 1972, 1974 and 1983-86, and Cassin’s Finch, 1984 and 1990.

Acknowledgements
I wish to thank the following people who generously furnished their field notes for one or more of the places discussed: Elsie Eltzroth, Anthony Floyd, Fran Gates, Don Hall, Hendrick Herlyn, Richard Hoyer Jr., Ulo and Virve Kiigemagi, Ted and Claudia Regier, Kent and Sharon Rodecap and Dave Swanson. A special thanks to Phil Hays for designing the maps. Don MacDonald reviewed and improved an earlier draft.

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Audubon Society of Corvallis
PO Box 148
Corvallis, OR 97339
Email: Audubon.Corvallis@gmail.com