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
- Chip Ross Park
- Jackson-Frazier Wetland
- Skate Park, BMX Track and Pioneer Boat Basin
- Willamette Park
- Avery Park
- Oregon State University Campus and Grounds
- Bald Hill Park
- Martin Luther King (formerly Walnut Park)
- Rare Birds
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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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
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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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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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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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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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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
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
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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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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(formerly Walnut Park).
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
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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.
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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