The federal government established several bird sanctuaries between Salem  and Eugene  in the mid-1960s because of the encroachment of urbanization and agriculture on the winter habitat of the dusky Canada goose. This species now comes to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) west of Salem, Ankeny NWR southwest of Salem, and Finley NWR south of Corvallis  each October after summering in Alaska’s Copper River Delta.
Refuge ecosystems mesh forest, cropland, and riparian environments to attract hummingbirds, swans, geese, sandhill cranes, ducks, egrets, herons, plovers, sandpipers, hawks and other raptors, wrens, woodpeckers, and dozens of other avian ambassadors. Migrating waterfowl begin showing up in the Willamette Valley  in mid-October. By mid-March, large numbers of Canada geese, tundra swans, and a variety of ducks descend on the refuge.
The pamphlet “Birds of Willamette Valley Refuges” (available from Refuge Manager, Western Oregon Refuges, 26208 Finley Refuge Rd., Corvallis 97337, 541/757-7236, www.fws.gov/willamettevalley/finley/ ) details the best months to bird-watch, the frequency of sightings, and the locations of hundreds of kinds of birds.
To maintain the sanctity of the birds’ habitat, the refuges restrict birders by closing some trails in winter; other trails farther from feeding grounds are kept open year-round.
A hike that can be enjoyed any time of year is Finley NWR’s one-mile Woodpecker Loop. A variety of plant communities exists due to the Kalapuyan Native American people’s field-burning followed by pioneer logging and cattle-grazing. Its location on the border between the Coast Range and the Willamette Valley also contributes to the diversity. Forests of oak and Douglas fir as well as a mixed-deciduous grove combine with marshes to provide a wide range of habitats. Look for the rare pileated woodpecker in the deciduous forest. The loop’s trailhead is reached by taking Route 99W (from Corvallis) to Refuge Road.
Look for the footpath on the right after driving three miles. A drop box has a pamphlet with pictures and information on the birds, wildlife, and plant communities.
Ankeny NWR is located 12 miles south of Salem  off I-5 at Exit 243, and Baskett Slough NWR lies northwest of Rickreall on Route 22. Visit fall through spring for the best chance to see ducks, geese, swans, and raptors.
In recent years the proliferation of Canada geese in the lower Willamette Valley  has compelled people to question if the refuges have been too successful. Farmers complain that the birds interfere with crops. State wildlife managers are currently rethinking the protections accorded to the migratory fowl. After seeing the dwindling numbers of the state bird, the western meadowlark, in the Willamette Valley due to human encroachment, let’s hope the powers that be can reach a healthy balance.