Field Guide to Birding Columbia County (Oregon)

This is the fourth installment of the “Field Guide”.  It is an listing of the various birding sites on Sauvie Island that lay within Columbia County.

This guide will be published in a series of installments:
Overview of Columbia County (5/9/14 post)
Habitats of Columbia County (5/9/14 post)
Birds of Columbia County – Overview (5/9/14 post)
Birding Sites of Columbia County – Individual installments, and associated Bird Lists of the Sites in Columbia County:
Introduction (5/12/14 post)
Columbia River Sites – South to North
Sauvie Island (5/12/14 post)

(A link to a downloadable copy of this guide is found in the first installment of this sereis)

Columbia River Birding Areas

1) Sauvie Island (OBT):

(Map of S.I. Sites Listed) Undoubtedly, Sauvie Island is the crown jewel of Columbia County. Anybody looking to build a substantial County list will want to allocate a large portion of their time birding on Sauvie Island. Only the north end of the Island is within Columbia County, but it is, arguably, the most productive. Most of it is in the ODFW Wildlife Management Area but there are a few parcels of private land. There are three terrestrial access points: Sauvie Island Rd on the west, Oak Island Rd. in the middle, and Reeder Rd on the east. Some, but not all areas require an ODFW Parking Permit. These areas are well marked.   Permits can be purchased at ODFW License Agents (pdf), at ODFW offices that sell licenses and online. Some of the establishments on the Island are ODFW License Agents. Permits are good for any ODFW managed areas in the state, such as Summer Lake in Lake County. Some of the areas on the Island are closed to the general public from Oct 1 through April 30. To access these areas during closure you will need a valid hunting license and a hunting permit. However, you don’t have to have a gun, a retriever and a set of decoys to access these areas.

Note: If you’re a county ticking, ABA rule abiding lister you may want to closely check just where the county line is. I’m not sure that any of the bodies of water that have free flow with Sturgeon Lake in this area are designated as lying in Columbia County. It’s possible they are in Multnomah County and that Columbia County starts at the shoreline. It depends on which map you consult. For the purposes of this guide it is assumed that the County line cuts a straight line across Sturgeon Lake.

Sauvie Island – Steelman Rd

Location/Directions: (45.73494, -122.84218) Starts at the end of Sauvie Island Rd where it turns to gravel. Closed Oct 1st to April 30th

Habitat and Birds: There are little lakes and a view of the Multnomah Channel. This provides varied habitats on the drive out to The Wash: Ash Swales, Gallery Cottonwoods and open fields. Shorebirds can be found on some of the shallow lake edges during migration. The area is good for migrant and breeding passerines and raptors.


Sauvie Island – The Wash

Location/Directions: (45.74068, -122.80376) Closed Oct 1st to April 30th Off of Steelman Rd look for the sign to the Wash. Drive this road to the end and park at the Gilbert River public fishing dock. A foot trail heading west out of the parking area leads to the Wash which is where the Gilbert River empties into Sturgeon Lake.

Habitat and Birds: Shorebirds in migration on the exposed mud edges of the lake, Pelicans, ducks, and gulls out on the lake. The Ash swales are good for migrant and breeding passerines. The puddle lake along the access road can be good for shorebirds and waders as well. The ash swales in the area are good for migrant and breeding passerines.


Sauvie Island – Oak Island Nature Trail (OBT)

Location/Directions: (45.714076, -122.820780) Closed Oct 1st to April 30th. Parking Permit required. Accessed from the end of Oak Island Rd.  Follow the gravel road after the pavement ends and stay parallel to the dike. There is a parking area at the trail head. Columbia County starts somewhere north of the first Oak grove you pass through.

Habitat and Birds: This is a 3 mile loop trail with views of Sturgeon Lake. There is great migrant and breeding passerine habitat in remnant Oak Savanna. Bullock’s Orioles nest here every year. There are a couple of places where Sturgeon Lake can be scanned. There are nice willow thickets along the edge of Sturgeon Lake. The north section of the trail overlooks a broad expanse of open country. There are also large tracts of wildlife managed grasslands that harbor nesting Savannah Sparrows and possible Vesper Sparrow habitat. There is a large lake, Wagon Wheel Hole, which can have water fowl on it depending on the time of the year. Rarities include Bonapart’s, Franklin’s and Sabine’s Gulls on Sturgeon Lake.


Sauvie Island – Willow Bar

Location/Directions: (45.72900, -122.77256) Open year round, Parking Permit required. After just passing the County Line (marked) there is a gravel road that heads east off of Reeder Rd. You can opt to park at the entrance or drive the length of the road to a parking area at the Columbia River’s edge. When open, driving is permitted along a jeep track that heads north up the beach.

Habitat and Birds: Cottonwood gallery woods and a trail along the beach to the north. The woodland trail up off of the beach is the most productive after scanning the river. The river view can have all manner of river birds, loons, grebes, gulls and ducks in season. The area is good for woodpeckers and sparrows. A secluded pond can hold Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and waders. There are lots of fly-over birds crossing the Columbia to and from Ridgefield NWR – Swans and Snow Geese are regular in winter. The best way to cover the area is to park at the entrance next to Reeder Rd and walk the short road to the river, walk the jeep track to the north scanning the river, then move inland to the woodland trail and walk back to the road. Also, just across the street from the entrance there is a hunter’s path cut through the blackberries that affords a scope view of Gay Lake. Here you can find the same birds as listed below at the Observation Platform.


Sauvie Island –Observation Platform

Location/Directions: (45.73253, -122.77386) Open year round, Parking Permit required. The platform is well marked and just a little north of Willow Bar. It has a large parking area on the west side of Reeder Rd. It has a portable restroom facility here as well.

Habitat and Birds: Wetland/seasonal overlook of Gay Lake. This spot is mainly good for Ducks, Geese, and raptors. Winter hunt days can drastically reduce the return in effort here. Up to 5000 Snow Geese can be seen at times. There is a decent chance for Rudy Ducks, Canvasbacks and more rarely, Redheads as well as the regular pantheon including Tundra, and the occasional Trumpeter Swan. Dusky Canada Geese favor this area as well. The occasional American Bittern can be seen moving through the marsh. Soras and Virginia Rails can be heard (rarely seen) as spring approaches. There are lots of raptors in the tree tops with an occasional Peregrine Falcon. Shorebirds can also be found on the lake edges in migration.


Sauvie Island – Racetrack Lake

Location/Directions: (45.74485, -122.78428) Closed Oct 1st to April 30th. Walk in access only either from the Stuzer Unit parking area (Parking Permit required) or from the end of Rentenaar Rd.

Habitat and Birds: This area is basically a seasonal wetland sump surrounded by scattered wood lots on the higher ground. Productivity greatly depends on water levels which are affected both by rainfall and sluice gate management. Shore birds in migration are the main attraction here. It can have large concentrations of Great Egrets at times.


Sauvie Island – Rentenaar Rd

Location/Directions: (45.75769, -122.77083) Open year round to the top of the dike. The road begins approximately 2.0 miles from County line. Look for the white hunter check station. The road runs west from Reeder Rd.

Habitat and Birds: This road is mostly lined with blackberry kack. There is a new scrape lake. There are a couple of small woodlots and a marsh. This is a Sparrow haven in winter. Near the end of the road there are seasonal lakes that will have large concentrations of water fowl. Winter hunt days can drastically reduce the return in effort here. Wetlands and seasonal lake edges harbor migrant shore birds. It’s always worth the effort to spend some time on the top of the dike to scan the open fields, tree tops, and arms of Sturgeon Lake that lie beyond. Rarities include Bobolink, Clay-colored, Swamp and Harris’s Sparrows, Say’s Pheobe.


Sauvie Island – Rentenaar Point

Location/Directions: (45.75144, -122.79789) Closed Oct 1st to April 30th.Walk-in access only on a set of informal foot treads and cow trails.

Habitat and Birds: Views of Sturgeon Lake at the point and associated birds. You’ll find shorebirds in migration on the lake edges. The area is good for migrant and breeding passerines as well in the Ash swales and willow thickets on the walk out to the point.


Sauvie Island – Walton Beach

Location/Directions: (45.77227, -122.77338) Open year round, Parking Permit required. Access is about 0.7 miles north of Rentenaar Rd. There are multiple access points with stairs leading up over the dike. There are portable restroom facilities here as well.

Habitat and Birds: Along the north end of the open strand is the only place in the county that I’ve seen Horned Larks. The river view can have all manner of river birds, loons, grebes, gulls and ducks in season… 2014 update: the dike has been brutally cleared of brush and most pockets of habitat have been removed or disturbed by cat tracks.


Sauvie Island – Collin’s Beach

Location/Directions: (45.78850, -122.78681) Open year round, Parking Permit required. There are multiple access points with trails leading through the woodlands bordering the beach. Parking areas start just after Reeder road turns to gravel. There are portable restroom facilities here as well.

Habitat and Birds: Cottonwood gallery and willow thickets, open beach with a river view that can have all manner of river birds, loons, grebes, gulls and ducks in season. Great Horned Owls have nested in the Cottonwoods; Bald Eagles use them as perches, and are pretty good for woodpeckers and migrant and breeding passerines.

Sauvie Island – Gilbert Boat Ramp

Location/Directions: (45.79172, -122.79861) Access road is at the north end of the parking area for Collins Beach. Access road heads west. There is a pit toilet facility here as well.

Habitat and Birds: Channel views with Cormorants, Common Mergansers and Pied-billed Grebes, The view of McNary Lake can have ducks, but not many. There is a small system of fishing trails through the Ash swales and are pretty good for migrant and breeding passerines.

Sauvie Island – Warrior Rock Trail

Location/Directions: (45.80878, -122.79778) Open year round, Parking Permit required. Parking area is at the end of Reeder Rd. Trail head starts on the beach. It’s a 3 mile hike to the lighthouse. 2014 Update: there is work being done on the trail and it is a muddy mess. Best tactic is to walk as far down the beach as you can and then climb the bank to access the trail.

Habitat and Birds: Cottonwood gallery, Ash swales and river views. There are a few secluded lakes that can have ducks, shorebirds and waders along the edges. The trail is good for Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, and migrant and breeding passerines. The river view can have all manner of river birds, loons, grebes, gulls and ducks in season, rarely a Red-breasted Merganser.

Site Specific Bird Lists:

Where available eBird Hotspot (eHS) data were used to generate these lists. Following the hyper link will take you to that list. Where that data is unavailable I used my own personal patch data (PL). Therefore both data sets should be expected to be an incomplete accounting of the birds possible. Lists are up to date as of 12 May 2014.

1) Sauvie Island (eHS) – 161 species

A note on this Sauvie Island Check List: the list below is from the eBird Hotspot Sauvie Island (Columbia Co.). There are 161 species included. However, there are ten total Hotspots for Sauvie Island in Columbia County and one of them, Rentenaar Rd alone, has 171 species. This is undoubtedly due to the uneven use of eBird by the observers. So, below are links to the other nine eBird Hotspots for Sauvie Island in Columbia County, listed in descending specie count order.

Sauvie Island–Rentenaar Rd.

Sauvie Island–Reeder Rd. Observation Shelter

Sauvie Island–Oak Island (Columbia Co.)

Sauvie Island–Sturgeon Lake (NE side)

Sauvie Island–Willow Bar (Columbia Co.)

Sauvie Island–The Narrows

Sauvie Island–Steelman Lake

Sauvie Island–The Wash

Sauvie Island –Racetrack Lake

Greater White-fronted Goose Snow Goose Cackling Goose
Canada Goose Trumpeter Swan Tundra Swan
Wood Duck Gadwall Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon Mallard Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler Northern Pintail Green-winged Teal
Canvasback Redhead Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup Lesser Scaup Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye Hooded Merganser Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser Ruddy Duck California Quail
Ring-necked Pheasant Wild Turkey Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon Pied-billed Grebe Horned Grebe
Western Grebe Double-crested Cormorant American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron Great Egret Green Heron
Turkey Vulture Osprey Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier Sharp-shinned Hawk Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle Red-shouldered Hawk Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk Virginia Rail Sora
American Coot Sandhill Crane Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer Spotted Sandpiper Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs Dunlin Least Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper Long-billed Dowitcher Wilson’s Snipe
Red-necked Phalarope Bonaparte’s Gull Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull Western Gull California Gull
Herring Gull Thayer’s Gull Glaucous-winged Gull
Rock Pigeon Band-tailed Pigeon Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove Great Horned Owl Vaux’s Swift
Anna’s Hummingbird Rufous Hummingbird Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker Downy Woodpecker Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker Pileated Woodpecker American Kestrel
Merlin Peregrine Falcon Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee Willow Flycatcher Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe Say’s Phoebe Northern Shrike
Warbling Vireo Steller’s Jay Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow Common Raven Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin Tree Swallow Violet-green Swallow
Bank Swallow Barn Swallow Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee Chestnut-backed Chickadee Bushtit
Red-breasted Nuthatch White-breasted Nuthatch Brown Creeper
House Wren Pacific Wren Marsh Wren
Bewick’s Wren Golden-crowned Kinglet Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird Swainson’s Thrush Hermit Thrush
American Robin Varied Thrush European Starling
American Pipit Cedar Waxwing Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat Yellow Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler Wilson’s Warbler Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow Fox Sparrow Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow Swamp Sparrow White-throated Sparrow
Harris’s Sparrow White-crowned Sparrow Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco Western Tanager Black-headed Grosbeak
Bobolink Red-winged Blackbird Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird Brewer’s Blackbird Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock’s Oriole House Finch Purple Finch
Pine Siskin Lesser Goldfinch American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak House Sparrow