An Unexpected Refuge

Wildlife refuge

On the drive between Junction City and Corvallis, about five miles north of Monroe, there’s a sign we’ve passed numerous times without a second glance. It sits at the junction of Highway 99W and Finley raod and leads to the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. Sunday, on our drive back from Wacky Indoor Bounce in Corvallis, we took the turnoff.

A gravel road leads back to the entrance to the refuge. It’s a slow, dusty drive, but well worth it. Once inside the refuge, the roads are paved and the wildlife is plentiful.

Marsh

Birds and other animals vary with the seasons. Visiting for the first time in late May we missed the Dusky Canada geese. These are slightly smaller than the Canada geese we see locally year-round, and have begun their flight back to Alaska for the summer. But we saw the usual mallards and geese as well as a large flock of raptors.

Vulture

It was hard to tell from a distance what species they were. Julia spotted what she thought were chickens in a field several hundred yards ahead of us, but then the “chickens” started flying. Turns out they were part of the raptor flock. Quickly we realized that they were vultures. Anna pointed out how they tilted their wings back and forth while circling. She’d just learned that fact about vultures during her most recent field trip.

Pink flowers

We drove on, through wooded areas and rolling pastures, seeing lots of beautiful flowers and plants. We passed a farm with several cows—including one rather loud one, and another field that housed a single, rather intimidating looking bull. Then we stopped at an overlook to take some pictures of a solitary bird perched on a log in the middle of a nearby pond.

Bird perching

But an urgent interruption changed our plans.

“I have to go potty.”

We were close by the Refuge Office, and while both the office and the Refuge Store were closed, our map told us that the public restrooms were open.

Looks like a hummingbird

The stop was unplanned, but it turned out to be the highlight of the trip. There’s a bird feeder outside the office and Spring is the ideal time to see songbirds at the Refuge. At first it was just pigeons and a couple of hummingbirds, but after a few minutes other birds began arriving. I know next to nothing about birds, but my ear caught at least a dozen distinct bird songs ringing from the trees around us.

A black bird with a brown head

While Julia took photos and Anna watched the birds flit around the feeder, my ear caught a unique bird call coming from one of the trees overhead.

“Ha ha ha … Ha ha ha …”

I looked up and spotted three bluish birds on a high branch almost at the top of a tree (it was hard to see their exact coloring against the sky so I’m not sure if it’s the same bird in the photo below).

A blue bird of some kind

They sat there cackling for about a minute, and then one flew off.

I’ve never seen a bird fly like this before. It flapped its wings three times and then pulled them tight against its body for a few seconds as it continued flying forward. It went about ten feet, then three more quick flaps and it pulled its wings in again. By the third time I lost sight of it over a large barn.

It was half bird and half bullet.

By this time, it was getting late so we bypassed the rest of the auto-tour route and drove south through a little town called Bellfountain on our way back to Highway 99W. We picked up the highway about three miles north of Monroe and made the familiar drive back to Eugene.

Cattails?

We will be returning soon. This time we will pack a lunch and give ourselves the whole day so we can take a couple of short hikes and drive the rest of the auto tour.

Photos © 2014 by Julia M. Ozab.

Have you stumbled across a natural refuge or some other hidden gem on a frequently-traveled route? How did you discover it? Tell me about it in the comments.

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