Spotlight: Birding on the Pacific Flyway in Oregon
Teeming with birds and wildlife, the Willamette Valley calls
What You’ll Find
Oregon’s many lakes and rivers, its plentiful rainfall and diverse topography, create a perfect setting for numerous species of water birds, wintering shorebirds, songbirds, raptors and colonial waterbirds. Among the most popular birding sites are three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes located in the picturesque Willamette Valley near Eugene. These lakes are along the Willamette Valley Birding Trail, a popular section of the extensive Oregon Birding Trail. Visit in winter and you will see hundreds of bird species come to the area as they migrate south along the Pacific Flyway.
The three Corps lakes include Fern Ridge Lake which is 10 miles west of downtown Eugene on Oregon Route 126; Dorena Lake, 30 miles south of Eugene or eight miles east of Cottage Grove on the Row River Road and; Cottage Grove Lake, eight miles south of the town of Cottage Grove on London Road.
All three lakes offer campgrounds set in forests and grasslands teeming with birds and other wildlife. All have numerous amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, beach access, toilets and showers. Pine Meadows Campground at Cottage Grove Lake offers advanced reservations and hosts a number of desirable campsites where campers can anchor boats next to their sites. Reservations are also available at family-friendly Schwarz Park Campground located just below Dorena Dam with easy access to Dorena Lake. Lane County Parks operates a campground on the Dorena Lake shoreline called Baker Bay and Richardson Park Campground at Fern Ridge Lake.
Make Sure You
Use the informative trail guide provided by the Oregon Birding Trails organization to plan your trip to coincide with migrations and birding events. Visit the raised birding platforms at Fern Ridge Lake, and listen for the sounds of this lake’s secretive and camouflaged marsh birds hiding in the lake’s abundant emergent grasses. Listen for the metallic calls of Virginia rails and the deep gulping call of the American bittern throughout the spring and summer months.
Discover the rails-to-trails Row River Trail, once a rail line serving a local logging company. Located at Dorena Lake, it is perfect for bicyclists and hikers. Enjoy this paved, family-friendly trail which extends 15 miles from Cottage Grove, through several picturesque covered bridges along the Row River, past sailboats and watercraft on Dorena Lake and on to an extensive network of forest trails in the Umpqua National Forest.
Check the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory and National Audubon Society’s online eBird program database to record your “life lists,” share your sightings with fellow birders and make meaningful contributions to the birding community. Fern Ridge currently has about 250 species of birds identified and recorded in eBird, making it the top birding spot within the Willamette Valley and the location with the second highest number of species recorded in Oregon.
Join a birding group! Visit the local Lane County Audubon Society’s website and take a hike on one of their Third Saturday Bird Walks led by expert birders. All levels of birders are welcome, novice to expert.
Did You Know?
Cottage Grove is called the Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon. Early in the 20th century, town citizens wanted to protect these charming historic treasures. Along the Row River Trail visitors will find several covered bridge settings including one featured in Buster Keaton’s movie classic "The General." Find out more about Cottage Grove’s lovingly-restored covered bridges.