Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SW ~ Fernhill Wetlands

Date visited: January 5, 2006
Agency: Property owned by Unified Sewerage Agency
Path Surface: Some pavement and wood chips, but mostly two-track gravel
Elevation gain/loss: minimal
Distance: Possibility of 1.5 mile loop and additional mileage out and back on north route
Ratings: Setting ++ (unless you are a bird watcher) Calorie-burning ++
Directions: Drive west to Forest Grove on Pacific Ave (Hwy 8) and turn left on Hwy 47 (right before McMenamins Grand Lodge). After .7 mile, turn left on Fern Hill Rd. Drive .2 mile to the gravel parking lot to the left. Or you can take the Hwy 6 exit from the Sunset Hwy (US 26) and turn left on Hwy 47 (just past Quail Valley Golf Course). Travel to the intersection with Hwy 8 and follow the directions above.

I must confess that the only season I have visited the Fernhill Wetlands is during the winter. This is likely a great place to see migrating or seasonal songbirds as well, but the winter waterfowl are fabulous. The sense of openness and the view of the surrounding hills also make this a very nice place to roam.

Immediately after leaving your vehicle, you have a choice to make. The large body of water adjacent to the parking lot is Fernhill Lake. Because many water birds hang out there and in the pond to the east, we travel that route about 99 percent of the time. One complete circuit of the lake is 1.2 miles. In winter, water fowl number in the thousands. Enjoy the view of the cormorants perched on the posts as you take a break from your walk in the viewing platform,convenient if it is raining. (Rain, in the winter, in Oregon? Hmm, how odd!) Add the trip around the now-misnamed Cattail Marsh, to the south of Fernhill Lake, for an additional .5 mile. You can also add an extra .3 mile if you walk out and back along either border of Eagles Perch Pond, to the south of Cattail Marsh. A path is planned for the southernmost border of the pond, but if you want to loop this pond currently, prepare for some difficult going.

Your other choice is to travel the paved path that sets out from the north edge of the parking lot. On our last visit, we set out in this direction and within two minutes we had seen two great egrets, two kestrels and a red tail hawk. When you reach the end of the paved trail, continue easterly along the north edge of the holding ponds. Keep traveling in a generally easterly direction, toward Mt Hood if you can see it. (If you detour south on the wood chip trail through Dabbler’s Marsh, in less than .2 mile, you will emerge at the east end of Fernhill Lake.) On this day, we saw abundant flickers, with herons and egrets roaming the open fields and three California Quail perched on a fence. Many other of the normal winter birds flitted about. Our best sighting of the day occurred as a peregrine falcon caught our eye before it perched in a tree.

Because of the wet conditions this winter, we were only able to travel about a mile in this direction before we encountered flooded fields, impassable except by boat. Total mileage estimates will have to wait for a drier day.

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