Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Winter at Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island is a wildlife oasis about 10 miles northwest of downtown Portland. It may be well-known to some for its pumpkin patches and corn mazes on the farms in the fall. But many others enjoy it for its land set aside as a wildlife area. In the winter, this place is teaming with birds. Earlier in the winter, there can be thousands of Snow Geese mixed in with Canada and Cackling Geese. 

Tons of Snow Geese from December 2014

Snow Geese coming in for a landing - December 2014

Later in the winter, the Snow Geese have gone, and the island is dominated by Sandhill Cranes. They winter there in large numbers, filling the fields to the brim with their big, shaggy gray bodies. The lovely sounds of their bugle call fills the skies and grasslands. They sure are a sight for sore eyes for us former Floridians. South Florida had resident populations, and it was not too uncommon to see these guys just hanging about the wetlands or even business parking lots!

Sandhill Cranes in a field

Coon Point has a dike where you can overlook a lake and open fields. The highlight when we last visited in late February was a pair of nesting Bald Eagles. They would fly from the nest to a perch just off of the main walking trail right in front of the parking area. One could easily spot them driving down the road. The morning fog made for some moody pics of these majestic raptors.

One of the best spots to bird on Sauvie Island is the viewing platform overlooking a lake that is chock full of waterfowl. On our recent visit, there were lots of Canvasbacks (maybe the most we’ve seen in one spot?) and Tundra Swan. And among the honking of those Tundra Swans, we heard the unmistakable trumpet sounds of Trumpeter Swans! There were just a few hanging out, but we were able to locate these larger-bodied swans amongst the other white bodies in the lake. And this was the first time we’d actually heard these trumpet sounds in person, so it was quite a treat!

Tundra Swan

A couple of Trumpeter Swans

More Sandhill Cranes line the lake at this observation deck, and they fly over almost consistently. It really just never gets old seeing and hearing these guys. I could just watch them all day. They are just such a joy to be around.

Another hot spot of Sauvie Island is Rentenaar Road, or also fondly known as “sparrow road.” Some guy we ran into at a major sparrow viewing point (where people will often leave bird seed) mentioned that he had previously met a couple of ladies who counted up to 11 species of sparrow on that road! We had eight including: Song, Fox, White-Crowned, Golden-Crowned, Lincoln’s, and the hard-to-find White-Throated Sparrows, as well as Dark-Eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees. We dipped on a Swamp Sparrow that was farther down the road that another birder had spotted just moments before we got there. And we did not get Savannah nor the elusive Harris’s Sparrow.  

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow
Golden-Crowned Sparrow

We were super stoked about getting not just one, but THREE White-Throated Sparrows! This was an Oregon high count for this species for us. You can tell with at least the two individuals pictured below, the coloration is much warmer and muted in one, and very bright and vibrant in the other.

Sauvie Island is small in size, but you can definitely spend a full day birding out here. And when a non-rainy, winter’s day pops up, it’s a great way to take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy the sights and sounds of awesome wintering birds. 

A young Bald Eagle

Sandhill Cranes in flight

Abstract Art by a Sapsucker

Another original piece by a Sapsucker

Some fun fungi! Turkey Tails


  1. Terrific photos! I just saw several white-throated sparrows yesterday, and it was a thrilling sight. :)

    1. Thank you! And that's great! It's always so fun to see those guys. :)

  2. Wow that is some mass of birds , and really cracking photos.
    Take care, Gordon.