Birding Guide to Vancouver Lake Area
by Wilson Cady firstname.lastname@example.org (photos, edits and additions added by Sherry Hagen)
Birding is best from early fall through late spring when the wintering species congregate here. Some of the better spots should be avoided during hunting season but this activity also causes the birds to move in mass to the no hunting areas where they can easily be viewed.
Vancouver Lake can be reached from the I-5 Freeway by taking Exit 1-D to 4th Plain Blvd. and traveling west. This road leads directly to the lake and the starting point.
Starting Point: The intersection of 4th Plain Boulevard and Fruit Valley Road. From here travel 0.3 mile along 4th Plain to a road on the right which leads to the Fruit Valley Sewage Lagoon Treatment Plant.
Stop #1: Park so as not to block access to the plant and climb to the top of the dike on your right to view the ponds. During the winter check for diving ducks (Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks and a few Ruddy Ducks & Canvasback are the more usual). The first Clark Co. record of Long-tailed Duck was found in the ponds during a CBC. Return to 4th Plain & go right .6 mile to.…
Stop #2: Elmer Rufner’s Pond. Pull off onto the shoulder where through the trees you can look down on the pond and the pasture around the area. (Check for Great Egret, Greater White-fronted Goose and Eurasian Wigeon among the ducks and geese). There can be five or more sub-species of Canada geese in the area. Watch for Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcons. ***2013 This area has recently been preserved and the farm removed.
Stop #3: Go 2.4 miles down the road to the Flushing Channel where water from the Columbia River comes into Vancouver Lake. The influx of freshwater into the lake attracts fish and the birds that feed upon them. Park in the lot and scan the lake (watch for loons and grebes, mostly Western but a few Red-necked or Clark’s are possible) or walk out to the point on the right side of the channel and along the lake shoreline during late summer or low tide when the mudflats of the shallow bay are exposed and good for shorebirds. Scan the island in the middle of the lake. The island serves as a roost for Sandhill Cranes and over five thousand gulls during the winter months.
Stop #4: Continue driving straight through the “Y” intersection .7 miles to Vancouver Lake County Park to search the ornamental trees for passerines. At the north end of the park is a trail lined with roses and other thick brush that harbor many sparrows and leads to an Oregon Ash forest that may have owls, White-breasted Nuthatch & Brown Creepers. When leaving the park go to your right and drive slowly stopping to check fields and hedge rows.
Stop #5: Go 1.5 miles to a large silage pile. Park without blocking the hunters access road on the north side of the pile. Scan the area for Tundra Swans, Great Egrets, and Sandhill Crane and Short-eared Owls. Drive back to the intersection and go right on Lower River Road 1.2 miles to the fields just past the sharp corner. These fields attract large numbers of geese and swans and at times many gulls. The flocks of Starlings and blackbirds may provide sightings of Yellow-headed or Rusty Blackbirds.
Stop #6: Another .6 mile down the road is the entrance to Frenchman’s Bar County Park and access to the Columbia River and a good stand of cottonwoods that contain a Bald Eagle and Bullock’s Oriole nests. A Mountain Bluebird was found there is December of 2007. Across the road from the entrance to this park is another stand of cottonwood and ash tress that also has a Bald Eagle nest and a Great Blue Heron rookery. The small pond between the rookery and the road attracts both Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye in late winter.
Stop # 7: Continue 3.8 miles further and watch for flocks of birds in any of the fields as you drive past. Stop at the farm where cattle feeding troughs are on the left side of the road. This feedlot attracts flocks of Starlings, blackbirds and cowbirds that would be checked the Rusty Blackbirds. The fields to the right often have Sandhill Cranes among the geese there. Continue scanning the flocks of geese as you drive 1 mile to…
Stop # 8: Park in the lot for Post Office Lake on the Ridgefield NWR. This roadside lake is easily viewed from the parking lot. Here you can find Great Egret, Greater White-fronted Geese, Eurasian Wigeon and a wide variety of other waterfowl. Over thirty thousand geese that winter on the refuge gather in the fields.
Rarities or target species that have been seen in the area include: Snowy Egret, Rusty and Yellow-headed Blackbird, Emperor Goose, Snow and Ross’ Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruff, American White Pelican, Iceland (Thayer’s) Gulls, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, Eurasian Wigeon, White-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and anything else is always possible.