Fern Ridge Reservoir: Fisher Butte Unit

Fisher-Butte-PanoramaIt was a beautiful fall day as I drove toward Fern Ridge Reservoir. The sun shining through the leaves created a glowing yellow tunnel as I drove down West 11th out of downtown Eugene. Even though it was mid-November — Veteran’s Day to be exact — my car thermometer said it was 59 degrees and the sun was glorious. I had two hours to kill in Eugene that afternoon, and I decided to spend it at Fern Ridge. It had been a long, long time since I had been out along the reservoir, and as an added bonus, I had heard that American White Pelicans were hanging out at Fern Ridge, and pelicans happen to be one of my all-time favorite birds. So I headed out with hopes that I would find them.

I picked the Fisher Butte unit as my starting point because eBird told me it was a hot spot for the white Pelicans and because I had never been to that part of the reservoir before. When I got there, I noticed the checkstation, which I thought was a little unusual so I headed over to check it out. As I looked at the board I was reminded that it was hunting season, which I knew. What I didn’t know was that hunting is allowed at Fern Ridge. Luckily, it was supposed to end at 1pm and I was there slightly after that, so I headed out onto the trail.

Fisher Butte Check Station at Fern Ridge Reservoir

I didn’t see the pelicans that day. The hunters I talked with as I was walking in said the flock flew off towards Perkins Peninsula, and I can’t blame them, if I was a bird I would have flown away from a hunting area too. Though I thought briefly about jumping back in my car to pursue the pelicans, I stayed at Fisher Butte to explore and see what I could see.

On this trip, I chose not to stay on the marked trail but instead went down the boundary road, a road that is probably underwater during the summers. It was bordered by a 6’ tall grass-like plant which I think I’ve canoed through in summers past. From the road I couldn’t see open water, but instead I walked along mudflats, so I experienced a lot of shore birds.

Egrets at Fern Ridge Reservoir in Eugene.

Flocks of white egrets dotted the distant shorelines, killdeer gave their distinctive call as they flew in and out of the flats, and flocks of other dabblers worked the mud around me, pretty much undisturbed by my presence. I am pretty good at ID’ing birds that come to our bird feeders, but others, like shore birds I am still learning. I’m going out on a limb here to call this bird a Western Sandpiper. I also saw large flocks of a smaller bird that stayed in the muddy areas, I’m going to guess they were Least Sandpipers.

Western-Sandpiper

In all the road out into the reservoir was a tad difficult to walk because of the large pointed stones, and anyone not thrilled with finding shorebirds may not find it a very exciting walk. The road is definitely straight and that made distances deceiving. I was surprised at how long it took me to get back to my car and I later learned that I had walked out about a mile and a half – it sure didn’t seem that far!

To get to the Fisher Butte Unit along Fern Ridge Reservoir, drive out West 11th Avenue, and turn right onto Fisher Drive. It will end at Royal Avenue. Turn left and follow it to the end. It is worth noting that there is a fee for parking in the lot and I noticed most people just parked along the road.

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Comments

  1. Colette, I was at C.G. Lake yesterday and there’s a flock of 29 pelicans out there. I love watching these gigantic birds, too, especially in flight. Also 50+ western grebes have been floating around there all week. I accumulated a long list of birds (lots of gulls, pipers, and ducks, most of which I’m still trying to learn to ID) over a couple of hours, but those were the highlights for me. I was able to get a pretty good view of them by walking down into the park from the boat launch on the west shore and also by parking at the dead-end Black Sheep lane (just before Williams Creek Rd) and walking along the hike/bike road. The lake is VERY low right now so the birds are enjoying great (concentrated) fishing. Binoculars are a big plus since the shoreline is out quite a ways. The pelicans spent most of their time toward the south (shallower) end of the lake but lofted once, formed a V, made a couple of loops and settled near the center where I had a great view and even some photos via 300mm zoom. The cutie-pie grebes (long necks are white in front, black on back) stayed near the center to north end.
    I also went over to the park on the east shore, parked at the northern entrance and walked in to the boardwalk/fishing pier. Immediately upon entering the park I was overwhelmed with songbirds… a dozen or more varied thrush searching the grounds, dozens of juncos in/along the road and a deafening swarm of golden-crowned kinglets that came within 6 ft of me. It was louder than an aviary, lol! Btw, this was between 3-5 pm. My next trip out there I’m going to walk into the campground area; many of the shorebirds hang out along that side/area.

    • Thanks for the tip, Tori! For some reason, CG Lake seems to fly under my radar. Most of the time I head out to Dorena, probably because of the nice trail. I’ll try to get out to the lake this week, maybe the pelicans and the grebes will still be there! Colette

      • Colette, I went back Monday afternoon and the pelicans were gone. Only 5 grebes, too. Maybe they were just stopping over on their way to the coast. I did, however, discover a long grass pier on the east side that is great for viewing. If you park at the campground gate and walk straight ahead you can’t miss it. There’s even a big “well” out there with a metal top that apparently stays warm in the sunshine; it made a great seat and table for my camera, glasses and stuff. With no people around it is a surprisingly peaceful spot. Maybe you know about it, but I’m still a newby around here. Saw lots of ducks, gulls, a red-shouldered (I think) hawk and a “first year” bald eagle.

        • Tori, thanks for the tip about the grass pier and “well”. Funny, we don’t spend a lot of time at CG Lake, and especially the eastern side — when we go out we mostly walk the logging road on the west side, merely because it is a good place to go with our dogs. Though I’d love to see pelicans, this is a good reminder for me to get out there and explore. Thanks Colette

  2. Colette, I finally got those Pelican pics posted; thought you might enjoy a peek… https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.751609578240851.1073741827.100001754469519&type=1&l=01983aa1a2

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