It 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.
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.
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.
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.