Woodpecker Loop: Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Swan and Canada Geese

Swan and Canada Geese at Finley National Wildlife Refuge

We made our first visit to Finley National Wildlife Refuge last winter and at that time, I resolved to go back often. The refuge — and more precisely the incredible number of birds — fascinated me and I wanted to explore throughout the year to see how it changed with the seasons. Well, that was the goal anyway; in reality it took us a whole year to get back.

The Refuge was established in 1964 to provide vital wintering habitat for Dusky Canada Geese. The Dusky has a limited range, spending their summers nesting in the Copper River Delta area of Alaska and wintering almost exclusively in the Willamette Valley.

To allow the Duskies and the other waterfowl that overwinter here to have undisturbed resting areas, a lot of the Refuge is closed from November 1st through March 31st. Our destination for this trip was Woodpecker Loop, one of the few trails that are open in the winter.

Woodpecker Loop Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Trailhead for Woodpecker Loop

Woodpecker Loop takes you through five different plant communities, including an oak savanna, ash swale, and mixed deciduous forest. The woodpecker is used to illustrate the relationship between these plant communities and the wildlife which lives in them. Each of the plant communities has its own sign, and the brochure about the loop further discusses the differences.

Signs along the Woodpecker Loop.

Signs throughout the loop explain each of the plant communities.

When we visited, it was an incredibly blue, sunny day, so really we couldn’t go wrong with a hike of any sort, in my opinion.I happen to love Oak Savannas and so I loved this huge oak tree with a viewing platform encircling its trunk.

Oak tree and viewing platform along Woodpecker Loop.

A stately oak tree with viewing platform looks out over the Willamette Valley from Woodpecker Loop.

Woodpecker Loop is 1.1 miles long, with only slight elevation gains, making it a great trip to take with children. And after walking the loop, we had plenty of time to explore other parts in the refuge that are open, because even in the winter with most of the trails closed there is lots to see at Finley, especially if you like to watch water fowl. Last year we explored McFadden Marsh and Homer Campbell Boardwalk. This year we explored the grounds around the Fiechter House (built in 1855) and happened upon this flock of ducks attempting to allude a bald eagle.

Bald Eagles hunting at Finley

A Bald Eagle hunts among a flock of ducks at Finley Wildlife Refuge.

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge can be reached off of Highway 99W between Monroe and Corvallis. The Bruce Road access is just 4 miles north of Monroe while the Finley Road access is a couple miles beyond that. In all it is about an hour drive from Cottage Grove.

It is important to note that dogs are not allowed on any of the trails.

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