Shillapoo-Ridgefield Trip

February 17, 2015 0 By Audrey

What. A. Day. Many highs and lows.

Highs: President’s day! A day off to go birding! It’s 60 degrees and sunny in Portland!

I decided to check out Shillapoo Wildlife Area in Washington because it’s a 2370-acre wildlife area and because it has a funny sounding name. “Silly-poo.”

I took off early for the long drive and arrived at the parking area to discover…oops, I need a Discover Pass to park. Low.


Washington State Parks allow some free days on holidays, but President’s Day isn’t one of them. I sat in my car and debated. I got out of my car walked a little bit, felt guilty and quickly exited to hunt down a pass. I want to support the parks system, plus I want to avoid getting fined.

Since my pass-purchase-detour took me farther north, and Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge a well-known birding hotpot, was only 20 minutes even more north, I decided to go there instead. Pass in hand, I arrived to find this park doesn’t require a Discover Pass, only $3 admission, but today- free for President’s Day. Go figure. It pays to do park-fee homework before heading out.

I have mixed feelings about my Ridgefield experience. I’d only visited once before about 8 years ago, and I was reminded this time that the park requires visitors to stay in their vehicles along the 4.2 mile gravel loop from October 1 to April 30. Which is understandable to protect the migrating birds.

Next time, I’ll probably wait to visit when the park is open to foot traffic as walking is part of the fun of birding for me and there are some great trails in the area. Plus, it can be awkward driving on the roads navigating and stopping, sticking your head and camera out the windows, feeling pressure to move forward so others can drive around you to see the same birds. It felt more like a Disney ride than a nature outing.

Despite this, I still saw some cool birds:

Upon leaving Ridgefield, the sun was high in the sky well past the golden hour for birding in my mind. At 1pm the bright sun creates a back-lit sky and it’s often only possible to see silhouettes of birds, challenging for ID purposes, impossible for quality photos. But still, I’d been cooped up in the car all morning and craved a walk. And the afternoon is a good time to see raptors soaring in the sky hunting prey. So I returned to Shillapoo, since I had gone through the trouble to acquire the pass after all.

This time I confidently exited my vehicle, knowing I was legally parked. Just as I suspected though, late in the day many birds were hunkered down conserving energy and the skies were pretty quiet. I did hear the call of a bald eagle though, and saw adult and juvenile pair up in the trees.


An appropriate sighting on President’s Day.

As the lighting conditions worsened I decided to leave and was feeling kind of bummed, since I hadn’t been able to spend time at Shillapoo in optimal conditions. Silly, I know but I had made the lengthy drive there twice. But as I was leaving something caught my eye… that’s funny, that log looks like it has cat ears…I took a closer look in the binoculars, omg the cat ears moved – THAT’S AN OWL.


I circled around to get a better look, and found what I think is the same Great Horned Owl perched higher in the branches. It’s possible this was a second owl because I didn’t see any movement of flight from the first, but the log perch was obscured by bushes from all other angles so it’s probably the same individual just relocated.

I watched until the owl flew higher and further obscured by branches.

Now I’d seen some really cool species that day even a few new ones, but that owl made my day. It definitely made it worth visiting Shillapoo twice, and I’ll definitely make many a return visit to this wildlife area.

Thanks for reading,