By Alexander Gilbert,
The tropical musk at the Howard Vollum Aviary in the Oregon Zoo smells like captivity. A rank that is easily identified by unbounded visitors; who enter from wafts of fresher air.
Air is trustworthy; it’ll always let you know the conditions of your surroundings. In this case a bird coop, a nice aviary glass dome type—but still a bird coop. Which is to say the less pure the air—the less value of the vicinity. We’re not talking public city bathroom here but an aviary is not where birds naturally belong. So it does in-fact smell unusual. Well what isn’t unusual about a room with Africa in it—in the PNW? Not the overlooking Africafe serving Serengeti hot dogs.
But being that we carry on in our own pens: a cubicle, apartment, office, tiny house—whatever enclosure suits you best. We should meet wildlife in a fresher—open place. Such as a refuge.
The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge: a seasonal wetlands brimming with self-determining life.
The place fills up to the extent that a volunteer may have to post a no-vacancy sign. With 50,000 waterfowl swooping in on the premises in the heart of winter. Bird watching suddenly becomes an extreme sport. Maybe an energy drink company will sponsor the event. The Pacific Flyway (Patagonia to Alaska bird highway) brings in plenty of traffic.
The abundance of 200 and counting bird species making calls would befuddle the NSA. A raucous harmony of feathered creature activity. The Bittern, the invariable troublemaker, “booms” a low frequency infrasound, nicknamed thunder pumper, and stake driver. Yeah, he might be traced. Besides sounds are avian vibrant colors you didn’t even know existed hereabouts; outside of that room with Africa in it. Amongst, and adding to this excitement are 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians—with a whole bunch of insects, fish and plants. All swayed by the open sky, and by goodness—it smells unimaginably brilliant.
Roll up to the scene with your car missing on the refuge’s 99W bus stop. Bedazzle at the fine facilities of the U.S Fish and Wildlife. Your strutting on federal ground. With a wildlife center that you might have to dress up for to enter. Ornamented by likely 400 year old Oregon White Oak relics. While inside is a well done educational exhibit and gift store. Also further into the refuge is a wildlife blind open for reservations. The real speakeasy of crazy good times.
Refuge mode is a meander traditionally done in bucket hats and khakis with enthusiastic pointing. Make an impression with a collapsible brass telescope. Learn your bird taxonomy for a glorious four mile showboat walk. But be careful, the elderly volunteers who frequent the trails, know their stuff. And they do not allow running or pets. Generally wildlife do not like it when you run at them with wolf descendants and brass telescopes.
The one mile year-round trail, that doesn’t close or flood during rains, has two attractions. The river overlook, a terrace built out over the Tualatin River, that melds in with the environment. Similarly to the wayward fishing line and bobber cast into a jetting branch off the riverbank. Not naturally suppose to be there but has an innocent notion of belonging. Which is the feeling to be enjoyed 20 feet above the Tualatin River.
The wetland observation deck would also be the best seats in the house, or front row in a movie theater starring thousands of squawking geese. And you’re the only one daft enough to sit in the front row with that kinda bona fide action. Then when the waterfowl aren’t playing there’s always the bucolic Oregon meadow romance.
At last the weathered dead tree in the middle of the refuge nests the bald eagles with assistance of a large metal pole that acts as a brace. A symbol of wildlife and humanity functioning together. In a multi species international junction free to pass into.
All wildlife statistics provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service