This large refuge in southwestern Washington is where to see thousands of geese, ducks, and swans in winter, shorebirds in spring and fall, as well as warblers, chickadees, nuthatches, and scrub-jays.
By Eric Anderson | Published: 12/22/2010
Captain William Clark wrote of the Ridgefield area: “I slept but very little last night for the noise kept up during the whole of the night by the swans, geese… brant (and) ducks on a small sand island. … They were immensely numerous and their noise horrid” (November 5, 1805). For millennia, the setting nourished Native American villages with its fish, plants, and wildlife. Today, the same landscape is protected as a wildlife refuge, mandated to provide wintering habitat for Dusky Canada Geese and other waterfowl.
Any day will yield 50 to 60 species. Seasonally, the cast of characters changes, but my visits are always rewarding. In the spring, I suggest working the reeds for bittern and rails. Mudflats in spring and fall challenge my shorebird skills. Territorial strife within colonies of Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds in summer is fun to observe. In winter, I’ve seen Brant, Ross’s, Snow, Greater White-fronted, and Emperor Geese hidden within mixed flocks of Canada and Cackling Geese. Intermittently in winter, I’m rewarded with Short-eared Owl, White-tailed Kite, Trumpeter Swan, and Red-shouldered Hawk. — Eric Anderson
Eric Anderson is the instructional systems specialist at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. He manages its recreation, interpretation, and education programs.
At a Glance
Click on coordinates below to view location:
Grasslands, wetlands, riparian bottomlands, oak woodlands, and mixed coniferous forests.
Trails range from flat, developed, hard surfaces to rolling, undeveloped, rough, natural terrain. Oaks to Wetlands Trail not wheelchair-accessible.
Year-round: Western Scrub-Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel. Fall and winter: Cackling and Canada Geese, Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, Gadwall, Eurasian and American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Common and Hooded Mergansers, Great Egret, American Bittern, Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, Bushtit, wrens, and sparrows. Spring and summer: Mallard, Wood Duck, Cinnamon Teal, shorebirds, nesting wood-pewees, flycatchers, swallows, chickadees, wrens, warblers, and blackbirds.
When to go
Year-round. Waterfowl abundance and diversity greatest from mid-October through April.
Restrooms, brochures, and checklists at trailheads. List of recent sightings maintained at ridgefieldfriends.org. Two-mile Oaks to Wetlands Trail on the northern Carty Unit. Southern River “S” Unit has 1.1-mile Kiwa Trail (open May 1 to September 30), 4.2-mile auto tour route, and observation blind.
National wildlife refuge. Open daylight hours, every day. Entrance fee: $3 per vehicle. Interagency Passes and Federal Duck Stamp accepted in lieu of entrance fee.
Best winter viewing is from the auto tour route. Bring a spotting scope and window mount.
For more info
NW Lower River Road
Due south of the refuge and just west of Vancouver. It borders the state-owned Shillapoo Wildlife Area. A great fall and winter drive to see Sandhill Cranes, geese, and raptors.
Steigerwald Lake NWR
20 miles southeast of Vancouver off State Route 14. Huge flocks of ducks and geese in winter. Purple Martin and other songbirds in summer.