The country’s largest protected urban wetland, 2,000-acre Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area attracts a variety of birds in every season and is home to beavers, river otters, and one of Oregon’s largest remaining populations of western painted turtles. What I enjoy most about it (aside from the many birds, of course) is the realization that with a little care and planning, we can preserve exceptional wildlife habitat in an urban setting.
A series of short paved loops known as the Interlakes Trail leads through cottonwoods and past shallow sloughs to observation blinds overlooking two main lakes. Recently installed water-control structures have returned the lakes to their natural cycle of filling in the rainy season and gradually emptying during the long dry summer. So now the sights and sounds of thousands of waterfowl greet birders in winter, while shorebirds, waders, and the occasional flock of American White Pelicans await in late summer.
The woods serve as an oasis for migrant and wintering songbirds. Varied and Hermit Thrushes, Winter Wrens, and Yellow-rumped Warblers in the winter give way to a host of migrants in the spring. — John Rakestraw
Flat. Paved paths provide easy walking and are wheelchair-accessible.
Winter: Cackling Goose, Tundra Swan, and other waterfowl, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered and Rough-legged Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Winter and Marsh Wrens, Varied Thrush, Northern Shrike, migrant warblers. Breeding: Virginia Rail, Sora, the occasional Red-eyed Vireo, Bushtit, House Wren, Yellow Warbler, and Spotted Towhee. Low water levels in late summer attract Great Egrets and other waders and migrant shorebirds.
When to go
October-March for waterfowl, raptors, Varied Thrush. July-September for shorebirds, American White Pelican, herons, and egrets.
Primitive toilet, picnic tables, and informational signage in parking area. A canoe launch a quarter mile east of the parking lot provides access to mudflats on Smith Lake. Observation blinds overlook both main lakes.
Public wildlife area. Admission and parking free. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Connected to extensive bike/hike trail system. Tri-met Bus 16 stops in front weekdays early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
A spotting scope is useful when viewing waterfowl on the open water. When water levels are low, you can walk beyond the end of the pavement into the wetland.