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Birding getaway: Gray skies mean great birds at the Oregon Coast

by Timber Press on September 12, 2013

in Natural History


Male Harlequin Ducks. Image: Greg Gilson

Each fall, great numbers of birds converge from breeding sites in Alaska, arctic Canada, and inland lakes to fill the comparatively temperate bays, coves, and sewage lagoons of the Oregon Coast. Everywhere you turn, you can see loons, grebes, ducks, geese, and enough gulls to keep even the more experienced birders reaching for the field guide. Some people will tell you that winter at the Oregon Coast is miserably wet and cold, but think how uncrowded the beaches are with all those people staying home. Anyway, there is always the satisfaction of tallying up the day’s bird list over a bowl of clam chowder or a pint of dark beer while the storm rages outside.

HEADQUARTERS: Manzanita and Cannon Beach
Manzanita and Cannon Beach are located near excellent birding sites and are delightful towns in their own right.

BEST TIME OF YEAR: December through April
Birding the Oregon Coast is rewarding year-round, but winter and early spring months offer empty beaches and a great diversity and abundance of seabirds and waterfowl.


Brandt’s Cormorant. Image: Sarah Swanson & Max Smith


Cannon Beach Settling Ponds
These ponds near downtown Cannon Beach host a variety of ducks and the occasional seabird blown in from the ocean. must-see birds: Bald Eagles and Wood Ducks. other interesting birds: Marsh Wrens, Buffleheads, and dabbling and diving ducks.

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach
Visit Haystack Rock at low tide to get close looks at birds on and around the rock. mustsee birds: Black Turnstones, Harlequin Ducks, Black Oystercatchers, Surf Scoters, and Brant. other interesting birds: Pelagic Cormorants and White-winged Scoters. The famous Tufted Puffins arrive in April.

Haystack Rock. Image: Tiger365

Haystack Rock. Image: Tiger365

Nehalem Bay Sewage Ponds in Nehalem
The odor can be a little off-putting, but the birds you’ll see are worth it. On the way to the ponds, you’ll pass through meadows that are filled with raptors. Be sure to follow the posted regulations at the ponds: as you enter the pedestrian gate, only the path on your right is open to visitors. must-see birds: White-tailed Kites, Northern Harriers, and Bald Eagles in the meadows; Wood Ducks and Ruddy Ducks in the ponds. other interesting birds: Northern Shovelers, Greater Scaups, Buffleheads, Gadwalls, and Ringnecked Ducks.

Barview Jetty
Always use good judgment around jetties. Waves can crash over the top without warning. Scan the mouth of Tillamook Bay and the ocean north of it from the jetty for birds. must-see birds: Pigeon Guillemots, Surf Scoters, Common Loons, Western Grebes, and Black Turnstones. other interesting birds: Pacific Loons, Surfbirds, White-winged Scoters, and Black Scoters.

White-Tailed Kite | Image: Lois Miller

White-Tailed Kite. Image: Lois Miller

Three Graces Tidal Area near Barview
This extremely photogenic site off Highway 101 offers plenty of rocks for perching seabirds and deep channels for diving birds. Take the path just across the railroad tracks. must-see birds: Common Loons, Surf Scoters, Pigeon Guillemots, Brandt’s Cormorants, and Black Oystercatchers. other interesting birds: Pelagic Cormorants and Red-throated Loons.

Pacific Oyster Company store and restaurant in Bay City
If you like seafood, stop in for some oysters to show your appreciation for public access to this great birding spot. A nearby muddy inlet is perfect for shorebirds, and you’ll enjoy expansive views of Tillamook Bay. This is the most reliable place in the area to see Black Turnstones; check the abandoned boat and the rocky areas on both sides of the point. must-see birds: Western Grebes and Belted Kingfishers. other interesting birds: Common Goldeneyes, American Wigeons, and Horned Grebes.

Cape Meares State Park. Image: Eli Duke

Cape Meares State Park. Image: Eli Duke

Bayocean Spit
With Tillamook Bay to the east and Cape Meares Lake to the west, the access roads on the Bayocean Spit offer great birding opportunities. From the parking lot, you can hike along an old road to catch more glimpses of the bay and its birds. must see birds: Belted Kingfishers, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Eurasian Wigeons, and Brant. other interesting birds: Greater Scaups, Pintails, and Ring-necked Ducks.

Cape Meares State Park
Follow the Three Capes Scenic Drive, which goes from Pacific City to Tillamook, to reach this promontory that provides great views of the ocean. Hike the quarter mile to the lighthouse to scan the ocean for interesting seabirds. You can enjoy views of a protected cove from an observation deck adjacent to the parking lot. A preserved forest harbors songbirds and giant mossy trees, including a famous misshapen Sitka spruce called the Octopus Tree. mustsee birds: Brown Creepers, Varied Thrushes, Peregrine Falcons, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, and Surf Scoters. other interesting birds: Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pacific Loons, and Red-necked Grebes.

Black Oystercatchers | Image: Scott Carpenter

Black Oystercatchers. Image: Scott Carpenter

Netarts Bay
Head south along Netarts Bay Drive in Netarts as it closely follows the bay. Several pullouts offer safe places to pull over and view waterfowl. must-see birds: Harlequin Ducks, Surf Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, Western Grebes, Common Loons, Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. other interesting birds: Common Goldeneyes and Red-necked Grebes.

A bird's-eye view of Netarts Bay. Image: Meronim

A bird’s-eye view of Netarts Bay. Image: Meronim

Sarah Swanson has worked as an environmental educator for the Audubon Society of Portland. She loves teaching adults and children about natural history by leading field trips and classes.

Max Smith is a wildlife biologist currently working with the U.S. Forest Service. Since 2003, he has studied the mechanisms through which invasive plants and wildfire influence the reproductive success of birds.


Click on image to see inside this book.


Someone has found a new way to present descriptions of 85 of our favorite birds in Oregon and Washington. The Oregonian

1 Denny Geiler September 25, 2017 at 12:15 pm

My wife and I are visiting Cannon Beach next week. Do you happen to know a bird guide we could hire for a day of birding either Oct. 2 or 3?


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