Skip Navigation

Wildlife Watching Hotspots

American kestrels are a common sight at the refuge/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

Although any spot can be a good location to watch wildlife, we recommend the following best places to eye nature… 

  • Best Practices

    Hiking is not allowed off established paths and roads on the Mainland and Tenasillahe Units for the safety of wildlife and you. Staying in your vehicle is a great way to view and photograph wildlife. Animals will allow you to get closer and stay longer if you stay inside your vehicle. If an animal moves when you approach you have gotten to close.

    Get wildlife viewing tips...

    Read wildlife photography tips...

  • Headquarters Viewing Deck

    Refuge Headquarters is located on the Steamboat Slough Road, not far from State Highway 4. Follow the small access road to the parking area and office. There is a picnic table, restrooms, viewing platform and educational signs at this location. From the moment you step from your car, you’ll discover that wildlife is prevalent all around. Freshwater marshes can be seen from the parking area, lawn and viewing platform. Look for pied-billed grebes, American coots, mallards on the water year round. During summer months the sky fills with dragonflies and swallows that feed on the wing and nest nearby. See if you can spot tree, violet-green, northern rough-winged, cliff and barn swallows among the mix. Look for nesting barn and cliff swallow along building eves. Pastures are places you might see winter flocks of waterfowl and cavorting Columbian white-tailed deer. Northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, American kestrel and osprey hunt here. Listen for the melodic song of the song sparrow, the bubbling call of the marsh and Pacific wren, and the tinny croak of the Pacific tree frog.

  • State Highway 4

    Parallel to the Refuge’s northern boundary and possessing a wide shoulder, this highway is a window to wildlife. Scan fields for Columbian white-tailed deer, often seen in ones or twos, the resident Roosevelt elk herd, and flocks of wintering waterfowl. Raptors perch on fence posts and power lines and soar over open areas while on the hunt. Blackbirds, robins, sparrows and cedar waxwings are frequent sights on fences and forest edges. Amphibians lurk in seasonal wetlands and damp meadows. In quiet moments of no traffic, you may be able to hear their spring mating calls.

  • Wildlife Viewing Site

    Located along State Highway 4, this viewing site provides views of large grasslands, a seasonal wet land, and the riparian edge forest. Look for the threatened Columbian White-tailed deer here. The mix of riparian forest and shrubs adjacent to grasslands are essential habitat for deer. Cotton wood, red alder and Sitka spruce paint a vivacious scene across the grasslands any time of the year. Throughout the fall and winter, mallards, pintails, bufflehead, green-winged teal, and great blue herons can be found feeding in the wetlands and flooded pastures. You may see red-tailed and rough-legged hawks or bald eagles perched high in the trees, and northern harriers floating on the breeze as they hunt low above the fields. Croaks of the red legged frog can be heard on the damp days of late winter and early spring. This is a good location to spy the Refuge’s herd of Roosevelt elk. These large ungulates compete with threatened deer for browse and cover.

  • Center Road

    If you visit the Mainland Unit between the months of June to September, the center road is open for hiking. The trail follows this interior road and passes by sloughs, seasonal wetlands, grasslands and riparian forest edges where bird watching is a rich experience. Great blue herons nest on the Refuge, as well as pied-billed grebes, cinnamon teal, shovelers, mallards, Canada geese, and common and hooded mergansers. Check wetland edges and wet fields for Virginia rails, sora, Wilson’s snipe and American bitterns. Beavers can often be seen in the evening when they begin forging. River otters and mink occasionally hunt in the larger sloughs and along ditches, while long-tailed weasels stalk along field and road edges. Nutria are an abundant pest and a frequent sight along this walk. Forests, fields and shrubby patches fill with bird song this time of year. Listen and watch for rufous hummingbirds, willow flycatchers, Swainson’s and varied thrush, Savannah, song and white-crowned sparrows, black-headed grosbeak, and common yellowthroat, and Wilson’s warblers. Summer means fawns are out – look for Columbian white-tailed does and their spotted fawns.

  • Steamboat Slough Road

    You don’t have to leave your car to view wildlife here at JBH! Steamboat Slough Road is a convenient and fun place to view wildlife. Want to get out and stretch your legs? You can travel by foot or bicycle on this road, too! The road winds past many different Refuge habitats, from riparian forest to grasslands and wetlands to the Columbian River estuary.  Columbian white-tailed deer, coyotes and long-tailed weasels can be seen in the grasslands and forested edges. The open waters of sloughs and the Columbia River are home to wintering scaup, common loon, ring-necked ducks, common goldeneye, and even small groups of swans. During summer months check the skies for osprey, Caspian terns, white pelicans, and swallows. The loud chortle of the belted kingfisher can be heard all year long, along with the raucous calls of Stellar’s jays, common crows and common ravens. Wood ducks and hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities along wooded sloughs – look for ducklings in early summer. In the fields that parallel the Columbia River look for purple martins near the nesting gourds. Check the road, too! Garter snakes occasionally sun themselves on roads and along roadside ditches. Search woody debris in wetlands and sloughs for basking Western painted turtles - a rare sight!

  • Brooks Slough Road

    Brooks Slough Road is a must to view wildlife. You can travel by vehicle, foot or bicycle on this road. The road travels past many different Refuge habitats, including riparian forest, grasslands, wetlands, sloughs and the Columbian River estuary.  Columbian white-tailed deer, coyotes and long-tailed weasels can be seen in the grasslands and forested edges.  Watch for sparrows, blackbirds, finches, waxwings and bluebirds along fences and posts. Visitors can experience a variety of riparian forest stages along this route – from recently planted to mature late-successional stands dominated by large Sitka spruce. These forests are a haven for birds, from hawks to hummingbirds, flycatchers to chickadees, and woodpeckers and warblers. Great horned, northern saw-whet, and western screech owls nest here, along with wood ducks and hooded mergansers.

    Managed wetlands are home to a host of animals from muskrats and beaver to amphibians and bitterns. The open waters of sloughs and the Columbia River are home to wintering scaup, common loon, ring-necked ducks, common goldeneye, and even small groups of swans. During summer months check the skies for osprey, Caspian terns, white pelicans, and swallows. Search woody debris in wetlands and sloughs for basking Western painted turtles - a rare sight! The loud chortle of the belted kingfisher can be heard all year long, along with the raucous calls of Stellar’s jays, common crows and common ravens. Wood ducks and hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities along wooded sloughs – look for ducklings in early summer. Check the road, too! Garter snakes occasionally sun themselves on roads and along roadside ditches.

  • Columbia River

    View the mighty Columbia by power boat, kayak or canoe – or from viewing areas near the ends of Brooks Slough and Steamboat Slough Roads. Rafts of wintering diving ducks and loons are a common sight, along with bald eagles, river otters, and the occasional harbor seal or California sea lion. Pleasure boats and container ships are a plenty, too! With luck you may see salmon jumping or the water surface broken by a large sturgeon. During summer months, search the skies for osprey, Caspian terns, white pelicans, purple martins and swallows.

    Find out more information about boating on the Columbia River…

  • Tenasillahe Island

    Home to a large and stable population of Columbian white-tailed deer, Tenasillahe Island is accessible only by boat. Scan the shoreline for green and great blue herons, song sparrows, and spotted sandpipers, and search the trees for raptor and owl nests. Hiking is only permitted on the dike surrounding the island.

    Find out more information about boating on the Columbia River…

     

  • Wallace, Crims, Price and Hunting Islands

    These islands are only accessible by boat. Scan the shoreline for green and great blue herons, song sparrows, and spotted sandpipers, and search the trees for raptor and owl nests. Look for river otters and harbor seals in the water or resting on shore. With luck you may see salmon jumping or the water surface broken by a large sturgeon. During summer months, search the skies for osprey, Caspian terns, white pelicans, purple martins and swallows.

    Hiking is allowed on the Refuge-owned portions of these islands, although the dense interior vegetation generally hinders such activity. Waterfowl hunting is permitted along designated shorelines and interior sloughs.

    Find out more information about boating on the Columbia River…

    Review Refuge waterfowl hunting regulations…

  • Beyond the Refuge

    Nestled alongside and within the Columbia River the surrounding area is full of places to observe its wild residents.

    Discover additional locations to view wildlife…

Page Photo Credits — American kestrel - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach
Last Updated: Oct 27, 2016
Return to main navigation