Pittock Bird Sanctuary

Trail Review #2 – Pittock Bird Sanctuary

Time: 30 mins to 3 hours
Difficulty: Mild
Wilderness: Medium

Along NW Cornell Road, and not much further than the top of the Lower Macleay Trail you will find the Audubon Society of Portland. A small area consisting primarily of a gift shop and their wildlife care center, it is also the entrance to the Pittock Bird Sanctuary, a hilly but gentle loop of multiple trails winding through a wide range of bird habitats and along the upper portion of Balch Creek. After parking along the road or in the small lot, your make your way to a path by the care center (Which, I should add, is a great place to call should you find an injured bird. I’ve brought them several over the years. If you choose to stop in, they have smaller educational birds indoors, all with short bios about their personality and history and often details about their species.).

As you pass the buildings there are enclosures housing larger birds of prey, also equipped with bios and species information. On this particular trip we met Ambrosious, a common raven. We paused and watched him for a while, which was hard to stop as Ambrosious was a very curious bird and quite interested in watching us back. Eventually we continued deeper into the Sanctuary down a somewhat steep slope to the start of the trails. Each trail was named after a species of bird and well marked, so it was not hard to find our way through the various loops among the trees. It was a pleasantly natural set of trails, roots and all, making it less accessible, even though it was an easy walk.

Along the trails there are various benches and seating areas, one of which is along a beautiful flat stretch of Balch Creek. In the past we have seen this area in the summer, when the water level was low and more winding. Due to the spring rains the level had risen and made a glassy flowing pool. It was very clear and beautiful, and very easy to imagine the cutthroat trout of Balch Creek swimming through.

Even though we didn’t see any trout, there is also a pond with a pavilion, allowing you to seat yourself comfortably right on the edge of the water. In summer, the water level is quite low, but this week it was filled all the way to the edge of the pavilion. The pond contains a number of lilies and water loving plants, as well as being the home of Roughskin newts! As we walked along the edge I peered over the fence into the leaves and debris in the water to see a small newt ambling along. Periodically he would swim a few inches, and eventually disappeared beneath a lily pad (which wiggled for some time after). We only had to walk a few more feet to spy another in a deeper area who seemed more willing to give a demonstration of it’s swimming capabilities. Clasping it’s legs against its sides, it undulated through the water like a crocodile before disappearing into the deeper parts of the pond like the other.

While I could personally watch the newts all day, we made our way along and switched to bird watching, hearing a dizzying array of bird calls while spying wrens, robins, jays, and chickadees. The numerous fallen trees were host to large quantities of insects, which – as any bird lover can tell you – make for great bird snacks!