Friday, August 24, 2012

McNary National Wildlife Refuge

Pelican at the refuge visitor center.
If you like looking for birds, the place to do this is the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles the Snake and Columbia rivers in Washington and Oregon.

Whether you're driving Highway 12 south of Pasco, taking another highway west at Wallula Junction and driving to Umatilla, refuge signs abound. Usually you can see hundreds of water birds swimming in the lakes on both sides of Highway 12.

The refuge covers more than 15,000 acres as it meanders through the Columbia Basin. The birds you'll see depend in large part on the time of the year. Canada geese, mallards, wigeons and other ducks favor the refuge during the winter months. And don't forget bald and golden eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons.

Other times of the year you'll find owls, wrens, blue herons and pelicans, not to mention mule deer, badgers and muskrat.

Entrance to the visitor center at Burbank Heights.
The educational center at Burbank Heights, just off the Waitsburg Highway, has a wonderful display of the birds and animals you'll see throughout the refuge. When you visit the center, take time to walk the paved trail  to a bird blind where you can watch birds in the small lake. Signs also identify the different vegetation you'll find in the refuge.

We made our first visit to the center earlier this week after we made a last-minute decision to escape the heat by camping at Hood Park, a pretty park along the Snake River about a mile from where it empties into the Columbia. It was almost like camping in our backyard, as it was only about 10 miles from our house, We were surprised to see so many other residents there.

We had some free time one afternoon, so we hopped on our scooters to explore the area that we usually just drive through on our way to somewhere else. That's how we found the refuge's visitor center.

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