Wonder takes wing at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge

A beautiful place to walk, a priceless view of bay and ocean, and the possibility of seeing wildlife in a protected habitat: If those are your ingredients for a great day, welcome to the Cannery Hill Unit of Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, open daily from sunrise to sunset off Highway 101 south of Pacific City on Oregon’s Tillamook Coast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns 1,202 acres of refuge in multiple plots, and a little more than 3,000 acres are in its management unit, as cooperating farmers manage their private land to provide winter habitat for varieties of dusky Canada geese and Aleutian cackling geese, including the rare Semidi Islands subpopulation.

With human visitors restricted to foot or automobile travel on clearly limited routes, and dogs not allowed outside of vehicles, the Cannery Hill Unit keeps its priorities straight — it is a refuge for wildlife. People can look and linger, but the do-not-disturb sign is always in place.

“Wildlife refuges are for the wildlife, first and foremost,” said on-site refuge volunteer Lee Sliman, noting that the once-precarious status of geese from Alaska spurred the 1991 founding of the refuge. The refuge is not a park — but Sliman said it’s “a fabulous birding spot year-round,” and a handicapped-accessible trail up Cannery Hill offers a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and Nestucca Bay.

Habitat for the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly is in the works, and the trail system will grow because of the 2013 acquisition of the Two Rivers Peninsula overlooking the bay, where guided hikes are now announced on the refuge website under the “Visit” tab.

Entry and events are free — as free as the birds that excite visitors, especially around dawn and dusk.

Semidi Islands Aleutian cackling goose by Roy Lowe

A Semidi Islands Aleutian cackling goose, banded at its nesting grounds, is part of a distinct subpopulation of geese from Alaska that winter on pastures of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Oregon’s Tillamook Coast. The Semidi Islands geese spend winter daylight hours on fields near Pacific City, north of the refuge’s main Cannery Hill Unit birding area. Photo by Roy Lowe, USFWS

Oregon silverspot butterfly by Peter Pearsall

The Oregon silverspot butterfly, a species threatened by habitat degradation, could get a boost from plans to provide new habitat at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, between Neskowin and Pacific City on Oregon’s Tillamook Coast. Photo by Peter Pearsall, USFWS

harbor seal by Peter Pearsall

A harbor seal, one of the animals populating the waters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, takes a look around its unspoiled ecosystem along Oregon’s Tillamook Coast. Photo by Peter Pearsall, USFWS

Scott Gilbert
Scott Gilbert is a longtime writer and editor with a background in journalism. Scott grew up in Indiana and spent many years in Colorado before moving to the Oregon coast.

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