Explore the Wetlands

Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area by Boat

Even nonbirders will be dazzled by the sight of thousands of waterfowl, including American widgeon and Northern shovelers, that arrive at Smith and Bybee Wetlands come winter. Water levels won’t be high enough for paddling until the serious rains hit again in mid- to late November, but no matter: Since the drizzle and chill keep most boaters away, you’ll likely be left alone to slice through the water close to the flocks, an experience that just might make you appreciate the arrival of our most maligned season.

To locate the channel connecting the two lakes, turn your boat approximately 30 degrees to the right after pushing off from the Smith Lake launch site and head toward the electrical towers in the distance. As you cross the lake, keep a close eye on the right-hand shore, where you’ll eventually spot the narrow opening. To return to the boat launch, point your craft toward the blue-and-white water tower once you’ve re-entered Smith Lake. (Launch: To reach the park entrance, take I-5 to Exit 307 and go west on N Marine Drive for 2.2 miles. From here, road signs will direct you to the canoe launch at Smith Lake.)

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Interlakes Trail

You’ll hear the birds before you see them on this easy, half-mile-long paved trail that starts near the wetland area’s parking lot. That’s because the path runs first through a shady forest of black cottonwood and Oregon ash that obscures any view of the wetlands (or the mudflats, depending on the season). No worries. You can ogle the birds as long as you like at the two observation decks. Be sure to bring your binoculars, though—the platforms are far enough away from the birds that they appear as specks fluttering on the water. Note that dogs and bikes are not allowed on the trail.

Group Outings

If you actually want to know the names of the waterfowl and raptors that arrive en masse this month, consider signing up for a walk with Metro’s gabby and knowledgeable naturalist James Davis. On October 4 and 25, he’ll lead walking tours through the wetlands and teach you about everything from the migratory patterns of geese to the nocturnal habits of minks and muskrats. Metro will even provide binoculars for amateur birders. (Free, though reservation required; www.oregonmetro.gov; 503-797-1850 option 4)