January 28th, 2022

Tiny Travels: Follow Your New Birding Obsession to McMinnville

Two tiny figurines are placed on fabric that displays a robin and tree branches.

Life in Oregon is for the birds. No, really, with its mix of rocky coasts, lush green forests, high deserts and native oak savannas, it’s one of the country’s hottest destinations to gaze at native bird species. And unlike other hobbies that get you out in the woods – say, mushroom hunting – birders are more than happy to share the spots where you are likely to encounter fine-feathered friends. 

In McMinnville, birding destinations abound, from city parks tucked away near major thoroughfares to vineyard stops to state recreation sites to a national wildlife refuge. And now – the winter months – is the time to pick a fair-weather day and explore, since so many migrating species use the Willamette Valley for their seasonal sojourn.

Here are some of our favorite spots on the Willamette Valley Birding Trail’s Yamhill Loop, which circle down towards the Coast on HWY 18 before stopping at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, and heading back towards McMinnville on HWY 221 (see PDF map).

Winter’s HIll Vineyard

Check in the tasting room if you want to explore the restored woods behind one of the valley’s illustrious wine producers. Owners the Gladhart family created a path through a woodpecker-friendly oak and fir forest specifically for birders and put out nesting boxes for bluebirds. If you have time and inclination, the winery’s Rosé can’t be beat. 

McMinnville Rotary Nature Preserve at Tice Park

Just off 99W as you head into McMinnville from the North, this 33-acre park is a great place to stretch your feet while driving between Portland and the Coast. The Stellar Jay, Cedar Waxwing, and Black-headed Grosbeaks are regular visitors this time of year, and the Northern Waterthrush has been spotted twice here in recent years.

Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors and researchers have recorded more than 200 varieties of birds at this must-visit destination for birders in the valley’s wetland prairie. While the area was created for Canada Dusky Geese, who make their particular music in the winter months, it’s one of the best places in the country to see the Streaked Horned Lark and the American Pipit. Plus, it’s got gorgeous trails leading to an overlook and through an upland prairie oak savanna. It’s pretty got everything we love about valley landscapes and the birds seem to think so, too.

Deer Creek County Park 

Just 11 miles south of McMinnville is the largest wet prairie remnant in the Willamette Valley. Birders love it because you are bound to see something (or someone) any time of year at the 29-acre park. Look for the Lincoln’s Sparrow in Winter, or bide your time for the wildflower bloom in Spring. A number of native species – like Kinkaid’s Lupine – have been identified here.

More great birding resources:

Oregon Birding Trails

Illustration of writer, Emily Grosvenor

Emily Grosvenor is Editor of Oregon Home magazine and sustainability coordinator for #mcminnvilledentist.