I’m sit­ting on my porch on the first day of spring. Gar­den flow­ers are already bloom­ing. Leaf-out is begin­ning in the wilds. Light is stretch­ing more into the evening. But to real­ly appre­ci­ate the explo­sion of nature that’s hap­pen­ing, watch for these signs that spring is real­ly here and sum­mer is on the way.

©istockphoto/VladimirKoganReturn of the Osprey (ear­ly April)
The Camel­lias in my yard bloom ear­ly, but spring isn’t real­ly here until the Osprey shows up. The West­’s pre­mier fish-eat­ing rap­tor, they cruise in from their win­ter­ing grounds in South Amer­i­ca right around April Fools Day. Osprey are beau­ti­ful birds with a loud, pierc­ing call, and they’re not shy around peo­ple, so it’s obvi­ous when they return. You’ll see them soar­ing above rivers and lakes, and build­ing big nests on trees, phone poles, riv­er chan­nel mark­ers and any­thing else with a good van­tage point near water.

©istockphoto/PDidsayabutraThe Gorge Explodes in Col­or (April-May)
The Colum­bia Gorge is one of the worlds’ most unique land­forms and it also hosts one some of the best wild­flower explo­sions in the world. The bloom—which includes sev­er­al species that occur nowhere else in the world—happens in phas­es and moves east to west. The first half of May is usu­al­ly the peak. Hikes com­bine a work­out, spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas and catch­ing our breath while fig­ur­ing out the dif­fer­ence between Colum­bia desert pars­ley and Slen­der-fruit­ed desert pars­ley. Clas­sic hikes are Dog Moun­tain, Cather­ine Creek, and Tom McCall Preserve.

©istockphoto/Sam CampThe John Day Riv­er (May-June)
The plea­sures of a desert riv­er are many. The John Day, Oregon’s longest free-flow­ing riv­er, com­bines vir­tu­al­ly all of them into one trip: cur­rents that whisk you along, camps that com­bine great riv­er-watch­ing with hikes to vis­tas above the riv­er, tall cliffs and deep canyons, soli­tude and rap­tors and bighorn sheep. And this year, with a decent snow­pack, the riv­er will actu­al­ly have water in it. Ser­vice Creek to Clarno Bridge and Clarno Bridge to Cot­ton­wood are the clas­sic runs. The low­er run includes Clarno Rapid, the most dif­fi­cult rapid on the low­er John Day, but it can be portaged. Be pre­pared to get a per­mit online and pack out human waste.

©istockphoto/ AndyworksLife in the Heron Now (April-June)
Ever since it got plopped onto the label of one of Portland’s first craft breweries—Bridgeport’s Blue Heron Ale—the gan­g­ly, croaky, pho­to­genic Great Blue Heron has been both the city’s unof­fi­cial and offi­cial bird (it also appears on the city seal). Herons nest in mas­sive rook­eries around the city. The most famous rook­ery is on the north end of Ross Island, vis­i­ble via a short pad­dle from down­town. Herons also nest at the tech cam­pus­es on 185th, the apt­ly named Heron Lakes Golf Course and at Jack­son Bot­tom Wet­lands. Cohab­i­ta­tions of herons and egrets can also be vis­it­ed by canoe on the north shore of Bybee Lake in North Port­land, and at Reed Island near Washou­gal, WA. Watch­ing adults sit­ting on nests and bring­ing food to the hun­gry hordes of cack­ling young is a Port­land tradition.

©istockphoto/FRANKHILDEBRANDUrban High Fliers (April – July)
The return of Pere­grine Fal­cons to Port­land is a heart­warm­ing sto­ry about wildlife in the City. And not just return­ing: shack­ing up, rais­ing kids and thriv­ing in the urban envi­ron­ment. After rebound­ing from the effects of DDT, Pere­grine Fal­cons began nest­ing on the Fre­mont Bridge in 1994. They have set up oth­er nests on bridges, sky­scrap­ers, and cliffs in the area. Like humans, birds find that rais­ing kids in the city comes with a set of chal­lenges: traf­fic, expo­sure to pol­lu­tion and inter­ac­tions with every­thing from news heli­copters to young that stum­ble into big events at Water­front Park while they’re learn­ing to fly. Port­land Audubon Society’s Pere­grine Watch has helped pro­tect nests and young from haz­ards or urban life. In addi­tion to the Pere­grine, a pair of bald eagles has been rais­ing kids on a nest in the Ross Island lagoon. Pad­dlers should stay 50 feet back from the nest until the mid­dle of July.

©istockphoto/PaulTessierWacky War­blers (May-June)
War­blers are among the most col­or­ful and intrigu­ing birds that pass through dur­ing migra­tion. They’re also a chal­lenge for out­door lovers to learn and iden­ti­fy, but the rewards are worth it. They tend to flit about in the tops of trees, and there are enough of them that it can be hard to tell a Wilson’s war­bler from a Her­mit War­bler until you learn them—but at least they’re col­or­ful and dra­mat­ic-look­ing. Nerd up on these bright and flighty fowl with Port­land Audubon Soci­ety’s class­es and soon you’ll be a full-fledged twitcher.

©istockphoto/Frank LeungWhen the Var­ied Go Away (May-June)
In the Willamette Val­ley low­lands and on the coast, most morn­ings you’ll hear a dra­mat­ic high flut­ing sound that sounds more like it belongs on the moors of Scot­land than the rain­forests of the Pacif­ic North­west. It’s a Var­ied Thrush, a cousin of the Robin, first described to mod­ern sci­ence by Lewis and Clark. When they leave the Val­ley it’s a sign that spring is about to turn into full-blown sum­mer. Where do they go? Up. Var­ied Thrush­es are ver­ti­cal migrants: they leave the low­lands for the fir and hem­lock forests of the high cas­cades, arriv­ing there soon before the snow melts off the hik­ing trails. It’s a sure sign that you’ll soon be head­ed for the high coun­try too.

The West Wind Blows (June)
When the west wind starts to blow through up the Colum­bia from the coast to the Gorge, it’s a sign that you’re in for full-on sum­mer. The result of greater warmth in east­ern Ore­gon than in Port­land cre­ates the flow of air through the Gorge, cre­at­ing the nuclear-force winds that wind­surfers, kite­board­ers, and rough-water sea kayak­ers love. The same thing hap­pens on the Low­er Colum­bia fur­ther west as the Willamette Val­ley heats up: air flows from Asto­ria and the Coast up to the Colum­bia to Port­land. This is great news for the wind­surfers at Jones Beach west of Rainier. It’s bad news if you’re com­plet­ing one of the Northwest’s pre­mier pad­dle jour­neys: the Low­er Colum­bia Water Trail from Port­land to the sea. That’s a trip for May before the west wind stops your progress downriver.


©istockphoto/kanonskyTime march­es on, they say.  It’s easy to com­plain about more crowd­ed trails and longer lift lines. But at the heart of it, things aren’t so bad. Here are some things out­doors-lovers in the Pacif­ic North­west can be hap­py about.

It’s back. After the hottest and dri­est sum­mer and worst fire sea­son on record, rain is back. Rivers have water in them. There’s snow in the moun­tains. Skiers and pad­dlers are hap­py. After two years of drought, it feels like the North­west again.

A New Kind of Bridge
In late 2015, Port­land opened the Tilikum Cross­ing Bridge, span­ning the Willamette Riv­er in down­town Port­land. It’s the first major bridge built in a US city that car­ries light rail, street­car, pedes­tri­ans and cyclists…and no cars. Things still look dif­fer­ent here.

The Low Car­bon Movement
Oil com­pa­nies have been look­ing for ways to export tar sands oil from the upper Mid­west and Cana­da. They’ve looked to the Pacif­ic Coast: Port­land, Van­cou­ver WA, Belling­ham, Van­cou­ver BC and the Great Bear Rain­for­est. Pro­posed pipelines and oil trains would bisect the Cas­cades and tankers would ply the seas, mak­ing places like the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge, the San Juans and the Cen­tral Coast of British Colum­bia exposed to the poten­tial for an Exxon Valdez-size oil spill. But thou­sands of cit­i­zens have tak­en a stand—and con­vinced their local gov­ern­ments, includ­ing the City of Port­land, to oppose ter­mi­nals and dan­ger­ous shipping.

Back­pack­ing is Back
For years, peo­ple have pro­nounced back­pack­ing as the most doomed of out­door sports. Par­tic­i­pa­tion had been declin­ing, with plen­ty of rea­sons thrown around: com­pressed sched­ules, an aging pop­u­la­tion, inter­net addic­tion and urban­iza­tion. But rumors of its death were great­ly exag­ger­at­ed: back­pack­ing grew by 11 per­cent in the lat­est out­door par­tic­i­pa­tion sur­vey . Explor­ing the wilder­ness by that most basic of ways—with one’s own two feet—is with us again.

©istockphoto/RyanJLaneThe Wolf at the Door
After being near­ly exter­mi­nat­ed in the west, wolves are back in Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. While humans debate whether they belong, the wolves have vot­ed with their paws. They’ve re-inte­grat­ed them­selves into north­west wilder­ness­es in east­ern Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton, south­ern Ore­gon and the north Cas­cades. The famous jour­ney of OR‑7, who wan­dered from Wal­lowa Coun­ty to near Susanville, CA in search of a mate, has a hap­py end­ing. He found love in south­ern Ore­gon, shacked up and start­ed a fam­i­ly. And Red Rid­ing Hood is doing just fine.

Bend’s New River
A few years ago Bend vot­ers fund­ed a new white­wa­ter park where the dan­ger­ous Col­orado Avenue Dam had stood. The new white­wa­ter park is now open: the first on the west coast, thanks to the com­bined efforts of pad­dlers, con­ser­va­tion­ists and city staff. It sports a float­ing chan­nel for sum­mer tubers and play waves for white­wa­ter boaters, con­trolled via high-tech inflat­able blad­ders to adapt to dif­fer­ent water lev­els. Suc­cess with the Col­orado Avenue Dam has built momen­tum for remov­ing the aging and unsafe New­port Avenue Dam on the north end of town. A free-flow­ing riv­er through Bend may not be very far away.

Whales Get­ting It On
Orca are some of the most pho­to­genic crit­ters around. So what could be cuter than a baby orca? Try six baby orca. The endan­gered Puget Sound Orca pop­u­la­tion had six kids born since the end of 2014, four to J pod, which has the most suc­cess in rear­ing kids. It’s a need­ed boost to the breed­ing pop­u­la­tion of Puget Sound. Drone pho­tos of the pod indi­cate that oth­er whales may also be pregnant.

The Return of Big Adventure
Two adven­tur­ous women chal­lenged the idea that epic adven­tures are a thing of the past. Last win­ter Sarah Out­en (since knight­ed as Sarah Out­en, Mem­ber of the Most Excel­lent Order of the British Empire for her efforts) pad­dled under London’s Tow­er Bridge and com­plet­ed a 4‑year “London2London: Via the World” jour­ney by kayak, bike and row­boat that the words “big adven­ture” couldn’t pos­si­bly sum up. And Ger­man Freya Hoffmeis­ter com­plet­ed a 3‑year cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of South America.

©istockphoto/deebrowningThe UGB
The what? The UGB—Urban Growth Boundary—is an invis­i­ble line sur­round­ing every town in Ore­gon. It keeps sprawl from gob­bling up forests and farm­land. Portland’s UGB has been fought over ever since it was estab­lished in 1979. Now the Metro Coun­cil has vot­ed to keep it intact: we’re able to incor­po­rate walk­a­ble, bike­able neigh­bor­hoods, eco­nom­ic growth and nature with­in the city with­out raz­ing forests and farms just out­side. It’s a win for both play­ing out­doors close to home and head­ing out to the hills.

A Reborn Riv­er Revives a Strait
In 2011, the Elwha Riv­er was set free. Two dams were removed from the steep riv­er on the Olympic Penin­su­la, once home to famous salmon runs. Nobody knew what would hap­pen. Kevin Cost­ner has it most­ly right: if you un-build it, they will come. The salmon returned almost imme­di­ate­ly, and recent stud­ies showed that the riv­er wasn’t just healthy—it was improv­ing the health of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With the sed­i­ment from the Elwha no longer trapped behind dams, beach­es and riv­er deltas rebuilt them­selves in the Strait. After 100 years, the riv­er is doing its work.