Mark Smith Nature Tours
Natural History   •   Birdwatching   •   Flora   •   Wildlife   •   Travel Photography

Oregon Birds, Wildlife, and Landscapes

Led by Mark Smith

May 24 - 31, 2019


New! View Birds Across Oregon Trip Photos

Malheur Basin, Oregon - Mark Smith Nature Tours

Malheur Basin / Steens Mountain

The scenic beauty of Oregon is well known, yet the image of towering coniferous forests, rocky coastline and placid mountain lakes provides an incomplete picture of the state's diversity. Less than half of the state is forested. Most of the eastern part is covered by sagebrush, grasslands and scattered junipers. This birdwatching trip bisects Oregon from west to east and explores coast, mountains and desert.

We begin our tour by visiting some of Oregon's extensive estuaries which provide habitat for tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl each spring and fall. We should see some late-migrating shorebirds, and from headlands along the coast, Black Oystercatcher, murres, guillemots, cormorants, Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and likely Tufted Puffin. Crossing the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, we stop in coniferous forests at various altitudes to search for western warblers, flycatchers, vireos and woodpeckers.

Next we visit the Great Basin, in southeastern Oregon a vast high desert covering much of the West's interior. Within the Great Basin are many small mountain ranges with associated shallow lakes. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing marshy Malheur Lake, is one of the finest waterbird refuges in the United States. Many western birds reach the northwest limit of their range at Malheur. We spend three days at the refuge and around the neighboring Steens Mountain, a majestic tilted fault block. Our final day we return to Portland via 11,200 foot Mt. Hood, where we visit historic Timberline Lodge. See the itinerary for details of regional species highlights.

Approximately 200 bird species may be seen in a wide variety of habitats. See the accompanying bird list for possibilities. Avian behavior and natural history will be discussed as well as identification by sight and songs. In addition to ornithology, Mark Smith is knowledgeable about the regional botany, wildlife and geology. Join us for exciting western birdwatching and an excellent introduction to Oregon. The accompanying bird list from a previous year gives a good idea of the species likely to be seen.

Western Tanager - Mark Smith Nature Tours


Lodgings have been chosen for their proximity to good birding habitats and for their comfort. On the coast, we stay two nights in a beachside hotel. In central Oregon we stay in forest cabins. At Malheur National Wildlife Refuge we will stay at the new Drover's Inn and beside the historic Frenchglen Hotel, a state park. All rooms have a private bathroom.


An air-conditioned fifteen-passenger van will transport a maximum of eight participants. This vehicle will depart from and return to Portland. Participants lodging in the recommended hotels in the inner Portland area will be picked up the morning of departure and returned to their lodging after the trip. In the pre-trip packet participants will be sent a list of inner-Portland lodgings.

Daily Activities

The trip consists primarily of full-day field outings by van with leisurely bird walks at several places each day. Morning departure will usually be around 8:00 am (there may be optional early morning walks) and in the evenings we will be at our lodgings by 6:00 pm. The longest optional walk will be three miles, and no walks will be rigorous. Most days participants will have the option to relax all or part of the day at our various beautifully situated lodgings.


Participants will receive a packet of information including bird lists, an Oregon map, recommended lodging list, a reading list and an equipment list. Enthusiastic birders of all levels are welcome. Bird lists from past years are available on request.

Owls in Oregon


For 25 years, Mark Smith has led trips for The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, museums and others. After OSU he worked as a researcher and educator for the National Science Foundation, the public schools, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. For 20 years he has been leading tours worldwide for Mark Smith Nature Tours ( His extensive knowledge, contagious enthusiasm, and well-organized tours have kept travelers returning year after year. He is co-author of Birds of Oregon. For over 20 years Mark led this tour for The Nature Conservancy. He especially enjoys sharing the natural history of his home state with visitors.

Cost and Reservations

A deposit of $500 is required to reserve one of the 8 available spaces.

May 24 - 31, 2019
$ 500 Initial reservation deposit
$1,495 Final Payment (due 60 days before departure)
$1995 Ground Fare Total
($355) (Single supplement)

If the group size is fewer than 8, a reasonable small-group supplement will be added, the amount dependent on the group size.

Please make the deposit and final payment payable to Mark Smith Nature Tours and send to:

Mark Smith
PO Box 3831
Portland, OR 97208

Phone: 503-475-1978

White Faced Ibis - Mark Smith Nature Tours

Flight Arrangements

Mark’s travel agent is Pam Davis of Willamette Travel
Reach Pam at,  503-224-0180
Pam will know of local lodgings and extensions in the area.
Mark can also suggest Portland hotels.

Pam will know of local lodgings and extensions in the area. Mark can also suggest Portland hotels.

Cancellations and Refunds

For cancellations made more than 90 days prior to departure there is a full refund less $100. Cancellations made between 90 and 60 days before departure forfeit $500, and for cancellations made within 60 days of the departure date 65% of the tour cost is forfeited. We recommend participants consider trip cancellation insurance, which can be bought through Willamette International Travel.


Day 1 Friday, May 24 Portland to Coast

We depart Portland by 9:00 am. Our first stop will be at the Audubon Society sanctuary, where we stop to look at birds visiting the feeders. We continue to the coast where we visit various sites for waterbirds around Tillamook and Netarts Bays, and search for seabirds from Cape Meares and Barview Jetty. The diversity of birdlife today will include cormorants, oystercatchers, guillemots and many shorebirds. In mid-afternoon we drive south to our lodging near Lincoln City. Dinner tonight and tomorrow night are at an excellent nearby cafe.

Day 2 Saturday, May 25 Coast

After a continental breakfast, we depart early for coniferous forest birdwatching. Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Hermit, Wilson's and Black-throated warblers, and Varied Thrush are fairly common here. After lunch we drive south to Yaquina Bay, birding the coastline and estuaries en route. In the evening we visit The Nature Conservancy's spectacular Cascade Head Preserve. The unique grassy headland supports native prairie, two endangered plants and an endangered butterfly.

Day 3 Sunday, May 26 Coast to Cascade Mountains

We leave this morning for the Cascade Mountains, stopping en route at Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge in the Willamette Valley, and in the Cascade Mountains to look for the American Dipper. From the Cascade Crest eastward habitats are drier. This afternoon we will search out the avian specialties of aspen groves and the ponderosa pine zone. Red Crossbill, White-headed Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Black-headed Grosbeak and three nuthatch species are regulars. We spend two nights in beautiful cabins beside Lake Creek in the Metolius River area with views of the Cascade mountains.

Day 4 Monday, May 27 The Cascades, Sisters area

A full day to take several short walks in the idyllic open forests of Ponderosa Pines. Beside rivers and lakes are Cassin's Finch, Calliope Hummingbird, MacGillivray's and Townsend's Warblers, and Barrow's Goldeneye. In old burns we'll search for Black-backed Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Northern Pygmy owl is frequently found.

Day 5 Tuesday, May 28 Cascades to Malheur Refuge

After early birdwatching we leave the forested mountains and head east into sagebrush and juniper steppe. Sage Thrasher, Brewer's Sparrow, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle and Swainson's and Ferruginous Hawks are typical of this country. By dinnertime we arrive in the heart of the extensive Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Birding is excellent througout the refuge.

Day 6 Wednesday, May 29 Malheur Refuge
American Avocet - Mark Smith Nature Tours

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest refuges in the western United States and one of the finest birding locations in the country. A variety of wetland and meadow habitats support curlew, Wilson's Phalarope, avocet, stilt, ibis, egret, bittern, crane, waterfowl, White Pelican, Trumpeter Swan, Black and Forster's Terns and many raptors. This morning we visit the wooded oasis around the Malheur Refuge Headquarters. This migrant stopover is the best landbird site in Oregon. Hordes of Western migrants and occasional Eastern species drop in to this lush patch of cover. Afterward we head south along the Blitzen River, searching marshes and ponds for rails, bittern and waterfowl.

Day 7 Thursday, May 30 Alvord Desert

This morning we will be up early for birdwatching at nearby P Ranch. After breakfast we drive to the Alvord Desert on the east side of 9700 foot Steens Mountain. In addition to passing through varied desert habitats, we will stop at lush oases where migrant and vagrant birds congregate. For lunch we stop at Fields Oasis (pop. 23), an historic stagecoach stop, where a tame family of Great Horned Owls usually resides, along with Bullock's Orioles and Western Kingbirds in massive birdy willows.

Day 8 Friday, May 31 Malheur, Mt. Hood, Portland

This final day we work our way back to Portland, investigating en route White-throated Swift habitat at spectacular Crooked and Deschutes River Canyons and the historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, where Gray Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers, and sometimes Gray-crowned Rosy-finches may be found. The trip ends in Portland around 7:30 pm.

Yellow Headed Black Bird - Mark Smith Nature Tours
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Great Horned Owl - Mark Smith Nature Tours

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