Short Stories by Pat Nelson

Woodland's for the Birds


February 2014
By Pat Nelson - Reprinted with permission

Click to enlargeWhen my husband and I moved to Woodland 15 years ago, we had no idea we would become so fascinated by the area's birds. Eagles, ospreys, gulls, herons, terns, ducks and Canada geese are our neighbors on Horseshoe Lake and at the nearby Lewis and Columbia Rivers.

I will never tire of watching the ospreys. I hear a shrill whistle then, as an osprey spots a fish, it swoops down, folds its wings and dives into the water with great force. It surfaces with a trout locked in its talons and takes to the air. The osprey stalls in the air, gives a good shake to remove the water from its wings, then flies to a tall snag to eat its dinner in peace. But dining is not always peaceful.

I occasionally see one or two bald eagles at Horseshoe Lake, sometimes chasing an osprey that is flying above the lake with a fish. If the eagle is lucky, the osprey will drop the fish and the eagle will pick it up and devour it. Ted St. Mars of Woodland also enjoys bird watching, and the day after Christmas, he took this photo of a bald eagle on the Lewis River.

Click to enlargeI continue to be fascinated by the blue herons that I see at Horseshoe Lake and the rivers. As these grayish-blue birds fly, their wings, which can span nearly six feet, resemble heavy sheets of leather. Because they have hollow bones, blue herons are lighter than they look; an adult weighs only about five pounds.

Herons are found year-around in the Pacific Northwest. Many Horseshoe Lake fishermen have become acquainted with a brazen heron who one neighbor named Natasha. She stands next to anglers waiting to steal their catch. She frequently lights on docks at lakeside homes. I once watched her land on a boat with an acrylic window. She saw her reflection in the window and attacked it with her beak, not being willing to allow another "Natasha" to share her fishing spot.

Blue herons and bald eagles are both beautiful to watch, so it surprised me to learn that the bald eagle is the main predator of the blue heron.

Click to enlargeWe are fortunate in Woodland to have a heron rookery that we can observe from a distance. The rookery, located adjacent to Khunis Road, is on an island of sorts, a group of trees surrounded by farmland. If a rookery is not disturbed, blue herons might use it for decades. So that I do not bother the birds, I watch from the roadside. I estimate there are about 50 nests in this group of trees. In the spring, herons come and go from the rookery, and I sometimes see crows waiting for their chance to rob nests of eggs and young birds.

If you'd like to enjoy Woodland's birds, drive along Woodland's shorelines or drive through the farmlands of the Woodland Bottoms (west side of Woodland near the Columbia River). To learn more about Washington's blue herons, visit

For details on Pat Nelson's March writing workshop "Finding Your Story," contact Pacific Northwest Gift Gallery at 360 274-8583 or email Pat Nelson at

Eagle photo by Ted St. Mars; other photos by Pat Nelson.

Pat Nelson is a contributor to "Not Your Mother's Book..On Being a Woman," "On Being a Stupid Kid," "On Dogs." "On Travel" and "On Home Improvement." She is co-creator of three books in the series: "On Being a Parent" (released September 2013 and available wherever books are sold); "On Being a Grandparent" and "On Working for a Living" (now accepting your true stories at Visit Pat at www.Storystorm.US.

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