Urban Birding: Commonwealth Lake & Summerlake Parks

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With so much nearby wilderness, it can be easy to forget that the area is full of urban birding locations, too. Faced with the free-time restrictions of a full-time job and short winter days with questionable weather conditions, I started exploring more of these parks so that I can pack as much birding as I can into the coming weeks.

Commonwealth Lake Park is located in suburban Beaverton, not far from several major thoroughfares and the main highway through the area. Johnson Creek runs along the north side of the park, and on the east side it connects to Foothills Park. A paved trail wraps around the lake with a couple of small bridges along the route, a small dock/pier is on the north side of the lake, and there is a large observation deck on the west end. No boating is allowed on the lake, but fishing is permitted. The lake is stocked with trout, and attracts a sizeable variety of birds. This time of year, migrating water fowl stop over in good numbers.

It’s hard to not go birding at this park. Dozens of ducks were floating on the waters in the late afternoon her, including American wigeon, American coot, ring-necked duck, gadwall, mallards, common merganser, hooded merganser, bufflehead, and pied-billed grebe. I would be surprised if Canada and/or cackling geese were not also frequent visitors, although I saw none on this visit.

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A ring-billed gull that was departing as I arrived was a welcome site, as this was another new addition to my bird count for the year. The marking which gives the gull its name is a black band near the end of the bill.

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Not all of the birds in the park were in the water. Song sparrows and golden-crowned sparrows foraged in the brush along the banks. A red-tailed hawk landed in a nearby tree for a short time. A belted kingfisher called loudly as it moved from perch to perch along the north side of the lake.

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Another suburban location on the West side which attracts a number of migrating birds is Summerlake Park in Tigard. This location includes a dog park and several people walk their pooches along the trails circling the lake. A baseball field and playground make this a family destination in the neighborhood as well. The geese I had missed in Beaverton were apparently all hanging out here! Dozens of Canada geese and a few cackling geese were in and around the lake, with more arriving as sunset approached.

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American wigeon, gadwall, common merganser, and pied-billed grebe were in the company of the larger birds. A nutria swam by at one point as well.

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Several great blue heron were around the edges of the lake. There was quite a bit of foot traffic and a number of dogs being walked through, and the herons were fairly tolerant of it all.

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A number of smaller birds could be heard around the lake, although the light was failing beneath the trees and it did not make for good photography. I noted American robin, black-capped chickadee, song sparrow, and golden-crowned sparrow. A few squirrels added to the chatter as well.

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The location of both parks right in the midst of suburban neighborhoods make them highly accessible for birders of all ages. The lakes attract a great variety of birds in a relatively small location, and have easy-to-maneuver trails. For me personally, their locations are great for after-work birding opportunities when daylight is limited.

For more images from my birding trips to these two locations, be sure to visit my Flickr site. Comments are always welcome!

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