In 1986, then-mayor Bud Clark, while giving a speech in the downtown Hilton Hotel to several hundred Western fish and wildlife biologists, mentioned Great Blue Herons numerous times. He related his encounters with herons while at his duck blind at Scappoose Bottoms and his paddles on the Willamette River.
Having recently read about several U. S. cities that had an official city bird, and knowing Portland had none yet, conservation leader Mike Houck (Intertwine Alliance co-founder and now executive director of Urban Greenspaces Institute) grabbed Mayor Clark by the arm on his way out of the Hilton and suggested he proclaim the heron as Portland’s city bird. Mayor Clark let out his characteristic “whoop, whoop!,” and two weeks later Portland had a newly appointed emissary to the natural world, the stately Great Blue Heron.
Shortly thereafter, Houck wrote then-Oregon poet laureate William Stafford asking him to compose a short poem commemorating adoption of the heron as our city bird. He sent the poem Spirit of Place within a couple weeks.
Now each year in Portland, we read Stafford’s inspiring poem, after which the mayor and city council adopt a proclamation announcing events for that year’s Great Blue Heron Week and what natural resource programs and actions the city commits to undertake to ensure herons continue to grace Portland’s skyline.
Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron
Out of their loneliness for each other
two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
forward and become suddenly a life
lifted from dawn or the rain. It is
the wilderness come back again, a lagoon
with our city reflected in its eye.
We live by faith in such presences.
It is a test for us, that thin
but real, undulating figure that promises,
“If you keep faith I will exist
at the edge, where your vision joins
the sunlight and the rain: heads in the light,
feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”
—William Stafford, 1987
Ross Island Regatta: Paddling Ross Island
Sunday, May 21, 2017
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For this year’s 31st Annual Great Blue Heron Week there will be only one signature event -- the annual Ross Island Regatta -- which will give Portlanders an opportunity to enjoy a morning on the Willamette River, paddling through the no-wake zone on the Holgate Channel, into the Ross Island lagoon, around Ross Island and back to Willamette Park.
May is the perfect time to circumnavigate the four-island archipelago (Ross, Hardtack, East and Toe), which will be redolent with bird song, including the eerie melody of Swainson’s Thrushes. We might even see a river otter or two!
The paddle will launch at Willamette Park boat ramp and proceed to the west side of the Willamette River and head downstream for a serene “birdy” journey through the Holgate Channel’s no-wake zone. We will be looking and listening for Black-headed Grosbeaks, Purple Martins and other migratory songbirds, Spotted Sandpipers, Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks and Wood Ducks. In the Ross Island lagoon we’ll see nesting Bald Eagles that took over what had been a large Great Blue Heron nesting colony. Farther downstream, we will get a good look at the relocated heron colony near Ross Island’s tip. From there we will head back upstream past little Toe Island, keeping a look out for beaver dens and Belted Kingfisher burrows.
The paddle is a leisurely 2.5 hours and is suitable for beginning paddlers and families. You must provide your own life jackets and kayak or canoe. There will be a safety boat accompanying the paddlers.
Click here for more info, including directions, canoe/kayak rental options & other instructions.
Audubon Society of Portland
Urban Greenspaces Institute
City of Portland