Anyone who knows former Mayor Bud Clark will not be surprised that it was during his tenure that Portland adopted the Great Blue Heron as our official city bird. An avid canoeist, duck hunter and cyclist, Bud got around the city a lot, and still comes on the annual policy makers bicycle ride at a spry 85 years young.
In the spring of 1986, Bud spoke at a west coast gathering of fish and wildlife agencies at the downtown Hilton Hotel. His address was replete with references to his encounters with Great Blue Herons. He waxed poetic about watching herons course across Portland’s skyline, eye level with diners at Atwater’s Restaurant and Bar (then on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower), as they cruised between their nesting colony on Ross Island and feeding grounds at Smith and Bybee Lakes. He recounted repeated heron sightings when he and his duck-hunting partner sat in their hunting blind at Scappoose Bottoms.
Here was the mayor of a major city who dragged his canoe on a bicycle-drawn trailer down to the Willamette every chance he got. This was clearly a great opportunity to further the cause of urban nature! There was no way I was going to let Bud escape to city hall before I collared him to suggest the heron ought to be the official bird of River City.
While Hinckley, Ohio, enjoyed the turkey vulture as its bird, a quick check revealed that not only did few cities have an official avian icon, but none had yet appropriated the Great Blue Heron for this purpose.
After I grabbed him outside the Hilton, in his inimitable manner Bud emitted several “Whoop, whoops,” and said, “Hell, why not? Go see Lindberg,” referring to City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, who was then commissioner of parks, “and work it out.” I got together with Lindberg staffer Ethan Seltzer, and a couple weeks later city council adopted the Great Blue Heron as Portland’s emissary to the natural world. Our very first Great Blue Heron Week was held that June.
I then contacted Oregon’s then-poet laureate, William Stafford, who penned “Spirit of Place” for the second annual Great Blue Heron celebration in 1987.
Spirit of Place
Out of their loneliness for each other
two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
forward and become suddenly a life
lifted from the dawn to 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 the 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.”
Each year since, for the past three decades, Portland and the region have celebrated the Great Blue Heron to inspire efforts to ensure that herons and other wildlife continue to share the cityscape with us.
This year we will kick off the week on June 1 by reading a proclamation at Portland City Council, followed by a series of field trips, lectures and other events focusing on city and regional efforts to protect, restore and manage fish and wildlife habitat for critters throughout the region.
Many partners in The Intertwine Alliance will participate in this year’s festivities, and a list of all field trips and other events will appear on The Intertwine Alliance and Audubon Society of Portland websites. It’s a work in progress, so please check back again as June nears.
Meanwhile, be sure to mark your calendar for the week’s culminating event, the Ross Island Regatta. We'll launch from Willamette Park boat ramp at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, and circumnavigate the Ross Island archipelago to observe the Great Blue Heron nesting colony there. Check The Intertwine Alliance and Audubon Society of Portland websites for full details. This is a family-friendly paddle, so plan to bring the whole family!