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A year round marsh, called the Eagle Marsh, is part of the wildlife refuge and sits on the south side of Buena Vista Road about 1 km (3/4 of a mile) west of the junction with Ankeny Hill Road. The marsh features a gravel parking lot (except the wheelchair parking lot spaces are concrete) and a shelter ("Eagle Marsh Kiosk") that is on the south side of Buena Vista Road.
The shelter features a few benches so that you can view the local wildlife, and some signs that have information about the local wildlife.
This would be a good place to stop during the summer months, as the all year water supply is an attraction to the water birds. The very small white spot you can see in the photos is a white egret - hunting for things in the middle of a very dry month.
Oh, and if you haven't figured it out by looking at the photos, telephoto equipment would be very helpful here.
What you will see here depends a great deal on what sort of mood the birds are in. Certainly in winter there are Canada geese that winter here, but the water is also deep enough to support divers such as bufflehead and ruddy ducks. Tundra swans also winter here, and there have been reports of there being occasional trumpeter swans - though normally they don't winter this far south. Summer months may see an occasional pelican, and there are shore birds that come through on their southward migration in late summer. Swallows fly over the water collecting insects, and a few of them will build clinging nests inside the marsh overlook shelter (so watch where you step and sit!). There is usually at least one great egret hanging around during any season, and a great blue heron or two as well.
Check the trees on the west side of the marsh for birds of prey. The name "Eagle Marsh" was earned, as these trees are a popular place for bald eagle to hang out and wait for a duck or goose to look like a meal. I have also seen kestrel, red-tailed hawks, and a few other birds of prey roosting in those trees for the same purpose.
Updated Jan 10, 2012
Despite the name, and despite the railroad line running through the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge, the "rail trail" is not a railroad line converted to a trail, nor is it a trail running beside a railroad line.
In fact, the name comes from the "rail marsh" which supposedly attracts a number of rails (the type of bird), though just how the rails know that those particular marshes are for them I'm not certain. I'm quite certain, in fact, that you will find quite a bit other than rails in those marshes as well!
The rail trail runs along one of the marshes on a gravel trail. After passing through a forested area, the trail then separates into two. Going right goes along a fairly long bridgework path that keeps the trail above the swamp during the wet part of the year. Going straight at this junction leads to an area that is closed between October 1st and March 31, so it may not even be an option for you to go there depending on the time of year that you are visiting.
The trail continues in a loop that goes into an area that will be covered in water most of the year, and makes a loop back to the parking area.
It is possible to make several other loops that are not part of the official trail, but this does go into the area that is officially closed between October 1st and March 31st, so don't go off the all-year trail unless you are visiting during the late spring and early summer months.
Written Aug 28, 2008
While the overlook isn't anywhere near as high as surrounding hills, it does provide a wonderful view of the northern edge of this wildlife refuge. There is a single picnic table, and a few shade trees, as well as the only public restroom in the entire facility.
A short trail leads to an observation deck. On a clear day you can see the start of the coast range.
During the dry summer months, there isn't much wildlife to see from here during the days. However, there are a lot of blackberry bushes and August is a peak time to pick those if you are so inclined (though keep in mind that even though those are considered an invasive species here they are still on federal land!).
Take a look at the huge Oregon Oak that shades the western park of the parking lot as well. You can see this impressive old tree in the 3rd photo.
Winter months are a much different story, however!
Bring binoculars or other tools to let you see long distances!
This area is accessed using a small gravel parking lot that is located slightly off the road.
Updated Aug 28, 2008
A very short walk (approximately 500 feet) leads from the gravel parking lot to the bird blind that overlooks the marshes in the central west part of the wildlife refuge. The trail is entirely above the marsh, and supported on bridgework.
Bring binoculars! Most of the interesting birds are fairly far away from the blind.
During wet seasons, the area under the walkway is submerged.
There are no public restrooms here.
The trail leaves the parking lot at the southwest corner, near the sign describing the area.
Updated Aug 28, 2008
Photo Equipment: Due to the distance at which many of the animals are from public trails or viewpoints, telephoto equipment (not just camera lenses, but also binoculars, spotting scopes, etc.) will be very helpful. Only certain veiew points have permanent spotting scopes available.
Please see my Telephoto Equipment Tip which is located at
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: I've not had a huge problem with mosquitos here, but that doesn't mean they aren't here, as there is a lot of wet swamp land (that is, after all, why the birds are here). So, during the summer months you should probably expect to bring some mosquito repellant.
Written Aug 11, 2010
UPDATE: For 2013, this trail has remained closed for the summer months, according to the signs. Apparently there have been too many problems with people interfering with wildlife.
NOTE: Pets, jogging and bicycles are not allowed on the refuge trails, and this trail is normally closed during the winter months. Please obey refuge signs, as trail closures to protect nesting birds and other species may happen.
While it isn't completely an "off the beaten path" route, this trail is certainly less visited. The trail is closed during the winter season to protect the wintering wildlife, but during the rest of the year, it is possible to walk to the west side of the parking lot for Eagle Marsh and continue south on a maintenance road that extends into the marsh lands.
If you do this, most likely you will want to bring insect repellant as the mosquitos can be thick.
However, your rewards for doing this will be to see parts of the marshland, and perhaps some of the wildlife, that can not be seen from the Eagle Marsh parking lot - which is where most people stop exploring.
Just what you will find depends on the season and the whims of the wildlife.
1. This is the Eagle Marsh parking lot, looking west. Here, you see the gate that protects the road from vehicle entry. The small pedestrian entrance is on the north side.
2. This is the small pedestrian entrance, which is closed to access when the rest of the refuge is closed to access.
3. This part of the eagle marsh only sees occasional visitors, and this is the view of the access road and the west bank of the Eagle Marsh.
4. Here is a look back at the Eagle Marsh kiosk and the parking area, looking back from the access road on the west side of the Eagle Marsh.
Updated May 20, 2013