|Park entrance - view across Tualatin River Valley|
|Play area with Nature House behind|
The Willamette Valley once supported over 400,000 acres of oak woodlands. Today, less than 7 percent of those historic woodlands still exist (according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife). Development is an obvious cause of habitat loss, but invasive species and fire suppression have also played a role. (Native Americans once used regular fire suppression to maintain the open savannas and oak woodlands.)
Cooper Mountain Nature Park is a joint venture between Metro and the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, which provides day-to-day management. Volunteers have helped restore the natural habitats by removing invasive species, planting over 110,000 trees and shrubs, and improving a small quarry pond. The pond now provides habitat for frogs and insects (which support birds and other wildlife) as well as a much-needed water source during the dry summer months.
|Bioswale with mini wetland|
it was overcast and chilly. The wind was blowing across the unprotected mountain top, trying it's best to convince me that I hadn't brought the right coat. I first spent a few minutes checking out the amenities near the parking area. The lot itself has a bioswale running through the center, landscaped with native plants, and a mini wetland at one end. There's an interesting play area for the kids, a horn-like device for listening to birdsong in the meadow below, and a barn-shaped Nature House for environmental education programs. The Nature House also contains accessible restrooms.
|Birdsong concentrator thingy|
After consulting the trail map, I decided to take the Cooper Mountain Loop, which takes you through a sample of all the habitats, and includes the small pond I mentioned earlier.
|A house in the pines|
The Cooper Mountain Loop continues downward and enters an area of more open oak woodland. I noticed several oak galls before running across a sign that told all about them.
|Oak gall sign|
|Oak galls in summer|
|Small quarry pond|
I made it to the bottom of the loop and began making my way up the other side when I came upon the little quarry pond. Again - more signage telling about how the pond creates a natural larder in the landscape. Near the pond, I saw a hummingbird rocket skyward, then return to earth to perch at the top of an oak.
On my way back up, through a mixed woodland area, i kept hearing birds scratching around in the undergrowth. I suspect they might have been Rufous-sided Towhees, judging from their habits and the brief glimpses of color that I was able to catch.
When I made it back to the parking lot - about an hour after I left it - the wind was back and it was just starting to sprinkle. Perfect timing! That's when I spotted the bear tracks. OK - so they were simulated bear tracks in the concrete sidewalk. Still notable.
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