Cormorants on the river

A flock of cormorants fly above a group of ships. The Columbia River estuary contains many wetlands and islands of sand, which host many species of birds.

The Columbia River has historically been home to many a Sand Island, from the mouth of Baker Bay to the dunes of Rooster Rock State Park. Near St. Helens, more than 50 campsites mark the 32-acre Sand Island Marine Park, a popular getaway with trails, a volleyball court and marina store.

Despite the name, however, none of these islands are fully composed of sand. Near the mouth of the Columbia, Baker Bay’s Sand Island houses a mature forest and network of shrubs. However, many low-lying islands within the Columbia River estuary, including East Sand Island, rise and fall with the tides. Other large sandbars, sometimes large enough to be considered islands, can be seen at low tide from the Astoria Bridge.

Despite its close proximity to Chinook, Washington, the 62-acre East Sand Island is a part of Oregon. It’s a notable spot for birdwatchers, supporting some of the world’s largest nesting colonies of both Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants.

These migrating seabirds spend time across the estuary’s islands of sand, feasting on smolt, salmon and steelhead. They’re visible from a distance and, aside from the few adventurous boaters who make the trip, are most often seen through binoculars, as are the curious islands themselves.

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