[Tweeters] Deschutes River (Oregon) Trip Report - Long (+ Klickitat County)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Sun Jun 21 23:42:43 PDT 2009

Hi everyone,

The (24th) annual float trip that I take with two long-time friends on the Deschutes River in Oregon was Monday through Saturday the 15th through 20th of June this year.  This year I spent a good portion of the time doing watercolor landscapes of the canyon in addition to birding, so may not have maximized the birding opportunites - but it was a good trip in any event.

The day before we put on the river, I birded Cold Springs Campground west of Sisters, OR followed by Indian Ford Campground.  Both spots (particularly Cold Springs) are in beautiful Ponderosa Pine forest habitat with water nearby and are rich with birds.  My personal highlight at Cold Springs was WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, a lifer that has eluded me previously - a female flew into a tree 30 feet from where I had set up a small folding chair.  MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES were plentiful along with PYGMY and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH.  Driving between Cold Springs and Indian Ford on the Cold Springs Cutoff Road produced a GRAY FLYCATCHER in an open area with sage.  A quick stop at Indian Ford produced the hoped-for GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE for the year list.

The float on the Deschutes itself covered between 30 and 40 river miles between Trout Creek and Maupin (Harpham Flats actually, for those familiar with the river).  This is high desert country in a deep basalt canyon that hosts a major railroad line, but no public roads.  Except for the riparian area, the habitat is sage/shrub steppe and some limited agriculture and cattle grazing.  The western side of the river for most of this float is Warm Springs Indian Reservation tribal lands that is off-limits to any use - the eastern side of the river is a combination of public (BLM primarily) and private land. 

Raptors are always of particular interest on the river, which has an extremely high population density of OSPREY - it is quite rare to scan the sky anywhere on this float and not see at least one Osprey or hear multiple birds calling.  The cliffs near our first campsite of the trip (where we stay most of the trip) appeared to have both RED-TAILED HAWK (RTHA) and AMERICAN KESTREL (AMKE) nest sites (the cliffs are extensive so there was a significant distance between the two).  One RTHA was observed bringing a catch to the presumed nest and the begging calls of at least one bird could be heard.  Both the male and female AMKE's were observed hunting and returning to the same spot on the cliff.  The cliff complex hosted a large population of CLIFF SWALLOWs and the AMKE's were observed frequently trying to catch swallows - only one successful hunt was observed.  Usually AMKE's eat a lot of insect prey but it seemed the bounty of swallows were too tempting to pass up.  The kestrels would perch at the very top of the cliff and watch the swallows, then fly down and along the cliffs, seeming to try to take a swallow by surprise.  A cloud of swallows would loudly sound alarm calls whenever one of the kestrels was airborne.  A pair of GOLDEN EAGLE was seen soaring high in the air near North Junction - this area of the river always seems to be the most likely place to see this species.  On the final evening of the trip, about ten miles downstream from North Junction, a pair (probably the same ones?) was seen soaring again, and this time the two birds did some diving at each other as is 'playing'.  One (and probably two) adult BALD EAGLE was seen near White Horse Rapids, at least the third year in a row for this species in that location.  An un-ID'd FALCON SPP. was seen flying over, either a PRAIRIE or PEREGRINE based on size, but lighting conditions and a bouncing raft prevented a positive ID.

Our trip this year was about a month earlier than usual, and this resulted in an incredible number of nesting BULLOCK'S ORIOLES (BUOR) being seen.  They were everywhere along the river, including the water birch tree that was right by our campsite - the frequent vocalizing from the short tree actually became annoying very quickly.  WESTERN MEADOWLARK were singing almost constantly as well.  TURKEY VULTURE were numerous, as were WESTERN WOOD PEWEE, WESTERN KINGBIRD and EASTERN KINGBIRD.  COMMON NIGHTHAWK replaced the swallows right around dusk.  CANYON and ROCK WREN are common in the canyon, and this year a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was added to my life list for the trip. 

Emberizids have been surprisingly rare in the canyon (or else my sparrow-finding skills need a lot of work!), with only Song Sparrow found this year.  In previous years, flocks of Lark Sparrows were in evidence, but even these were nowhere to be seen this year.  The habitat seems right for several other sparrow species, but searching and even some playing of iPod songs for likely species resulted in nothing. 

A few CALIFORNIA GULLS flew up and down the river each day, and COMMON MERGANSER hens with young were common.  The river has multiple dirt banks that are riddled with old and new BELTED KINGFISHER nesting holes.  LEWIS'S WOODPECKER seem to be more common each year along the river. 

Today (Sunday) was the long drive home, but a very early start allowed me to spend a short time birding along Old Highway 8 and the Lyle-Balch Cemetery in Klickitat County.  The cemetery and the oak and pine grove nearby produced WESTERN BLUEBIRD, LESSER GOLDFINCH, ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and a surprisingly exposed WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE nest...perhaps an inexperienced pair? 

Alas, no Acorn Woodpecker was to be found, although I spent little time looking and the fierce wind made for challenging birding.  Is the granary tree south of the intersection of Balch Road and Old Highway 8 still being used to anyone's knowledge?

All in all, it was another excellent trip, with high temps only in the 70's and low 80's compared to some sweltering trips in July in the past.

John Tubbs

Snoqualmie, WA

johntubbs at comcast.net


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