[Tweeters] (Off-Topic) - Deschutes River (Oregon) Float Trip Birding - Long

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Sun Sep 4 18:02:52 PDT 2016

Hi folks,

I just finished my 31st annual float trip on the Deschutes River in central Oregon with two former work colleagues - it's obviously been quite the tradition. I spent a fair amount of time this year birding as well as sketching and made a significant effort to note accurate locations of sightings in the event of something unusual turning up. We were on the river four days from Monday through Thursday, then I stayed Thursday and Friday nights at Trout Creek campground for some extra time in the area. I also took advantage of the driving to stop by some other birding spots on the way - Ridgefield NWR; Tygh Valley, Oregon (Wasco County Fairgrounds and surrounding area) on the way down and Tygh Valley; Lyle-Balch Cemetery and Balch Road and Ridgefield NWR on the way back. The stops were fairly short, but productive.

Total species seen on the trip was 68, with 42 in the actual Deschutes Canyon. I believe that tied my best species count for a single trip in the canyon.

We put in at Trout Creek on Monday, spent two nights at Whiskey Dick Flat, one night at Hole in the Wall camp and took out at Harpham Flat on Thursday, a total of about 33 river miles.

There were some nice highlights on the river trip - at least they were personal highlights for me; nothing of significant rarity was found.

At Trout Creek, highlights included:

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Great Horned Owl - calling pre-dawn from the patch of woods on the tribal side of the river
Black-capped Chickadee - ironically probably the 'rarest' find of the trip, based on the location. It is sage/bitterbrush/shrub steppe habitat with a riparian corridor along the river - high desert country. A rare enough bird that the eBird filters require justification for the find. I must say it felt somewhat strange filling in the supporting details for a species we all take for granted on the wet side of the mountains.
Eastern Kingbird - Not sure why eBird considers this unusual for the Deschutes but this one also required documented support. This species is found frequently there, and I have found multiple active nests over the years (earlier in the season, of course).

On the rest of the float, notable birds included:
Wild Turkey - Two birds were on the western bank of the river upstream from Kaskela. Only the second time I've seen this species in the canyon; the first time was some years ago and on the tribal side.
Great Horned Owl - Calling pre-dawn from the cliffs above our campsite at Hole in the Wall. Given the plethora of likely nesting nooks and crannies in the cliffs, I suspect a pair nested here.
GOLDEN EAGLE(S) - I've seen a single bird perhaps 3 times in the last ten trips, but this year was a bonanza. First, the canyon side from a river trail to the top of the rimrock cliffs was closed at Trout Creek this year from May through September 1st to protect a nesting pair of Golden Eagles. None were seen at Trout Creek, but at Hole in the Wall on Thursday morning, I saw one perched on a rock outcropping relatively low on the canyon wall (about a third up). It appeared the bird may have been mantling a kill and had just finished. The eagle took off and immediately out of nowhere appeared an American Kestrel screaming and dive-bombing the eagle, which didn't seem particularly bothered. Then, just upstream from the gatekeeper's house, there were TWO Golden Eagles flying around quite low - maybe 30 feet or so above the ground and clearly interacting with each other. White in the tail feathers indicated they were juveniles.
Chukar - Chukar were plentiful in the canyon between about North Junction and Harpham. They could be frequently heard chattering back and forth and a flock was seen flying from one rock outcropping to another.
PEREGRINE FALCON - For only the second time on a trip, I had a Peregrine Falcon flyby at Whiskey Dick camp, coming from upriver and flying toward the White Horse cliffs. A few years ago, I had a youngster getting fed by an adult on the cliffs - my understanding was this was the first reported nesting on the Deschutes for quite a few years. Whether this trip's bird is a lone bird or part of a breeding pair I don't know, but it's always nice to see one. No Prairie Falcon this year.

Other canyon birds of interest to me included: plentiful Cedar Waxwings hawking from snags; two separate feeding flocks of Bushtits (obviously in the riparian belt, not the shrub steppe), a Say's Phoebe , numerous Turkey Vultures migrating south, a Calliope Hummingbird and a single Vaux's Swift near Maupin. The usually plentiful Bullock's Orioles were gone - presumably already having moved south. Common Ravens seemed to be at least as numerous as American Crows in the canyon.

On the non-Deschutes canyon stops, there were also some good birds. These included at least six Lewis's Woodpeckers in Tygh Valley (none in the canyon this year, surprisingly), a flock of seven Lesser Goldfinches mixed with a couple House Finches feeding along Fairgrounds Road in Tygh Valley, a couple juvenile Western Meadowlarks which lacked the bright yellow chest and belly, and an opportunistic series of six Red-tailed Hawks in no more than a half mile of road - all perch hunting from power poles or irrigation pipes near a field in the process of being mowed. No doubt the mowing flushes out the rodents, who are then easy pickings for the clearly experienced hawks. Ridgefield had several Great Egrets and a nicely visible American Bittern . The Lyle-Balch Cemetery yielded a MacGillivray's Warbler foraging in a Ponderosa Pine, not exactly your typical location for that species, no doubt migrating through. Driving slowly by Balch Lake caused a Greater Yellowlegs to flush and noisily circle the lake a couple times.

Since starting to seriously bird the Deschutes Canyon in 2006 on our annual float trips, I've compiled a list of 93 species total in or near the canyon, although that number includes some species from the upper and lower river (our float is considered the 'middle' section of the river). Past trips have covered May, June and July as well as this year's late trip, which helps with the species variety. However, I wasn't an eBird user until a couple years ago so the earlier records aren't in that database.

John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
johntubbs AT comcast.net

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