[Tweeters] Washtucna update - please read if you bird Washtucna

Randy Hill re_hill at q.com
Tue Sep 5 13:50:07 PDT 2017

I was in Eastern Washington for four days, including two nights/mornings in
Washtucna. Nothing special to report from there bird-wise, although a few
Adams County targets like Olive-sided Flycatcher and Townsend's Solitaire
were seen both mornings. I'm pretty sure I heard a Common Poorwill call
briefly from the west, but background noise (dogs, coyotes) can make things
difficult, especially for someone with hearing difficulty.

Two issues that need your attention if you bird Washtucna.

For decades this rarity haven has offered great birding for visitors during
the migration period. Bassett Park was a favorite camping spot for Ruth and
Patrick Sullivan, and the bench at the north end of the park installed by
Central Basin Audubon memorializes Patrick after his passing. I looked at a
Blackpoll Warbler from that bench the day it was installed Some habitat
work and signage funded by USFWS is still in place. In addition to Bassett
Park, areas to the north that include willow and Russian-olive groves have
been open to birders thanks to Mrs. Hille who gave permission. Mrs. Hille
passed away sometime in the past year or so, and her heirs decided to sell
most of the estate. The new owner, Jim Kelly, moved to Washtucna four
months ago and now lives in the home a block south of the Grange, west of
Booth Ave. and NW D St. I talked with him Saturday morning and again Sunday
morning, when he took me on a tour of town and his property. He asked if I
would spread the word about the change in ownership.

Mr. Kelly is already on the City Council, trying to usher in improvements to
the town such as property clean up. He also is a hunter and has made some
of his land available for deer hunting to family and friends, and he is
starting a small herd of cattle. He has concerns about conflicting uses in
overlapping areas of his property, especially during hunting seasons that
include the months of September>November. His property includes the willow
grove/pasture north of Bassett Park, barn and irrigated pasture north of the
Palouse Falls Inn Bed-and-Breakfast, up the hill west of the community pool
to and beyond the city's big water tank, the Russian-olive grove and springs
going north and, excluding a few homes, areas west and north to and across
SR26. His property even includes the big tree and horseshoe pits at the
north end of Bassett Park and where the Patrick Sullivan memorial bench
overlooks the stream through the park. While Bassett Park is city-owned and
they have easements for water facilities and such, most of the other best
birding areas are on Mr. Kelly's land. Other than Bassett Park which is
surrounded by road, and whether or not he has it posted, he has asked that
anyone birding on his property check in with him before entering his
property. Although I have his phone number, he wants a visit rather than
his phone # out and ringing at all hours. This allows for managing
liability and to avoid conflicting uses. Again, the prime September
migration period is during deer hunt seasons, and if he has hunting going on
there could be restriction or denial of access. I did ask about access for
field trips, thinking specifically of a WOS field trip during a conference
in Moses Lake. He indicated May or June would probably not be an issue, and
he might even offer parking for RVs or trailers on his property to
accommodate such use. But realize that he initiated the contact with me
both Saturday and Sunday morning when he saw me on the hill above the
Russian-olive grove.

The other issue concerns camping at Bassett Park. I parked and slept inside
my van both Friday and Saturday night near the group shelter and restroom
along the east side of the park. Saturday evening at 9:45 I had a Sheriff's
deputy ask for my ID and informed me that the park is closed after sunset.
Although camping there had been going on for decades (including tents on the
lawn), transient campers were taking up residence and it was decided to shut
down that option. Both the deputy and Mr. Kelly indicated it has been in
effect for a couple of years, which surprised me because I didn't see any
signs and have camped there several times since moving to Ridgefield. So
look for other options such as the bed and breakfast, the "RV park" along
Main St., or somewhere else.

Randy Hill


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