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Douglas Creek, Waterville, WA


Synopsis

    We went to Douglas Creek without know what to expect.  We read very little about the place other than it was a designated Important Bird Area of Washington and the wildflowers are spectacular.  We went early in the season so didn’t expect much of either.  Douglas Creek is owned and maintained (I use that word loosely) by the BLM so I wasn’t expecting the land to be very well treated. 
    However, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived.  We drove into the north entrance of Slack Canyon (Douglas Creek meets up with Slack Canyon).  There is a cave-in along the road, so access is from the north or south.  We read that the south access was pretty trashed, so we chose the north side.  There is access through other roads around the area, though you’d have to hike into the canyon, instead of starting off in the canyon.
    The canyon is surrounded by flat farmland; while driving along the dirt road by acres and acres of open fields, we flushed many Horned Larks.  The road eventually dipped into the canyon and we were soon surrounded by rocky cliffs and sagebrush.  There were three campsites along the road between the Douglas Creek Trailhead and a section of road that was covered a large amount of water (caused by the very active beavers).
    Along the road there are obvious signs of use (and abuse) – trash left in the campgrounds.  The trail was cleaner – fewer beer cans and spent shot guns shells.  We did see signs of a motorbike and ATV on the trail (no off-road vehicles are permitted along the trail).  Other than those signs the north end was in relatively good shape.
    We took the campsite closest to the trailhead – there was only one other group in the canyon the entire time we were there.  During our stay, it was very peaceful and quite – well except for the cacophony of birdcalls.
    The canyon was well used by birds and wildlife.  Pacific tree frogs ribbited loudly in the evenings.  In the morning and evenings, birds dazzled us with their courtship displays.  One evening, we saw two Great Horned Owls in the sky flying around each other continuously in tight circles.  They silently flew over our heads in circles continuing up into the sky until we could hardly see them.  I’ve never seen owls do this before and felt privileged to witness what I assumed was an act of courtship.  In The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior book, he says that not a lot is know about owl courtship  other than vocally – so I can only guess this was what I was seeing.
    Another courtship/territorial display we saw was a male Northern Harrier flying/guiding in “u” shaped swoops in a straight line fairly low over the creek.  At the top of the “u” while going into another dive, the harrier would do a complete roll/flip in the air.  He also called as he went along.  The harrier did this about 7-8 times before he went out of view.  It was a very acrobatic and graceful display.
We were also fortunate to see two Prairie Falcons along the cliffs of Douglas Creek.  They were quite vocal – calling to each other.  I assume their nest was tucked into the cliff somewhere nearby.  We were even lucky enough to witness them consummate their bond.
    Though a lot more common, the Northern Flickers were also very active along the creek.  They would fly from tree to tree following/chasing each other while calling all the time.  There were many pairs along the creek doing this.
    The riparian area along the creek would be an excellent stop for migratory birds; unfortunately we were too early to see the migrants, as well as too early to see the wildflowers in bloom.  We saw less than a handful of different flowers species in bloom, but we could see the plants well on their way to provide for a fantastic display in the late spring.
    Besides all the wildlife, Douglas Creek itself was beautiful.  The trail used to be an old railroad track, long ago removed.  Old parts of the track still remain.  Being an old track, the trail is fairly easy to walk and provides excellent views of the canyon basalt walls and the riparian area around the creek.  There are a few creek crossings, but there were logs or rocks in the creek to keep our hiking boots dry.     
    There was one crossing – where Duffy Creek meets Douglas Creek that was a little hairy.  The options were to cross on a beaver dam or cross on a log the beaver cut down a while ago.  The dam wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t a large clump of bushes at the end and a muddy bank to scramble up.  The log was a better choice – though requiring a bit more balance.

    After that crossing, Douglas Creek goes underground (or at least was dry) for about ½ a mile until it starts running again.  After about 6 miles up the creek from the trailhead, the trail started to come out of the canyon – the walls shortened and gave way to hills of sagebrush.
 
    Overall, Douglas Creek was a wonderful place to escape and be surrounded in the beauty of Eastern Washington’s arid lands.  It would have been nicer to visit when the flowers were in bloom and migrant birds found their way back to the canyon.
 
    On the way home, we stopped at Dry Falls Lakes visitor center/lookout.  There were many swallows and White-throated Swifts cutting through the air along the cliff sides.  We also heard a Sandhill Crane below, although we couldn’t locate it.
    Near Quincy, we made a short side trip up to the Beezley Hills, which is owned and protected by the Nature Conservancy.  On top of the hill near the radio tower, we parked and entered the gate on foot.  At first glance, it’s hard to understand why they saved this land.  Aside from the amazing view of the farmland spread out down below and the Cascades in the background, there didn’t seem to be much around the sparse looking land.  But with a closer look, it’s easier to understand.  It was early for the wildflower season, but it looked like the landscape was getting ready to put on a show.  Early blooming Yellowbells, Long-flowered Bluebells, and Sagebrush Buttercup dotted the land.  Once we started looking closely, we spotted quite a few Hedgehog Cacti.  Although I’m not a plant person, I could tell there was a great diversity – it was subtle, but a closer look revealed a wealth of plant life. 
    I also saw the typical shrub-steppe dwelling birds: Sage Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Meadowlark, Vesper’s Sparrow, and Horned Lark.  It was a treat to see them in a more preserved/pristine part of the arid dry lands.
    
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Pictures

Prairie Falcon,
Douglas Creek Trail
The trail cross the creek in several places and is greatly influenced by the beavers.
Old railroad pieces lay along the trail,
Douglas Creek Trail.
Basalt walls make up the canyon walls
Old outhouse,
Douglas Creek Trail
Douglas Creek Trail
Sunset over Slack Canyon
Douglas Creek Trail
Riparian areas long the creek are perfect for migrating birds
Riparian grows thick along Douglas Creek
Douglas Creek
Female Horned Lark,
Beezley Hills
Long-flowered Bluebells,
Beezley Hills
Butterfly, Beezley Hills
Hedgehog Cacti and Sagebrush Buttercup,
Beezley Hills
Beezley Hills

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Bird List

Mallard
Prairie Falcon - pair calling on cliff side & mating
American Kestrel
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk - 1 flying overhead
Northern Harrier - territorial display
Sharp-shinned Hawk
California Quail
Chukar
Virginia Rail - heard only
Morning Dove
Great Horned Owl - bonding ritual
Western Screech Owl - heard only
White-throated Swift - nesting in cavities in cliff
Northern Flicker
Common Raven
Black-billed Magpie
Steller's Jay
Violet-green Swallow
Say's Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
Canyon Wren
Rock Wren - heard only
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Townsend's Solitaire - 1
European Starling
Song Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Spotted Towhee
Western Meadowlark

Other Critter List

Beaver - many dam along creek
Rainbow Trout
bat sp. - one brushed my hair

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Information

Directions to Douglas Creek: On Hwy-2 and 8 miles east of Waterville, take Road H SW, the road will turn into Slack Canyon Road.  The trailhead is on the right.
Bureau of Land Management

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page updated: 3/18/08