Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, between Conconully and Okanogan, WA
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After much hesitation, we finally decided to camp at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area near Conconully. We had misgivings about the place because we didn’t think it would be interesting in the sense of diversity. According to the Fish and Wildlife website, it is the only location where Sharp-tailed Grouse are increasing in numbers. However, I couldn’t find any other information on the place no birding websites or books mention it. We thought it would be mainly open flat sagebrush, which for the most part it was true. Still, we managed to find the one good spot to camp and enjoy the wildlife area in solitude.
There are several access points (i.e. parking lots) to the wildlife area and camping is allowed only near the roads (no backpacking in). Most of the wildlife area isn’t easily accessible (car-wise) with only walk-in areas to large expanses of grassland and sagebrush, but it does provide great breeding and wintering grounds for the grouse.
We camped in a wet meadow off of Limebelt Road on the east side of the wildlife area. The meadow was slightly marshy, with ponds and riparian area, surrounded by patches of quaking aspen and alpine forest and framed by distant cliffs and rolling hills of shrub-steppe a truly picture perfect setting. We set up our tent near some water birch (a diet of the Sharp-tails) in the meadow and were almost immediately overwhelmed by the bird activity.
Killdeer called loudly from the meadow. A male Calliope Hummingbird displayed over the shrubs. While in the aspen grove, Red-naped Sapsuckers drummed and chased each other from tree to tree. In the distant, other sapsuckers joined in the drumming. At one point there were at least 5 sapsuckers calling from distinct locations. As we watched three sapsuckers raucously call and chase each other around the aspen grove, we noticed a pair of Pygmy Nuthatches excavating a nesting hole in of the aspens. Overhead a Prairie Falcon silently glided by, heading down toward the canyon. From the cliffs, we hear Chukars and California Quail calling. And a pair of Say’s Phoebes and Western Bluebirds visited us in the meadow. In the evening and into dusk, a pair of Wilson’s Snipe serenaded us by winnowing around our tent in the meadow.
The next day we hiked down to the canyon to the west. It was a steep hike down the hilly-canyon slope. The sagebrush-covered hills were bursting with color of the blooming Arrowleaf Balsamroot. Long-flowered Bluebells, Sagebrush Buttercup, and Desert Shooting Star added flecks of color among the grasslands.
Walking among the sagebrush, several times we flushed a pair of Gray Partridges. We watched hundreds of Sandhill Cranes calling loudly as they circled upward before continuing northward to their breeding grounds. Red-tails, Harriers, and Kestrels cruised the prairies searching for their next meal. Small herds of mule deer peered down at us from the canyon hills. In a small field cultivated for cow feed, a large flock (at least 40) of American Pipits searched and pecked for grubs. Despite all the wildlife and birdlife, we failed to see the illusive Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Still, we enjoyed the vast array of wildlife and the blooming flowers of the Limebelt Unit of Scotch Creek W.A. On the way home, we stopped at the Cashmere Bar (on the Washington Birding Map Cascade Loop) where the Okanogan River joins the Columbian River. We walked along the dike and looped back along the fence. Though not a “natural” environment, it was a good walk that included a Merlin, American White Pelicans, a rookery of Great Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants, a pair of Cinnamon Teals, many singing Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Western Skink, and several basking Painted Turtles. Overall, it was a good place to stretch our legs for an hour and see some neat wildlife.
Sandhill Crane - 100s migrating overhead
Prairie Falcon - 1 overhead
Rough-legged Hawk - 1
Ring-necked Pheasant - heard only
Gray Partridge - 9, singly or in pairs
Chukar - heard only
Wilson's Snipe - winnowing
Morning Dove - heard
Barred Owl - heard
Common Poorwill - heard
White-throated Swift - 2
Calliope Hummingbird - 1 male displaying
Red-naped Sapsucker - very active drumming/calling
Western Kingbird - 1
Pygmy Nuthatch - pair excavating nesting cavity in aspen
House Wren - heard
Western Bluebird - pair seen each day (same one?)
Other Critter List
Pacific Treefrog - a few calling
Location: near Conconully, Omak, and Okanogan
Directions: follow Highway 97 north to the Riverside Cutoff Road (5 miles north of Omak). Travel west for approximately 6 miles. Turn right on to Conconully Road and follow the highway north for another 5 miles to the wildlife area.
Scotch Creek Wildlife Area including other Units