Trout Lake area, WA
For our annual class of 2011 master birder camping trip, we took to the Trout Lake area in mid-August. Our base camp was at Peterson Prairie Campground to the east of Trout Lake and close the popular huckleberry fields, which were full of ripe and tasty berries at the time. Despite the large groups of loud (and annoying) people who seem coalesce here (with the exception of our group, which was tame and respectful), the best feature of the campground is the adjacent Peterson Prairie. The campground was located in the tall Ponderosa Pine adjacent to the open golden grassy meadow, which was ringed with spruce and hemlock. In the late summer, aster, goldenrod, and paintbrush add splashes of color among the dried grass. One dewy morning a large flock of Townsend’s, Hermit, and Yellow-rumped Warblers worked their way through hanging lichen of the trees along the meadow. Chestnut-backed and Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Chipping Sparrows, and Western Tanagers joined in the flurry of avian activity. In the evenings, bats tumbled through darkening sky above the open meadows.
Next to the campground are two attractions: Ice Caves and Natural Bridges. We stopped at the Ice Caves expecting to see something similar to the Big Four Ice Caves which is made of ice that is craved away by a flowing stream. These Ice Caves however are quite different. The cave is a hole (an old lava flows) in the ground, which is cold year round where slow trickles of water and seeps create interesting ice formations among the boulders and rocks with in the cave. It was relatively small - at least the part that is easily accessible and as such the enclosed area can be very loud if there is just one loud person in there with you. Or it can be obnoxiously loud if it’s an entirely family of loud people. We stay long enough to look at the stalagmites, stalactites, ribbons and sheets of bubbled ice that had formed on the cave walls, ceiling and floor. While we were there one couple actually harvested a 5-gallon bucket of ice - breaking off the formations with their feet and hands. What they were doing with it I don’t know. I’m guessing they were taking it back to keep their beer cold. People can be so stupid. Sort of annoyed and feed up with these people, we didn’t bother stop at the Natural Bridge, which I heard is a collapsed lava tube. And probably like the ice cave is amazing minus the ignorant people.
Not a drive away is Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Glenwood. In the late summer, the lake was a flat of waving golden grass. From a distance, we could see and hear (more easily) small flocks of Greater Sandhill Cranes fly above the lake and wading through the tall grass. Along the irrigation ditch Western Tanagers, Eastern Kingbirds, Gray Flycatchers, Western Bluebirds and a Townsend’s Solitaire flew about the brush of hawthorn and elderberry. A good population of the endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs floated among the duckweed waiting for the hapless insect to bungle along in front of it. The loop trail from the visitor center took us through a variety of habitats along the edge of the riparian area, to higher ground into the ponderosa forest, and along the edge of Conboy Lake. From the viewpoint we could see Mt Adams through the haze of the wildfires that raged in Canada. Flocks of Mountain Chickadee, Brown Creepers, White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches foraged in the pines and a troupe of Clark’s Nutcrackers flew high above the canopy. Common Spreadwings, White-faced and Striped Meadowhawks darted around us in the open glades. Woodland Nymphs and Mellisa’s Blue Butterflies flitted from clover to the late blooming asters. Above us soar a Golden Eagle, easily out maneuvering the many Turkey Vultures kettling in the sky. The refuge was a wonderful little gem surrounding by farmland and not much else. it’s hard to get to but worth the trip.
Overall, we had a great weekend birding and exploring this beautiful area with our friends. It always is more memorable sharing new experiences and laughs along the way.