Columbia Wildlife Refuge Sandhill Crane Bird Drive
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Distance: 35-1/2 miles
Driving time: 2 hours from Othello, Wash.
Season: Early Spring and early fall
Maps: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge
Info: Columbia National Wildlife Regufe, (509) 488-2668
BIRDWATCHING TRIP NOTES
Access: From Moses Lake area, drive south on State Highway 17 to Othello. Begin route in Othello, Wash., driving north on Broadway Ave.
Attractions: Excellent bet for seeing flocks of stately sandhill cranes during spring and autumn migrations. Refuge documents 23 ducks and goose species resting and feeding.
Drive through heart of 23,100-acre Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and geological wonderland of Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark, rugged terrain gouged by catastrophic floods roughly 12,000-15,000 years ago.
In fall, O’Sullivan Dam area known as stopover for common loons, western grebes, white pelicans and great egrets. Fishing can be good for trout, bass, bluegills and other species at area lakes.
Comments: From Othello, one of world’s great producers of french fries, head north on Broadway. Start trip mileage at bridge across East Potholes Canal. Pavement becomes McManamon Road. Drive 1/2 mile to where paved road bisects private slough, often loaded with waterfowl.
Continue west on McManamon Road, looking for waterfowl in numerous potholes. Roads head north and south to fishing waters. Note perfect basalt columns.
At 8-1/3 miles, stop at Drumheller Channels Overlook for view and short explanation of geological features. (Also, look for northern harriers roosting in Russian olive trees below overlook.)
Unusual landscape characterized by hundreds of buttes separated from one another by labyrinth of small, dry channels and basins. Drumheller Channels consists of six main channels, such as Crab Creek, where tiny stream flows through broad basin carved by greatest floods in Earth’s history.
From overlook, continue on McManamon Road 2 miles and turn left (south) on Barton Road, which leads into private farm land that attracts feeding waterfowl, sandhill cranes, long-billed curlews. Watch carefully for feeding birds, especially morning and late afternoon. Go 1 mile and turn right (west) on Phillips Road. Go 1 mile and turn left (south) on Byers Road (pavement ends).
Go 1-1/2 miles and turn right (west) after crossing canal bridge; follow canal.
Drive 1 mile and turn left. Look carefully during spring in nutrient-rich area where manure is spread behind Sunny Royal Slope Dairy. Be respectful of private land. Stay on road.
Continue and turn left (east) at farm house onto Road 14.8 SE. Go 1 mile to kiosk overlooking Royal Lake, prime waterfowl resting area. Cranes roost at Royal Slough, visible just south of Royal Lake.
From kiosk, drive north on Byers Road to T and turn right on paved Phillips Road, retracing route back to Drumheller overlook.
From overlook, go 4-1/2 miles and turn left (north) into heart of Columbia National Wildlife Refuge on Morgan Lake Road.
Go 2 miles to end of pavement and continue 1-1/2 miles to Frog Lake parking area, trailhead for excellent nature trails.
Continue driving north on gravel road, past fishing and camping areas, to O’Sullivan Dam Road. Birding route ends here. Go left to services at Mar Don Resort or go east to State Highway 17.
Sandhills prefer open areas of short vegetation as defense against ground predators. Cranes that formerly stopped over farther north began using Royal Slough area in late 1980s after drought dried up traditional resting areas in Douglas County.
Most sandhills pass through refuge area late February through late April, and mid-September through mid-October. Cranes rest here in spring before heading to nesting areas as far away as Alaska.
Seep water from Columbia Basin Irrigation Project has filled what otherwise would be dry basins, producing hundreds of lakes. This water also attracts more diverse flora and fauna than normally found in this desert region.
For maps and fishing info, contact Mar Don Resort near O’Sullivan Dam, (509) 346-2651. On weekdays, get refuge map and info at Columbia Refuge headquarters in Othello, corner of 7th and Main.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of Columbia Wildlife Refuge area
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