Saturday, February 25, 2017

Smock Prairie 2-25-17

I took advantage of the nice sunny day and headed over to my favorite part of Wasco County, the White River Wildlife Management Area  (WRWMA).  Funny thing was, I was thinking it would be great to spot a Gyrfalcon or some odd predator while I was over there.  The Gyr decided to show up in the Willamette Valley, but I got my share of predators.

I wanted to explore the Smock Prairie portion of the WRWMA.  It is south of where I usually go, but the area north of FR 27 is closed this winter.  So I looked around at the map and noticed this gem of an area.  Below is a map of where I went, I walked the yellow path counter-clockwise today, about 9 miles.

On the way to Smock Prairie, I went by way of the White River Crossing.  No car should try this route this winter.  Not until the snow is gone and road is dry.  Only a good four-wheel drive should attempt this, and probably only when snow is frozen, not in the afternoon.  I made it, but I was thinking it was a bad idea.

I was wondering if I would see any birds up on the prairie.  As soon as I started down the road past the gate I saw a group of black birds on the road.  They turned out to be a flock of Lewis's Woodpeckers, a great start to the day. 

Lewis's Woodpeckers never cooperate with my camera.  I saw about 2 dozen today, none let me get very close or stayed put very long.

The open ground on the prairie was very damp in most places.  American Robins were out in the sun enjoying the day.

I saw a number of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Starling.

A few shots of the road I walked out.

This is looking back toward where you park.  Spring birding along this road could be very interesting.

Lots of meadows to scan for bluebirds.

Mt Hood was looking nice.

There is a small wetland area here, I am going to check this spot out come spring.

I worked my way up into the snow and promptly lost the road I was trying to follow.  I cut over to a drainage ditch and followed it uphill.

There was ice on this ditch, it was cracking down the center.  Every time it cracked it sounded like a tree was coming down on Huck and myself,  it would give me a start every time. 

I did find a few mixed flocks of birds.  I scanned every bird I could for something rare,  I was really hoping to stumble across some Redpolls mixed in with these birds.  

I never tire of Mountain Chickadees, one of my favorites.

Lots of Pine Siskins.  Note the very pointed bill.

At one point I was walking through a small woods.  I was walking on pine needles and not making a sound, Huck was behind me.  I came within three paces of stepping on the tail of a Mountain Lion.  It was stretched out on the pine needles, relaxing in a sunny spot.  It must have been sleeping in the sun.  I startled it just as much as it startled me.  It jumped up and landed just like a startled house cat.  Its front shoulders were down, head close to the ground, hips and tail up in the air.  It was about 8 feet in front of me when we saw each other. It landed about 15 feet from me.  

It was huge, 9-10 feet from head to tail tip, I thought it weighed 200 lbs.  Three feet at the shoulder.  At that point I heard Huck barking, He got up in front of me, at the same time the cat  sprinted away. It went back the same way I had come, I do not know how it got past Huck, either dodged him or jumped over him. I think it went on the other side of a tree to me. 

I do not remember taking this picture.

Nor this one.

Nor this one.

These I remember. 

And it was gone.

Lots of cat food were seen..

I did run into a small group of White-breasted Nuthatch.

A young Northern Shrike was in the area of a wetland.

I like exploring new areas in February so I can return in spring.  I will certainly bird this area when the Gray Flycatchers and Nashville Warblers return. I am interested in seeing what these wetland areas are like come spring and what birds will be there. It should be great for woodpeckers as well.   If you bird out Smock Road way, stop and walk in the road a bit, you will need the same parking pass as Sauvie or Fern Ridge.

My eBird list for the day ( and the only one I could find for this spot)  on the WRWMA:

Smock Prairie (WRWMA), Wasco, Oregon, US
Feb 25, 2017 8:40 AM - 2:40 PM
Protocol: Traveling
9.0 mile(s)
Comments:     sunny, started out at 25 degrees, warmed to 35.  Snow on ground in places, muddy in others.  Wind 5-10 mph, stronger if afternoon.
24 species

Golden Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Lewis's Woodpecker  25
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  1
Northern Shrike  1
California Scrub-Jay  6
American Crow  2
Common Raven  1
Mountain Chickadee  15
Red-breasted Nuthatch  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Brown Creeper  2
Western Bluebird  8
American Robin  30
European Starling  1
Dark-eyed Junco  6
Spotted Towhee  3
Red-winged Blackbird  30
Western Meadowlark  3
House Finch  15
Purple Finch  6
Pine Siskin  40

Thanks for the visit!


  1. Wow, Bob, that is a great cougar story. Amazing that you managed some photos of that beauty. As always, thanks for sharing your finds from the mysterious and under-birded areas of Oregon.

    1. I really do not recall how I got the first few pics. I was surprised to find they were in focus.

  2. Really fun to see and read about your encounter with the Cougar!

  3. I've been out to Smock Prairie and Reservoir a dozen times or so and always have considered it a hidden gem for birding. Spring and Summer are amazing. Thanks for the great posting!

    1. Do you see shorebirds at Smock Res? It was buried in snow and ice, I could not tell if it is a birdy spot.

    2. I've seen Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer at the reservoir. As you know, there are a lot of irrigation ponds and marshes on private land around the area that I would love to check out for more shorebirds. The area around the reservoir itself is very birdy and colorful in spring/summer. Bullock's Orioles, L WP, West Tanagers, W Bluebirds, Ash-Throated Flycatchers, Chipping Sparrows, etc. Also seen Prairie Falcon and on consecutive years seen young GH owls. Love that place! And glad you made it out without a scratch after almost stepping on that Cougar's tail!

  4. Good thing you are in good shape and didn't have a heart attack when almost stepping on the cougar! Can't wait for spring to explore this area.

    1. My heart was pounding. Would be happy to bird this area with you two come spring, if you want.

  5. While I thrive on all forms of nature the flying Pine Siskin was high on my list. Next I have to envy your Puma, cougar, catamount, mountain lion experience. I've been trying since October to 'shoot' one near us. They have a huge hunting range. I'll get one yet. Meanwhile, keep 'shooting' birds, etc.

  6. Getting that close to a cougar is definitely an experience. Despite its size, it ran off but you got some great pics.