Numerous deer, all sorts of birds, and other small creatures can be seen on self-guided wildlife tours that have been developed in the area for visitors who enjoy viewing wildlife in its natural habitat.
These tours are identified in the book, “Washington Wildlife Viewing Guide,” by Joe La Tourrette.
The longest wildlife tour in this area is through the Channeled Scablands to the south of Wilbur . The maze of cliffs, channels, canyons, lava caves and strange rock formations known as the Channel Scablands was sculpted about 12,000 years ago by violent glacial floods. Commonly known as the Spokane Floods, these are the largest floods ever documented – yet they occurred over a matter of days.
The five-hour auto tour provides excellent views of mule deer, chukar partridge, valley quail, waterfowl, desert songbirds, and a variety of raptors, including golden eagles, prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks and great horned owls. Wildflowers are plentiful in spring and early summer.
The Channeled Scablands loop begins at Ritzville on Interstate 90 and continues north to Rocky Ford on Crab Creek. Further downstream, Crab Creek Canyon is an excellent example of a prehistoric flood channel; golden eagles can sometimes be viewed on the basalt columns and rock formations. Continue north to Coal Creek, home to upland birds, waterfowl and mule deer. This is on public land and is open for hiking and exploration.
The next stop, Seven Springs Road, crosses one of Washington’s last remaining habitats for the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. To the southwest, down Lake Creek Canyon, you can glimpse the westernmost grove of ponderosa pine in this desert region. From there you continue on to Wilbur and west to Almira.
Turn south at Almira, where you will find the road crosses Wilson Creek at the Kiner Ranch. The last designated stop on the tour, just north of Odessa, is the Bureau of Land Management’s Lakeview Ranch, one of the last places in the Columbia Basin where the public may see sage grouse. The ranch is open for hiking and primitive camping, with fire restrictions in summer and fall. West of ranch headquarters, hiking trails extend into a maze of canyons, including scenic Lake Creek Canyon.
A traveler can enjoy all or any part of the tour, which can be accessed anywhere along the route, including in Wilbur. For a shorter wildlife tour in the Wilbur area, visit Wilson Creek Canyon southwest of Wilbur.
This basalt-rimmed canyon is one of the finest examples of native, shrub-steppe habitat in the state. Wildflowers include Indian paintbrush, lupine, phlox, and larkspur. Red-tailed and ferruginous hawks, great horned owls, golden eagles, and prairie falcons are seen here. Valley quail are common. Pintails, redheads and cinnamon teal nest here. Bobcats, badgers and coyotes are more elusive but also present. On this tour, a barrier free trail takes the visitor though sagebrush and bunchgrass.
A third wildlife tour takes the visitor through Dodd-Olsen Canyon northeast of Creston. This area is farmed and intensively managed for white-tailed and mule deer and other wildlife. Ruffed and blue grouse inhabit wooded draws: Columbian sharp-tailed grouse favor open areas. Woodpeckers and songbirds are common, as are red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and other raptors. Wild turkey, introduced by the Washington Department of Wildlife may also be seen.
Wildlife often spotted along the Welch Creek Road northeast of Creston includes deer, big-horned sheep, and wild turkey. Elk, moose, bear, and even cougar are also occasionally spotted throughout the area.
A map has been developed for bird watchers, showing the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway route on the Great Washington State Birding Trail. Find it online at http://wa.audubon.org/great-washington-state-birding-trail.
The Great Washington State Birding Trail provides the best places for bird watching in the state. The Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway route features more than half of Washington’s 365 bird species.
Thousands of Sandhill Cranes come through on the Pacific Flyway in spring and fall, while Black-Crowned Night Herons and Great Egrets stay to nest in summer. The area’s large population of Bald Eagles and waterfowl offer great winter birding.
The Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway follows the ancient route of the Columbia River where ice-age floods sculpted dramatic canyons and tablelands, where Native American tribes lived and Hudson Bay trappers explored, where miners crossed to the Caribou gold fields and cowboys made the White Bluff cattle drives.
The shrub-steppe encompasses plains of sagebrush, grasses and lichens, in addition to talus slopes and basalt cliffs. Much of this semi-arid desert, which is now irrigated by water from the Columbia River, includes wetlands and pothole lakes. It provides hundreds of square miles of public lands to explore and enjoy in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge; the Desert, Potholes, and Banks Lake Wildlife Areas; Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area; and state and local parks.
The Coulee Corridor route goes through Almira, Hartline and Coulee City, north to the Grand Coulee Dam area, west on State Route 174 and south on SR 17 through Soap Lake and all the way through Moses Lake and on to Othello. The route also branches off on SR 28, taking the birder from Wilson Creek and Krupp through Ephrata, all the way to George. Another branch goes west of Warden on SR 262 until it intersects with SR 26 and continues on to Royal City. A total of 53 prime bird viewing areas are identified along the route.