Quilomene Wildlife Area

By Brenda Senturia

The Site

The Quilomene Wildlife Area is a frequent destination of birdwatchers seeking shrub-steppe specialties. This area is mostly public with a few scattered inholdings. The habitat consists primarily of big sage and bluebunch wheatgrass. It is a landscape of almost uninterrupted shrub-steppe, broken only by basalt canyons (coulees) with seasonal streams. The stream courses are characterized by riparian shrubs with scattered trees (black cottonwood, black hawthorne, mock-orange, willow, red-osier dogwood). Rain falls mostly in winter and spring, followed by summer drought. Although most of the area is accessible only on foot or by four-wheel-drive, the birds can be appreciated from selected vantage points along the road. Spectacular wildflower displays in April and May attract many visitors.

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The Birds

The big sagebrush habitat in the Quilomene hosts large numbers of Sage Sparrows. Brewer's Sparrows and Sage Thrashers are also heard and seen frequently in this habitat. The areas dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass host large numbers of Western Meadowlarks and Vesper Sparrows. Horned Larks prefer the rockier soils (lithosols). Loggerhead Shrikes nest in this area. Common Ravens and Red-tailed Hawks nest on the cliffs and in the larger trees. Sightings of Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons are possible. Chukars are drawn to the rocky hillsides, but are often difficult to locate. Rock Wrens may be found in some of the coulees.

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Directions and Suggestions

April through June is the best time to visitÔ??before the summer heat becomes oppressive and bird activity declines. An early visit in February may turn up a few returning Sage Sparrows, even when there is a smattering of snow on the ground. To reach the Quilomene Wildlife Area, take I-90 to Exit #115, and head north through the town of Kittitas to a ''T'' intersection. Turn right on Patrick Avenue, then left on No 81 Road, and continue for about a mile to Old Vantage Highway. Turn right and begin birding as the farmlands merge into shrub-steppe. Continue birding along this road as it climbs and then descends gradually to the Columbia River. There are several stops to consider. 1) After milepost 14, watch for a small, white utility building on the right with a gated gravel road. Park outside and bird inside. 2) Between mileposts 16 and 17, watch for Ryegrass Disposal Facility (gated road on right). A few yards farther, find a gated gravel road on the left (Beacon Ridge Road) with a sign ''Close Gate.'' This road is public (though the properties on either side are not). 3) As Old Vantage Highway descends, watch carefully on the left for two signed entrances to the wildlife area. These entrance roads are rough and should be driven only with four-wheel-drive vehicles. Walk in along these roads to find shrub-steppe specialties.

Check for ticks if you have been walking through sagebrush. There are no public amenities until Gingko State Park where the Old Vantage Highway meets the Columbia River. Rattle snakes are a possibility, albeit remote.

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