Fishtrap (Miller Ranch)

Text by Diann MacRae

Thip site guide is a preliminary report on a great new birding destination in eastern Washington. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently purchased the historic 8,000-acre Miller Ranch located northeast of Sprague in Lincoln County, and conveniently close to Interstate 90. Last June the first Fishtrap “bird-in” and barbecue was held at the Miller Ranch, with 24 birders divided into eight teams charged with coming up with an estimate of the relative abundance and family/species diversity correlated to the various habitats encountered on the ranch. The weather was partly cloudy, with winds gusting to 25 m.p.h., and 65 degrees by the end of the day.

During the 140.2 observer hours, 2,249+ individual birds, representing 29 families and 97 species were recorded. Except for migrants such as Sandhill Crane, Osprey, and some waterfowl, most ofthe species seen are considered to be breeding on or near the Fishtrap parcel. The ranch’s total bird list through June 10, 1993 is 116 species/38 families.

Nine species ofrap tors were found at Fishtrap, including both eagles, and Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks. Fishtrap Lake and various ponds hosted Common Loon, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black Tern, Yellow-headed, Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds, among other species.

Frequenting the open fields and grasslands were Long-billed Curlew, Gray Partridge, Loggerhead Shrike, Savannah, Grasshopper and Vesper sparrows. The forested areas offered Varied and Swainson’s thrushes, Brown Creeper, Pygmy Nuthatch, Common Raven, and Great Horned Owl. Violet-green, Bank, Cliff and Rough-winged swallows were found in Hog Canyon and near the lakes, and the brushy areas yielded Lazuli Bunting, California Quail, and Ruffed Grouse. A Sharp-tailed Grouse lek is on the Fishtrap property, and both Black-chinned and Calliope hummingbirds have been recorded.

The variety of habitats-wetlands ponds, lakes, riparian, brush, forest, sage, steppe and grassland combine to make this an outstanding birding spot. The ranch property lies between the Burlington-Northern Railroad track and Fishtrap and Hog Lakes. At present, only the old country road, running north-south through the property, is open to vehicles.

All other access is by foot or horseback. Hiking, fishing, hunting, and birding, of course, are allowed, but camping is by permit only. A comprehensive management plan is being prepared, and a bird list will eventually be available. To reach Fishtrap (Miller Ranch) Headquarters, drive 3.6 miles south on the Old Sprague Highway from the Fishtrap interchange (#254) on Interstate 90. Watch for the sign for the headquarters. For further information and camping permits, contact the BLM at 1103 N Fancher Rd, Spokane Valley, WA 99212, or call (509) 536-1200.