Othello Settlement Ponds

Written by Bob Sundstrom and Fred Bird

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In either spring or fall, the settlement ponds and adjacent areas west and northwest of Othello (DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer, p. 53) deserve more careful and consistent observation by birdwatchers. The two very large settlement ponds, bordered on the south by cattail marsh, on the west by a number ofsmall, shallow and seasonally variable basins, and surrounded by sagebrush, produced an exceptional diversity of speciesbetween spring and fall of 1988.

To find the ponds, drive west through Othello on Cunningham Rd. (the main east-west thoroughfare in town) across the railroad tracks, to the west end of the road about 2 miles out of town. To check the main settlement ponds, park outside the barbed-wire fence and gate that mark the east margin of the settlementpond area. Just across the fence are two settlement ponds, each roughly 400m long east-to-west and 200 m wide north-to-south, and divided from one another by a dike/roadway. One may walk the center road or the entire perimeter of either pond. Along the south margin of the south pond is a lush cattail marsh. One of the few state White-faced Ibis sightings of 1988 was at this marsh in late May. Also at the marsh in midJuly were both Sora and Virginia Rail and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Both Black-crowned Night-Heron and Great Blue Heron were seen in the area. Large numbersofduckswerefoundontheponds in mid to late summer, including Wood Duck, Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teals, Northern Pintail, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck and Ruddy Duck. Also on the ponds were Eared and Pied-billed grebes. Upwards of 500 Bank Swallows were present in summer as well as smaller numbers of Cliff and Barn swallows, Common Nighthawks and American Pipits.

The shallow basins west of the main settlement ponds were loaded with shorebirds in the first week of September 1988. They may be reached by driving a dirt perimeter roadway that runs outside the fence. Instead of stopping at the gate at the east end of the main ponds, turn right (north) on the dirt roadway and follow it along the east and then north margins of the large ponds until reaching the area due west ofthe main ponds.

The same ponds may be reached on foot via the center road between the main ponds, but a vehicle will be very useful as a blind in making a close approach to the smaller ponds. The roadway now meanders among a series of shallow basins and wet spots, ultimately dead-ending at a dike. On 4 and 5 September 1988 the shorebirds seen here included Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Avocet, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Least, Western, Baird’s, Pectoral and Solitary sandpipers, both dowitchers, Common Snipe and Red-necked Phalarope. A probable Stilt Sandpiper flyby was entered to the list in pencil.

Access to these ponds is restricted by hunting club “No Trespassing” signs–obviously a special concern to local property owners during the fall hunting season. Birders are advised to obey the signsand seekpermission from appropriate authorities before entering the property. Finding any “appropriate authority” could prove a challenge.

A second set of accessible settling ponds canbe found by heading north on Broadway for about two miles out of town until it angles left (west), crosses railroad tracks, drops down and becomes McMannaman Rd. A large and productive wetland area borders the north end of these ponds and is easily visible from the dike road around the ponds. The dike roads leading south along the ponds also offer entry to wetlands areas. Shorebirds appear to spend the night and can be seen early in the morning on several rocky islands in these ponds.

These ponds also display a “No Trespassing” sign, probably inspired by liability considerations. Personnel from the nearby agricul tural processing plants regularly drive through the area, and, in our experience, have granted permission for observation of the wetland below the north end of the ponds. Again, hunting season seems to inspire a less-than-friendly reception, local folks probably resenting outsiders flushing “their” ducks.

More thorough observations of the seasonal changes in bird life at the Othello ponds are much needed. If September 1988is any guide, perhaps a close watch on the fall passage of shorebirds will produce a notable vagrant record for the state. And the Steakhouse Restaurant in town (also on Cunningham Rd.) isn’t at all bad.