Bear Valley, Starr Campground, and Swick Creek Old Growth Area

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Bear Valley lies about 20 miles south of John Day at an average elevation of 4700’. Starr Campground is located at the northern end of Bear Valley, where Highway 395 passes over Starr Ridge at an elevation of 5152’ (44.26026, -119.01669). Swick Creek Old Growth area (44.23087, -119.03085) is located at the junction of Highway 395 and Izee-Paulina Lane.


Habitat and Birds

Bear Valley is a mountain valley surrounded by ponderosa pine forests. The central part of the valley is private ranches that are sagebrush range or have been converted into pastureland. Low areas or areas near the Silvies River are often flooded in the spring. The edges of the valley provide some good riparian/willow habitat. There are several aspen groves also along the edge of the valley. Winters are usually cold and snow-covered with little bird life visible, although Snow Buntings and redpolls are occasional visitors. The surrounding forests house the usual residents of chickadees, nuthatches (all three species), most woodpecker species, and several owl species including Great Gray and Flammulated. The open valley can host a multitude of waterfowl and shorebirds if there are abundant snows in the winter to create ponds and restricted runoff. Bear Valley’s biggest claim to fame was a small population of Upland Sandpipers. That population may be extirpated.

Flammulated Owls can be heard at Starr Campground. They are also found in the forest to the east of the pass. Dropping down the highway to the south the aspen and willow openings can provide warblers and woodpeckers. Ebird Starr Campground hotspot:

Swick Creek Old Growth Area is often good for White-headed Woodpeckers. If you continue up the gravel road past the picnic area about 1 mile and wander in the woods south of the road (44.231783, -119.023549), you may find Northern Goshawk or Great Gray Owl. Traveling west on Izee-Paulina Lane will take you through open pastureland that used to be Upland Sandpiper territory, but keep an eye for curlews, willets, waterfowl, bluebirds and hawks. At Geary Creek Rd (77-E10) you can go north to the 49 road, turn left and climb into the woods. Where road 218 intersects is the lower extent of Flammulated Owl habitat (44.262887, -119.078630). Continue up the 49 road to where it turns sharply left at the intersection with the 094 road (44.284066, -119.080218). The 094 road is primitive but passable and provides access to one of the best areas for these owls. Stay to the right until intersecting with the 4920 road which will take you to Starr Ridge if you turn left or back to the Izee-Paulina Lane if you turn right. About 5 miles from Highway 395 is Murderers Creek Road, Forest Service 21 (77-E10, Logdell). This is paved all the way to Highway 26 where it intersects at Fields Creek between Mt Vernon and Dayville (77-D9). Murderers Creek Guard Station (44.261374, -119.275757) has often been good for Red-eyed Vireo. Several miles farther out the Izee-Paulina Lane you will encounter the “Flagtail Burn” where woodpeckers abound, but keep an eye out for warblers, vireos and sparrows along the Silvies River. At the intersection with Forest Service road 24 you may turn left to connect with the Scotty Creek Road or right for more exploration in the woods (77-E10). Continuing west on the Izee –Paulina Lane will soon drop you out of the Ponderosa forest into the hilly juniper/sage Izee country (77-F9). Common Poorwills may be heard at night and check for waterfowl on ponds and the river, and hawks and eagles in the air.

There is a road along the South Fork John Day River where it heads north from the Izee-Paulina Lane (77-F8) that intersects with Highway 26 in Dayville (77-D8). The South Fork Road is quite scenic, is mostly gravel – some places a bit rough, and will take at least an hour to drive its full length. (See Dayville area) About halfway through Bear Valley is Scotty Creek Lane, County Road 64 (44.177460, -118.995413). Scotty Creek Road eBird hotspot: It heads west from Highway 395. Check the area for hawks, sparrows and pygmy rabbits. About a mile from Highway 395 you cross the Silvies River. The fields (44.174646, -119.017714), are usually very wet in spring and early summer – look for waterfowl, Virginia Rail, Sora, blackbirds. In about six miles there is a ‘Y’ with the county road to the right ending at a ranch and the forest service road to the left (44.157202, -119.065484). This is the last location at which Upland Sandpipers were observed. In another mile or two the road veers right. Stop at the beaver pond and willow patch (44.148096, -119.131242) for flycatchers, waterfowl, woodpeckers and nuthatches (check the snag just north at (44.149207, -119.133217). Continuing on the 24 road, check out the aspen groves, especially where they are fenced-in on both sides of the road (Lat. 44°10’04.19”N, Long. 119°07’53.61” W). It is possible to find seven different woodpecker species. This road continues on to the Izee-Paulina Lane through the Flagtail Burn. Seneca (78-F1) has a few facilities available (restrooms, store, roadhouse).

Check the town for seed and hummingbird feeders. The fields just north are often flooded in spring and good for shorebirds and waterfowl. The power poles just north of Seneca host a couple of raptor nests. Check them for Red-tailed, Swainson’s or Ferruginous Hawks. Forest Service Road 16 goes east from Seneca toward Logan Valley, providing views of willow and pastureland habitat. Look for Green-tailed Towhee along the edges and Sandhill Cranes in the fields. Highway 395 between Seneca and Silvies Valley parallels the Silvies River. There are several good willow patches and turnouts along this stretch.