Willow Creek Wildlife Management Area

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Be aware that the road into Willow Creek WMA passes through private property and you must stay to the marked route. To get there from I-84 eastbound, take the Three Mile Canyon exit (exit 151), just past the Morrow county line. Turn right on Three Mile Canyon road, then right again at the first road leading west, marked with a sign leading to the WMA and a cattle guard. If the barbed wire gate is closed, you are allowed to open it and go in, just make sure you close it behind you as cattle are probably grazing in the area. Getting there involves taking a number of sharp turns and passing a number of confusing intersections but they are all marked with green Wildlife Management arrow signs. The first mile is a little bumpy and shouldn’t be an issue for most passenger cars. It might prove to be very difficult to find in the dark. Access to this location is through Morrow country but the site itself in in Gilliam county. This location requires a ODFW parking pass.


Habitat and Birds

This stop is a must for birding in Gilliam county. Near the end of the road to Willow Creek, it makes a sharp turn and descends to the marsh area. It is good to scope the lake area from this higher vantage point for a full view of the open water. Look for American White Pelican, waterfowl, gulls and terns before heading down. A White-Winged Scoter was viewed flying from here. Listen for Lark Sparrow, Rock Wrens and look for raptors.  Many ducks are here in winter along with Pied-billed and Western Grebe.

At the bottom is a boat ramp and parking area surrounded by Russian Olives, shrubs and sage brush. This area is a potential vagrant trap.  Look for sparrows, warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Bewick’s Wren. A Northern Waterthrush was found here. One June a vociferous Least Flycatcher was also here. Scope the lake area from the boat ramp for waterfowl, swallows, and gulls. In summer, look for Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Bullock’s Orioles and Western Tanager in the grove of cottonwoods south of the dam structure. In the cattails around the lake it is possible to get Sora and Virginia Rail. Red-winged Blackbird, occasional Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh Wren are common. Tricolored Blackbird is a possibility.

This marsh used to be much more open and in spring the mudflats there were a magnet for many shorebirds, including Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. American Bittern and Black-Crowned Night Heron have also been sighted here. Unfortunately, in recent years the drawing down of the waters behind the John Day dam have lowered the water level, and the mudflat has completely grown over except a small silver that gets exposed when the river is lower. In the willows north of the substation Bohemian Waxwings have been sighted (but not common). This area recently eroded from flooding and exposed a very small creek under the trees which has created a great spot for passerines to come to water in summer.  It also opened a bank for a colony of Bank Swallows. There is a road that continues south just past the substation, you can along the edge of a marsh where Common Yellowthroat have been found.  Great-Horned and Barn Owls have been sighted here as well. Be aware that in winter there is waterfowl hunting at this location.