By: Mason Maron
Though many animals inhabit Kamiak Butte, bird species are most prevalent by far. Over 140 different species of bird have been observed and reported from Kamiak Butte. The diverse habitat the butte provides can be broken up into four primary sections: the base, the North Aspect, the South Aspect, and the “crest”. The Butte’s rich habitat isolated in a sea of wheat also turns it into a highly attractive stopover for vagrants, rare birds from other regions that are not found locally but have flown “off course”.
The base accounts for the most lack-luster vegetation at Kamiak Butte. This section is primarily wheat fields from the private land surrounding the butte, as well as a bit of grassland as the county park land border begins. Despite this, plenty of birds prefer this section of the butte. Raptor species, such as Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier, constantly hunt in this section, utilizing the open ground cover to detect their prey more easily. Other raptors also participate in this hunt—Swainson’s Hawks will hunt in these fields in the Summer, and Rough-legged Hawks in the winter, their migration patterns mirroring each other to “take each other’s places”. Common Ravens will also make frequent appearances in these fields, generally to feed on carrion, attempt to snag a fresh meal from the talons of a raptor, or just gather into a new flock. Aside from raptors, some passerines do inhabit this area; flocks of American Pipit can often be seen foraging for insects in the muddy wheat fields from Spring to Fall, while Western Meadowlarks can usually be heard singing from deep in the grasslands.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Red Tailed-Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis)
In the North Aspect’s forest, an immediate increase of passerine activity can be noticed any time of year. From the county park parking lot to the crest of the butte, certain species are prevalent throughout this entire forest, such as Mountain Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Bewick’s Wren, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and the region’s three nuthatch species, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Pygmy Nuthatch. Woodpeckers such as Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker are also prevalent in this section, utilizing Ponderosa Pine’s platy bark of to gain easy access to insects and thick trunks to drill into for nesting holes. Most of the sparrow activity also occurs in this forested section, with birds like Dark-eyed Junco and Song Sparrow actively foraging on the ground in flocks for seeds from both trees and understory shrubs and forbs. Overall, most of the butte’s passerine activity occurs within the North Aspect, as it provides plenty of cover that the generally small songbirds seek from rain, wind, and predators, as well as plenty of food in the form of seeds and invertebrates. Birds in this region often utilize the dense canopy cover to nest safely in the summer as well; species such as Cedar Waxwing, Swainson’s Thrush, and Cassin’s Finch can all be seen nesting in the branches of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Western Larch, among many other species. Of course, just because these birds are in the cover of the forest does not mean they are safe from predators; “forest hawks” such as Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk actively hunt small mammals and birds in this forest. On top of this, owls actively hunt here, from large species such as Great-horned Owl to tiny ones such as Northern Pygmy-Owl, a bird no larger than the sparrows it hunts for dinner.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Red-breast Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii)
Ponderosa Pine Crossbill (Sitta canadensis)
Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)
Kamiak Butte is “an isolated stand of trees in an otherwise mostly unforested landscape”, a quote from Western US naturalist Hal Opperman. This makes it stand out as an ideal stopover spot for migrating birds. When a bird gets lost or off course in migration, it can end up in the completely wrong location, and is known as a vagrant; birds like this are often exhausted from flying much longer than they prepared for, so noticing prime habitat below them entices them to fly down for a break. Because of this, Kamiak Butte has a long streak of hosting some amazing vagrant species, from species “not too far from home” such as Clark’s Nutcracker, a corvid found on nearby mountains in the Cascades and Rockies, to birds completely in the wrong location, such as Northern Parula, a migratory warbler found normally in the Eastern United States in summer. It has also hosted rarities such as Black-billed Cuckoo, Hooded Warbler, Lewis’ Woodpecker, and Least Flycatcher.
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)