Framed by towering 400-foot canyon walls, Lake Billy Chinook offers a perspective on Central Oregon that includes plenty of elbow room.
The lake – southwest of Madras – is framed by the snow covered Cascade Mountains to the west and a vast undulating high desert to the east – it is big country where distances are great and people are few.
But Oregon State Parks Interpretive Ranger, Paul Patton, noted that when it comes to Eagle Watch, the lack of people is actually a good thing:
“There are some days when you will see more bald eagles and golden eagles than you do people in the park. It’s just stunning to watch the wildlife.”
He’s right – we found a compelling wildlife show at Cove State Park’s Viewpoint #2. (Located just above the marina.) The spacious viewpoint offers a breath taking view of the lake and its varied canyons – but we were soon drawn to a more dramatic life and death show that played out hundreds of feet below us on the lake’s surface.
Not one – but two - bald eagles were buzzing a flock of ducks. The little waterfowl were tightly bunched together - wing to wing – to avoid getting caught by the eagle’s sharp talons.
We watched this age old predator-prey game - marked by repeated eagle strafing dives. Time after time, the eagles dove - talons extended – over the flock for more than fifteen minutes.
It was a exciting to watch the eagles hunt amid timeless rim rock country on a lake that’s more than seven miles long.
PGE Wildlife Biologist, Robert Marheine, said that Lake Billy Chinook has been an eagle drawing card for many years.
“Well, it’s a combination of plentiful food – (the lake is home to plentiful kokanee salmon) plus, the huge rock cliff escarpments provide raptor roosting and nesting habitat – it’s a special place.”
Marheine was quick to add that winter time eagle viewing demands preparation including warm clothing, powerful but comfortable binoculars, and finally, lots of patience.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve been out here with people who say, 'Ahh, I don’t see an eagle,’ said Marheine. “And they jump into their cars and leave. Too bad! Usually, that’s when a bald eagle comes right up to us on a thermal and drifts over our heads. If you bring patience, you will be rewarded.”
PGE’s “Round Butte Overlook Park” is a good place to duck in and learn more about Lake Billy Chinook (the lake formed when PGE's Round Butte Dam project was completed in 1964,) plus the eagles and other wildlife that live in the area.
Photo courtesy: OPRD
It is also the main site for the 18th annual “Eagle Watch” weekend event that is co-sponsored by PGE and Oregon State Parks.
Photo courtesy: OPRD
The popular event draws folks from all over the west during the last full weekend in February. Patton noted that many people come to Eagle Watch to learn more about birds of prey from experts and guest speakers during the two day event.
“Eagle Watch has grown into a major event for our region,” added Patton. “You can learn about the natural and cultural history of this area and usually see plenty of eagles. It is great fun for the entire family and it’s free! Whether you’re a first time eagle viewer or a seasoned researcher, Eagle Watch offers something for everybody.”