Framed by towering 400-foot canyon walls, Lake Billy Chinook offers a unique perspective on Central Oregon that also provides plenty of elbow room.
The lake – due west 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 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.
The spacious viewpoint offers a breathtaking 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 repeatedly buzzed a flock of ducks. The little waterfowl were bunched up - wing to wing – so to avoid getting caught by the eagle’s sharp talons.
We watched this age old predator-prey game marked by multiple eagle dives – with talons extended – for more than 15 minutes.
It was a remarkable activity amid a timeless rim rock country on a lake that’s more than seven miles long.
Wildlife Biologist Robert Marheine said that Lake Billy Chinook has been a drawing card for the eagles for many years.
“Well, it’s a combination of plentiful food – (the lake is home to a bountiful l kokanee salmon) plus, huge rocky cliff escarpments that provide preferred 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 to learn more about Lake Billy Chinook (the lakes formed when Round Butte Dam was completed in 1964) plus the eagles and other wildlife that live in the area.
It is also the main site for the upcoming and 24th annual “Eagle Watch” event that is co-sponsored by PGE and Oregon State Parks.
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 from the eagle experts and guest speakers who attend 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 seasoned researcher, Eagle Watch offers something for everybody.”
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.
In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” you will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."