The Columbia River Gorge that separates Oregon and Washington is teeming with wildlife. Yet, tens of thousands of people drive through the spectacular Gorge each day without seeing a single animal. Speeding along at 70 miles an hour, they might notice a waterfall or two, or perhaps a barge plying the wide river. But those with the time to pull over and hike one of the myriad of trails that ascend the canyons and ridges on either side of the river are in for a treat of both native flora and fauna.
Waterfowl abound on the Columbia River, its riparian fringes, rocky inlets and tributaries. Many are year-round residents while some ducks and geese migrate through. Over 200 bird species – from hummingbirds to herons – have been spotted at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge east of Camas.
And where there are waterfowl, fish and rodents, there are raptors. Over the years, we have enjoyed witnessing the rebounding population of bald eagles in the Columbia Gorge. Hawks, ospreys, ravens and turkey vultures are common; falcons, owls and kestrels less so. At the eastern end of the Gorge meadowlarks and wild turkeys seem to thrive in the oak savanna.
Garter snakes are common in the western end of the Gorge while rattlesnakes are occasionally seen in the drier east end.
As for mammals, squirrels and deer are quite common throughout. We’ve seen sizable herds of deer in the Catherine Creek, Lyle Cherry Orchard, and Dalles Mountain areas. Once we were surprised to spot several elk on the grassy flats below Horsetail Falls, not far from the hubbub of Multnomah Falls. At the far eastern end of the Gorge, past the mouth of the John Day River between mileposts 119 and 129 on Interstate 84 bands of bighorn sheep are frequently seen on the rocky slopes on the Oregon side.
I once saw (but unfortunately did not photograph) a black bear on the Eagle Creek trail. Count yourself lucky if you spot a raccoon or coyote – we see their tracks and spoor often.
Even if you don’t have time to hike or picnic in the Gorge, if you are observant you will surely see a few of the animals that populate this wonderful piece of scenic real estate.