Plant & Wildlife
The wide range of habitats along the Deschutes and Little Deschutes Rivers provide nearly 100 different species of plants and trees. The upstream reaches of the rivers pass through forests with Englemann spruce, quaking aspen, fir, Douglas-fir and hemlock. As the elevation decreases going down the river, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and meadows begin to replace spruce, aspen, fir, and hemlock. Further downstream, sage and juniper become more abundant. Alder, willow, cottonwood and dogwood grow in the riparian zone along most of the two rivers within Deschutes County. At the northern reaches of the paddle trail, the drier climate supports upland sage and juniper communities. In this region, willow, sedges and juniper provide riparian cover. Oregon grape-the state flower-is one of many flowers that can be seen. Too many different species of wildflowers grow near the rivers to mention here, but a resource for wildflowers can be found at www.fs.us/wildflowers.
Before dams were built on the river, salmon migrated up the Deschutes River from the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Now only Kokanee, a land locked salmon, inhabit the upper reaches of the Deschutes because the dam at Crane Prairie blocks their passage to the Deschutes River below Wickiup Reservoir. The upper Deschutes River has abundant rainbow trout, brown trout and mountain whitefish. As a consequence, it is very popular with fishers and attracts many birds and mammals.
Northern river otters and mink feed on the fish and can be seen sliding into the river in search of their prey. The river provides verdant habitat for other mammals. Beaver- which attracted the first European trappers to the Deschutes River area- like the aspen, willow and alder that grow in the riparian areas of the rivers. Muskrats, raccoons, long-tailed weasels, Townsend’s chipmunks and western gray squirrels can be seen along the rivers. It is not unusual to see coyotes, mule deer or elk near the rivers. A good source for further information can be obtained at the website www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/wildlife/species/mammals.
The rivers in Deschutes County pass through very diverse bird habitats, attracting over 200 bird species. In addition, the Deschutes River basin east of the Cascade Mountains is a pathway for many migratory birds. These two factors make the area very attractive for birders year round. Songbirds find food and shelter in the vegetation adjacent to the rivers. Waterfowl are found in pools and quiet waters. The river through Bend is a popular location for a variety of ducks, geese and swans, especially in the winter. Great blue herons, osprey, bald eagles, double-crested cormorants, orange-belted kingfishers, and American dippers are frequently sighted and enjoyed by paddlers. In the canyons, species such as rock and canyon wrens can be heard, and vigilant observers will see chukars and California quail. As paddlers pass through wooded areas, they can hear and see many varieties of woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, and nuthatches. These diverse bird species add a great deal to the boating experience. For information about the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail, visit www.oregonbirdingtrails.org.