Reardan’s Audubon Lake – A Rich Refuge for Birds

February 15, 2018

Imagine… you are a migrating tundra swan flying north, desperately searching for a place to land. Below you are miles and miles of dry, dusty wheat fields. Your energy is fading, you’re hungry, and you’re exhausted. Then, miraculously, you spot a beautiful, lush 600-acre sanctuary. Your paradise is replete with marshy wetlands, vernal ponds, year-long lakes, an upland prairie, and inviting vegetation, including your favorite sedges and grasses. After you land, you realize that there is plenty to go around, so you don’t mind sharing with red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, bald eagles, or even the red heads, coots, mallards, and ruddy ducks—over 144 species in all. You are surrounded by the mellifluous symphony of pacific chorus frogs punctuated by the light staccato of scampering deer mice, yellow pine chipmunks, montane voles, and northern pocket gophers.

How can this be, in the midst of eastern Washington’s agricultural land? It all happened not with the greatest of ease, but with the greatest of dedication and many years of very hard work from the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy as well as our partners in conservation. The Conservancy is delighted to announce that the Reardan’s Audubon Lake wildlife area just expanded with the purchase of the adjacent Mikkelsen property. This 159-acre parcel, with several large ponds and truly abundant wildlife, makes a crucial contribution to the Audubon Lake Wildlife Area just outside of Reardan (20 miles west of Spokane). Owner Vina Mikkelsen asserts that selling the land to the Conservancy is “the most important thing I have done in a long time.”

It all began when, back in 2003, the Spokane Audubon Society alerted the Conservancy’s Chris DeForest that a “for sale” sign had sprouted at Audubon Lake. Negotiations immediately began to purchase the 277-acre parcel, decades ago dubbed Audubon Lake after bird watchers started flocking to the area. The collaborative efforts of the Conservancy, the Spokane and other Audubon Societies, and the Reardan Chamber of Commerce saved the retreat from development as a refuge for birds and as a watchable wildlife site. Shortly thereafter, in 2006, the Conservancy sold the invaluable parcel at its cost to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Hard-working volunteers and members of organizations, like the Reardan Lions Club, put in incalculable time and effort to help WDFW make Audubon Lake a special, educational place for the community to enjoy birds in their natural habitat. The addition of blinds, spotting scopes, asphalt trails, parking lots, and a restroom made for an excellent bird spotting destination. Gone were the days of risking one’s life on the side of the highway to view the birds. The restoration work with native plants and grasses helped return the land to its natural state.

Then, in 2015, the Conservancy bought adjacent acreage with equally important habitat, the 150-acre Deep Creek Preserve. Just last spring, the Conservancy sold this parcel to WDFW. Finally, in January of 2018, the Conservancy bought the 159-acre Mikkelsen property to round out the incredible haven to nearly 600 acres.

The refuge is treasured not only by our migrating swan, but also by humans. The combined properties—Audubon Lake, Deep Creek Preserve, and Mikkelsen—include the headwaters of Crab Creek, Deep Creek, and Spring Creek. This unique cluster offers lessons on the land, from the effects of the Ice Age floods to the fragility of wetlands, and is a stop on the Palouse to Pines trail developed by Audubon Washington. It’s also a notable feature on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

How do we know these lands are so important? Because we have carefully studied them, with the Deep Creek Preserve Bioassessment funded by the Charlotte Y. Martin Foundation. Beginning in 2016, a collaborative team of faculty and student researchers from local universities; experts from the Spokane Audubon Society, the Spokane Native Plant Society, and WDFW; and other volunteers conducted an in-depth study of the various species that inhabit the preserve. They counted and described birds, waterfowl, small mammals, bats, frogs, grasses, and much more. The initial bioassessment established a baseline, and subsequent studies, including the just-completed 2017 work, track changes on the land. Moving forward, in 2018, local Reardan students will participate in conservation management, including assessing wildlife and water quality for future generations.

Inland Northwest Land Conservancy is thrilled to add yet another 159 acres to the Audubon Lake oasis with this most recent addition of the Mikkelsen property, and we are grateful to our many supporters and agency partners who have helped make this possible. We know that our migrating tundra swan will be pleased, as are the hundreds of fans who flock to the area to see her and her friends.