Sprague Lake and Environs

By Gina Sheridan

The Site

Sprague Lake is a deep-water lake situated within the Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau Ecoregion. Geographically, the lake stretches from southeastern Lincoln County into northeastern Adams County. The Channeled Scablands were created by massive ice-age floods that scoured out the basaltic bedrock and transformed the landscape into a series of rough hilly ridges and deep coulees (canyons). The native vegetation of the uplands is typical of the shrub-steppe (dominant sagebrush mixed with various grasses).

Within this semiarid climate, water is at a premium. As a result, Sprague Lake is an important staging area for waterfowl, and is one of the only two known nesting sites for American White Pelican in the state. The lake offers migrant passerines refuge along the extensive brushy areas of the shoreline.

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The Birds

During migration, large numbers of waterfowl come through. Most of the dabbling ducks, diving ducks, and the grebe tribe can be found here. In migration, the occasional Peregrine Falcon may be observed, several different species of warblers and sparrows can be found skulking in the shoreline thickets, and four different species of terns are possible. In late summer, masses of swallows often congregate on the lakeside power lines and fences.
In the spring and summer, Ospreys and Willow Flycatchers nest along the shore. Flocks of American White Pelicans are so conspicuous that one can easily spot them from I-90. While Red-tailed and Swainson's Hawks are commonly observed riding the thermals, Bald Eagles are often seen perched in the tall cottonwoods along the shore.
At the southern (Adams County) fishing access, Gray Partridge is a frequently seen resident, and both Ring-billed and California Gulls have nesting colonies on Harper Island. Birders scoping the distant gravel spits, may be rewarded with views of roosting Double-crested Cormorants and terns.
In winter, Merlin and Northern Shrike can sometimes be found in the town of Sprague. During cold winters, the lake itself is frozen with very little open water, but American Tree Sparrows can sometimes be found at the Lincoln County fishing access area.
Rarities can turn up in migration. Forster's Terns, Bonaparte's Gull, and Franklin's Gull may be seen in the spring. In the fall, Long-tailed Duck can turn up, and September is a good time to search for Sabine's Gull and Common Tern.

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Directions and Suggestions

From I-90, take Exit #245, and proceed south on Route 23 to Poplar Street (0.2 miles). Turn right on Poplar; go 0.2 miles and then turn left (south) on B Street. Go another 0.2 miles and then turn right onto First Street (which turns into Max Harder Road at the ''Y'' at the west end of the city limits). Turn left at the ''Y'' and drive west on Max Harder Road out of Sprague for 2.7 miles. At this point, turn right into the Lincoln County fishing access to Sprague Lake.

Continue southwest on Max Harder Road (becomes Danekas Road in Adams County) to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) public fishing sign (3.8 miles). Turn right and go 0.3 mile north and turn left at the fork. A pull-out offers an overlook of Harper Island and the surrounding bay. In order to visit these sites, a WDFW vehicle use permit is required.

The town of Sprague offers gas, food, and basic lodging.

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References

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