Wildlife of the Okanogan Highlands

There are over 44 mammals within the fauna inhabiting the Okanogan Highlands. A comprehensive list of those mammals from the U. S. Forest Service is located at the bottom of this page. Here are some of the wildlife images, including non-mammalian I've managed to capture in this diverse habitat area.

Recently had a friend tell me, “They were big! Really big.” She was referring to a pair of river otters she spotted. I agree. With a full grown male weighing in 20 to 30 pounds, and averaging four feet in length they are large aquatic mammals. Over the years I’ve enjoyed several opportunities to observe river otters in their natural habitat. One of those sightings included watching a female otter teaching two pups how to fish.  A search on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) web-site states,  “although seldom seen, river otters are relatively common throughout Washington in ponds, lakes, rivers, sloughs, estuaries, bays, and in open waters along the coast.”


Buck in velvet
Velvet Buck...
Caught up with this whitetail buck as he sheltered from the hot summer sun browsing under this shrub in Ferry County, WA. There is a dusting of pollen sprinkled across the fine hairs of his snout. 
While wildlife officials report The long-term population trend for white-tailed deer continues to be on the downside due to the changing demographics and loss of acreage in cereal grain and alfalfa hay farm production. These deer along with their Mule Deer cousins are still frequent in the Okanogan Highlands.
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Merriam's Wild Turkeys...
Tom Turkey courting
The rugged, mountainous valleys of the Okanogan Highlands is rich in wildlife with many species of large, upland birds – this subspecies, named the Merriam's Wild Turkeys (named in 1900 in honor of Clinton Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey) live in Ponderosa Pine forests. If you count closely you’ll be able to see all 18 tail feathers (indicating full maturity). The tail and lower back feathers have white tips and purple and bronze reflections. Just after this photo we heard the toms gobbling in the forest on the nearby mountain slope. Gobbling can happen at all times of the year but the active toms will begin the heaviest early April through early June.
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Young bull moose preparing to swim the breath of Lake Roosevelt

Bull Moose…
Caught this image of a young bull moose in the Columbia River drainage on the shores of Lake Roosevelt. It came out of the dense forest and worked it’s way along a sandy beach, pausing to sniff a down tree and take a long drought of water. Than it set itself to the task of swimming the breath of the lake, over a mile wide at this reach. Took this moose 22 leisurely minutes to swim that distance.
 Moose is the largest species of the deer family. The palmate antlers of the moose noticeably distinguish the males. Habitat of these large ‘alces alces’ is typically the boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere ranging from temperate to subarctic climates. The range of moose has greatly diminished to hunting and other human activities over the years. Re-introduction programs continue to be marginally successful. Subsisting on a diet primarily of terrestrial and aquatic vegetation keeps the moose on the move. Their predators include wolves, bears, and humans. Moose are solitary animals unlike most other deer species and do not form herds. While these creatures are generally sedentary, moose can become aggressive and dangerous when angered or startled. During their autumnal mating season competing males may fight aggressively to mate with an available female.

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The Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl...
One of the small nocturnal predators of the Okanogan Highlands is the Northern Saw-whet owl. This is a very small, short-bodied, owl with an overly large head and no ear tufts. While these owls look small when perched in flight they appear larger because of their broad wings.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are primarily nocturnal. The Saw-whet Owl's name comes from the "skiew" call that is made when alarmed. This sound has a resemblance to the whetting of a saw.
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Young bighorn ram - Kettle Breaks, Vulcan Mtn.
Big horn sheep are found in numerous locations within the Okanogan Highlands region including the western slope of Sinlahekin wildlife refuge near Loomis WA, the Kettle River breaks on the southern slope of Vulcan Mountain west of Curlew WA, the southern reaches of the San Poil Range in the tall granite cliffs above the Columbia River, Lake Roosevelt and on Hall Mountain in Pend Oreille County as well. 
In 1823 naturalist and explorer David Douglas noted in his journal regarding big horn sheep in the OKanogan Highlands, "instead of wool it has short, thick course hair of brownish-grey, from which it gets the name Mountain Gris".
More on David Douglas More on David Douglas
This bighorn ewe is keeping an eye on me as  other ewes and yearling lambs climb for safety in the rocky cliffs over looking southern Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia River valley. 

Small herd of bighorn sheep - Colville Tribal lands
I'll close out the bighorn sheep photos with this last shot of a small herd on the Colville Indian Tribal lands in the Columbia River Valley. Tribal game officers are keeping a close eye on this and other neighboring herds, monitoring for diseases, poachers, predators and general range of the animals. 

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A look at some of the smaller fauna in the Highlands area includes:

A Polyphemus Moth...
I discovered this specimen in the large pines along the Kettle River. This is a North American member of the giant silk moths.It is a tan colored moth, with an average wingspan of 15 cm (6 inches). The most notable feature of the moth is its large, purplish eyespots on its two hindwings. The eye spots are where it gets its name – from the Greek myth of the Cyclops Polyphemus. 

The Gopher Snake...

This bull snake, also known as a gopher snake is living up to it’s reputation of behaving like a timber rattler. These non-venomous snakes make an impressive display of coiling, striking, and loud hissing. Gopher snakes are also known to vibrate the tip of its tail in dry grass and leaves, further mimicking a rattlesnake. This snake is actually a constrictor, killing small rodents by squeezing them until the prey suffocates.

More to come ~ check back soon...

U. S. Forest Service listing of mammals within the Okanogan Highlands
mule deer (odocoileus hemiohus)
white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus)
bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis)
black bear (ursus americanus)
moose (alces alces)
elk (cervus elaphus)
mountain lion (felis concolor)
coyote (canis latrans)
wolverine (gulo gulo)
bob cat (lynx rufus)
lynx (lynx canadensis)
fisher (martes pennanti)
ermine (mustela erminea)
long-tailed weasel (mustela frenata)
mink (mustela vison)
porcupine (erethizon dorsatum)
snowshoe hare (lepus americanus)
striped skunk (mephitis mephitis)
yellow-bellied marmot (marmota flaviventris)
northern flying squirrel (glaucomys sabrinus)
red squirrel (tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
golden-mantled ground squirrel (spermophilus lateralis)
columbian ground squirrel (spermophilus columbianus)
yellow-pine chipmuck (tamius amoenus)
hoary bat (lasiurus cinereus)
silver-haired bat (lasionyeteris noctivagons)
townsend's big-eared bat (plecotus townsendii)
yuma myotis (myotis yumanensis)
long-eared myotis (myotis evotis)
little brown myotis (myotis lucifugus)
california myotis (myotis californicus)
fringed myotis (myotis thysanodes)
long-legged myotis (myotis volans)
gapper's red-backed vole (clethrionomys gapperi)
long-tailed vole (microtus longicaudus)
montane vole (microtus montanus)
meadow vole (microtus pennsylvanicus)
bushy-tailed woodrat (neoloma cinerea)
deer mouse (peromyscus maniculatus)
western jumping mouse (zapus princeps)
masked shrew (sorex cinereus)
montane shrew (sorex monticolus)
water shrew (sorex palustris)
vagrant shrew (sorex vagrans)


  1. We have beaver on Toroda Creek right now. Don't forget them!

    1. Hi Patricia, couldn't forget one of our most industrious members of the wildlife community, on the other hand try as I might I've yet to get a good photograph of one. Soon, I hope - soon...

    2. Hi Mr. Foster,
      you have done an excellent job, your website helps to understand the area a lot!

    3. Thank you Patricia, it is a fine area to live, work and research. Hope to have more time soon to add to the blog...

  2. Hi,
    I am not one hundred per cent but I think that buck in velvet is a muley by his tail. Also there are a few Columbia blacktail around there. I have seen wolverine in the area. And elk. I like your photos.
    Ray Grey

  3. Great pictures! Did you take them? Or do you know the photographer? I'm looking for some images I can use for design work.