Sisters and surrounding area
Organized by the East Cascades Audubon Society, the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival brings together birdwatching enthusiasts from all walks of life to celebrate the woodpecker-rich woodlands of the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters. This region is home to eleven of the state’s twelve species of woodpecker, making it one of the best woodpecker-watching areas in the United States. The forested east slope of the Cascades near Sisters has suffered many wildfires over the years, and while the burnt timber and scared landscape left by these conflagrations may seem unsightly, they are a major reason for the preponderance of woodpeckers in the area because dead, burnt snags provide excellent feeding and nesting sites for woodpeckers.
Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival – USA Festivals Photo Gallery
Common species include red-naped, red-breasted, and Williamson’s sapsuckers; white-headed woodpeckers; hairy and downy woodpeckers; and northern flickers.
Less common but almost always seen by festival field-trip participants are pileated, black-backed, three-toed, and Lewis’s woodpeckers. Named after Dean Hale who was tragically killed in a car wreck in 2012, the festival is part of Hale’s legacy as a birder par excellence and consummate conservationist and teacher. The festival organizers—all volunteers—are dedicated to sharing their enthusiasm in helping attendees have a great time while seeing many different birds, including, of course, the woodpeckers.
Although headquartered in Sisters, the family-friendly woodpecker festival sends birding field trips out to locations both near and far (and in the process typically racks up a total of some 200 species of birds seen). Distant locations include Summer Lake and the Ochoco Mountains; but most field trips head for known birding hotspots in the forests near Sisters. Participants pay a fee for each field trip, with proceeds benefiting the many great conservation and education projects of the East Cascades Audubon Society. Most field trips require some hiking (up to a mile), sometimes over somewhat rough terrain, but the festival also offers vehicle-based field trips for people with limited mobility. Popular special trips include bluebird banding and the evening “Owl Prowl” to listen for and hopefully see not only owls but common poorwills. The festival also features a Saturday-evening social held in Sisters (see website for location and time). Registration for the festival opens April 1, and it’s wise to register and select field trips right away as group sizes are limited.
Sisters offers several lodging options (see www.sisterscountry.com), but rooms tend to sell out every weekend during the summer, so make reservation ahead of time. If you prefer camping, Sisters Creekside Campground is conveniently located on the east end of town, and several US Forest Service campground in the area offer not only secluded camping but immediate and outstanding access to prime woodpecker habitat. These include Cold Springs Campground, Indian Ford Campground, and Jack Creek Campground. For details, consult the Sisters Ranger District of Deschutes National Forest, (541) 549-7700 (offices at the west end of Sisters).