Birding Island

012 johnson1This is an assessors map of Birding Island circa in the late 50s. It has the names of owners of all these parcels at the time.

The dark line thru the center is Hwy 52 from Hamilton’s corner (lower right to Payette upper left).

The bottom horizontal road is NW 1st ave. above it is NW 2nd.  2nd from left is Butte Ave.

It shows the people living around the mouth of Big Willow Creek: Charlie Johnson, Pence, Barker, Burt, etc. These people plus the ones on the south side of the river are referred to as the River Clans in my writings. These folks were generally here before the canals brought water to the Plymouth bench.  the river environs were their source of sustenance–not farming from water from the canals (Noble and Farmers), although some later benefitted from these canals. And, there were some earlier canals done to water fields around the mouth of Big Willow.

It was shortly after this map, that the state took Charlie Johnson’s land (when he retired) as part of the game refuge they had been collecting for some years.  Also the Kniefel land (old Kennedy ranch) was also purchased.  Next to them Van Leuvan (year ahead of me in school), King, Simpson, Gus Zeigler and Knight were all threatened to lose land to the Fish and Game to complete the domination of Birding Island game refuge.  I don’t know if Higby and Eagle Island ranches are/were included in their plans. During my day, there was a road along the river across all these ranches bordering the river (south side) — in this map this road has been eliminated and the old bluff road across Charlie Johnson’s old farm has been Gate-chained across it to prevent access.

012 np birding island bluffs 2005

I do not understand Fish and Game designation of this as a reserve.  The island  and the river bottom has been infested with legions of magpies, multitudes of crows — predatory birds, especially predators of water fowl. This predation plus coyote and domestic dogs have long kept water fowl from nesting here, except for an occasional errant Mallard–who I doubt successfully raised chicks.  For water fowl it is like a desert!  Why nest here when perfect conditions are available only a few miles away on the Snake–with none of the predation?   However, who can argue with gov’t bureaucrats?  I suppose that it looks good on a map!


Charlie’s land included the Bluff. (on the map his name is on top of the bluff). Above the bluff had no water access. Just under the bluff was the side branch of Payette feeding the Payette Canal diversion (just under Johnson name).

The Payette river channel in 1800s and early 1900s, ran right next to the bluffs (now a side channel), and changed to its present course after an ice dam blocked the main channel in the teens.  Braided streams like the lower Payette will change their channels numerous times over the course of history.  At one time or another the river has meandered back and forth across the entire width of the lower Payette valley multiple times.  It will remain where it is today only as long as the Black Canyon Dam impounds the spring thaw.  And, as long as the weather does not do what it did in winter of 1948-49; freeze the river, and then thaw causing ice dams.  In this last hard winter, ice dams came down the river and took out both the Falk bridge and the Hwy 52 bridge (a new one only there 4-5 years).

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