Saltese Flats: From Farmland to Birdwatching Mecca

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A duck launches the wave.

The mischievous duck floating among dozens takes flight first. Two follow, then another 10, and half a second later they’ve all lifted off in a storm of flashing white wings and glistening water droplets.

Migrating waterfowl, hundreds and thousands of them, are a common and beautiful spring sight in the Saltese Flats wetland area, west of Liberty Lake and east of Barker Road.

In just a few years, Saltese Flats has grown from a small private pond surrounded by farmland to a publicly accessible wetland ecosystem. Its water levels fluctuate throughout the year and the site is well known to local birdwatchers. Birders have seen 194 species at Saltese Flats, which places the area behind the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Eloika, and Lake Philleo among Spokane County’s birding hotspots.

It was a radical change.

Prior to the 1890s, the site was often filled with water. Farmers drained it before the turn of the century and for over a hundred years it was mainly hay meadows.

In 2010 Spokane County began acquiring the property. The acquisition of over 500 acres serves a dual purpose. It was always meant to be a conservation project, but it was and is also an insurance policy. If the county is forced to stop dumping sewage into the Spokane River, it will likely start pumping treated water 15 miles to Saltese Flats instead.

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