Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"David Douglas, 1825-1827, 1830-1832"
"Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823-1827"
David Douglas, a Scottish botanist representing the Horticultural Society of London, spent eleven years in the United States traveling the west and documenting the plants he encountered. Douglas visited the Pacific Northwest three times between 1825-1827 and 1830-1832. Throughout his journeys Douglas described 250 plants previously unknown in Europe. In 1914 Douglas's journal, called Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823-1827, was published.

Excerpts from:
(book title, publisher, etc. here)

Under Construction ...

Birds of David Douglas ...
1826, while at Fort Vancouver ...

Sunday, January 1st.
   Commencing a year in such a far removed corner of the earth, where I am nearly destitute of civilised society, there is some scope for reflection. In 1824, I was on the Atlantic on my way to England ; 1825, between the island of Juan Fernandez and the Galapagos in the Pacific ; I am now here, and God only knows where I may be the next. In all probability, if a change does not take place, I will shortly be consigned to the tomb. I can die satisfied with myself. I never have given cause for remonstrance or pain to an individual on earth. ^ I am in my twenty-seventh year.

January 2nd to March 1st.    As my Journal would be of little consequence containing a statement of the weather and so on, I do not transcribe it. The following birds came under my notice during the season :

Silver-headed Eagle is abundant all over the country where there are rivers containing fish. They perch on dead trees and stumps over- hanging the water, and are invariably to be found near falls or cascades. It is a very wary bird and difficult to obtain ; although powerful, it is overcome by several other species. Its voice is a weak whistle ; called by the natives ' chuck, chuck,' which name they give from its own call. They build their nests on large trees on the banks of rivers, and seem to prefer a point, for on every conspicuous eminence or neck of land are nests. I have not seen the egg ; has two, three, or four young at a time. They keep the nest on the branches of the trees for several weeks, and seldom leave the place where they were hatched any considerable distance. The colour of the first plumage is a brownish -black. The first spring they assume a mottled-grey, the head and tail of a lighter cast ; the second, the head and tail become perfectly white, and the body black. When returning from the Grand Rapids last September, I observed one take a small sturgeon out of the Water and come over my head. I lifted my gun and brought him down. The claws were so firmly clenched through the carti- laginous substance of the back, that he did not let go until I introduced a needle in the vertebrae of the neck. The sturgeon measured 15 inches long, weighing about 4 Ib.

Common Magpie ; is a rare bird in the low country. The first I observed Was in November. I am informed they are very abundant in the upper country at all seasons, whither they probably migrate in the summer. They appear not to differ specifically from the European species except in size,and the tail feathers of the male a brighter azure-purple. The American variety has the same trait in his character as the European of annoying horses that have any sores about them. I killed a pair, male and female, in January.

Wood Partridge ; is not a rare bird although they are by no means seen in such numbers as many of the tribes on the other side of the continent. They frequent dry gravelly soils on the outskirts of woods, among hazel bushes and other brushwood ; are very shy. The breaking of a small twig is sufficient to raise them, and as they very generally are in the low thicket, it is only by a chance shot on wing they can be secured. I preserved two pair of this fine species, but a villainous rat mutilated one of the males so much that I had to throw it away, and I had no opportunity to replace it, and there is in the collection one male and two females.

On the Multnomah there is one of very diminutive size not so large as the English thrush, with a long azure crest ; the whole bird is pease-grey except the neck and head which are azure - purple. I have not seen it myself. I have furnished one of the hunters with a small quantity of fine shot to procure it for me.

In the upper country there are two or three species of grouse, one, a very large bright grey bird as large as the smaller size of turkeys, it is very plentiful and easily procured ;

another of the same colour, about the size of the English black-cock, inhabits the same place, and is abundant.

In addition to these there is a very beautiful species of pheasant, a little on this side of the Rocky Mountains, about the size of the common hen, of a blackish colour. It cackles exactly like a hen, it was never seen to fly, but runs with great speed.

The large grouse I have never seen alive, only tail feathers, and parts of the skin forming war capes in the possession of Indians from the interior.

Small Blue Jay ; a very distinct bird from C[uculus\ cristatus of Wilson. Indeed I do not remember any species that will agree with it in his work. If I recollect rightly, the common blue jay is rather a shy bird, and in the autumn is seen in great flocks, seldom near houses. This one is also very plentiful, but seldom more than thirty or forty together ; it is very tame and visits dunghills of Indian villages, the same as the English robin. I preserved three, sex unknown. It is of a darker blue than the other, with a black crest.

Large Brown Eagle ; ia a less plentiful bird than most species of the tribe, and not so shy as many. Is not so ferocious as the Silver-headed, of which he stands in great awe. I was able to procure only one of this species in February ; the sex is unknown to me. Appears not to live on fish, as wild-fowl was in the stomach.

Small Eagle ; this appears to be a rare bird ; only one pair have I seen, one of which I killed. It flies with amazing speed and pursues all other species although far inferior in strength and much smaller ; the legs and feet of a bright light blue colour. What food it lives on I cannot say, as the stomach was empty.

Large Horned Owl ; seems not to be very abundant ; I have not seen more than twelve or fourteen. One I killed by the light of the moon, after having watched for six successive evenings. It was not the species I was in quest of ;

I am given to understand there is a species here much larger than the Snowy Owl, of a yellowish-brown, but although I have been constantly in search of him, I am as yet unsuccessful.

Two species of Crow, one large and one small ; the small one is less abundant and more shy, generally seen on the sides of rivers ; both frequent old encampments and live on carrion ; one of each is in the collection ; killed in February.

Of the Hawk tribe I have seen four species ; only two males of different species I have been able to kill, which are both preserved.

I have seen one nearly a pure white about the size of a Sparrowhawk, a very active bird and continually on the chase after all the other species which all shun its society. I am sorry that this with the other two species I am unable to kill.

In Wild- fowl there appears to be little difference from those found in most parts of uninhabited America.

The common Canadian Wild Goose, the Grey or Calling Goose,

and the Small White Goose, are very plentiful in all lakes, low plains, and on the sandbanks of the Columbia. They migrate northward in April and return in October. A pair of each are in the collection, the male of the grey is a fine mottled bird.

Of Swans there appear to be three species or varieties : one large, the Common Swan ; one small, of the same colour (probably age may account for that) ; a third, equal in size to the largest, bluish-grey on the back, neck, and head, white on the belly. All three are seen together in flocks frequenting the same spots as the wild geese and migrate at the same time. The third species, of which there is a female in the collection, differs I think specifically from the others and is not so plentiful. In Ducks there are ten or twelve species; I have been able to kill only three.

On the Columbia there is a species of Buzzard, the largest of all birds here, the Swan excepted. I killed only one of this very interesting bird, with buckshot, one of which passed through the head, which rendered it unfit for preserving ; I regret it exceedingly, for I am confident it is not yet described. I have fired at them with every size of small shots at respect- able distances without effect ; seldom more than one or two are together. When they find a dead carcase or any putrid animal matter, so gluttonous are they that they will eat until they can hardly walk and have been killed with a stick. They are of the same colour as the common small buzzard found in Canada, one of which was sent home last October. Beak and legs bright yellow. The feathers of the wing are highly prized by the Canadian voyageurs for making tobacco pipe-stems. I am shortly to try to take them in a baited steel-trap.

I learn from the hunters that the Calumet Eagle is found two degrees south of the Columbia in the winter season ; two were killed by one of them.

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • Center for Columbia River History website, 2011;
  • Oregon Historical Society website, 2011;
  • Washington State Secretary of State website, 2011, "Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823-1827";

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
June 2011