Copyright © 2015 by American Birding Association, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, photocopying, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher. Personal reproduction for recreational and educational purposes permitted.


Library of Congress Control Number: 2015940962 ISBN Number: 978-1-878788-40-5

Second Edition

1 2    3    4    5    6    7    8

Printed in the United States of America Publisher

American Birding Association, Inc.



Jane Hadley


Maps and Layout

Cindy Lippincott using CorelDRAW and CorelVENTURA


Cover Photographs

©Paul Bannick/ Front Cover Red-breasted Sapsucker

Back Cover Sooty Grouse



Distributed by

American Birding Association

P.O. Box 744

93 Clinton Street, Suite ABA Delaware City, DE 19706 USA

phone: 800-850-2473 or 302-838-3660

fax: 302-838-3651

web site:





and for the








The present book is a revision and update of the first edition of A Birder’s Guide to Washington, first published in 2003 by the American Birding Association, as a part of its series of birdfinding guides. Hal Opperman and Andy Stepniewski edited that book and also were major contributors of content along with some 30 members of the Washington Ornithological Society. That guide was built upon A Guide to Bird Finding in Washington, by Terence Wahl and Dennis R. Paulson, first distributed in mimeographed form in 1971 and subsequently updated in numerous revisions, the last in 1991.

The 2003 first edition of A Birder’s Guide to Washington has served as the bible of birdfinding in this state for more than a decade, relied upon by thousands of birders from inside and outside the state. It is regarded as one of the best, perhaps the best, of the state birdfinding guides.

Work on this second edition of A Birder’s Guide to Washington began in 2013 and was completed in early 2015. We have retained the structure and organization of the first edition, but have made changes in content. The first edition contained 67 geographical sections; this second edition contains 65, having shed British Columbia sites. We made that decision mainly because Russell and Richard Cannings had recently published their excellent birdfinding guide for British Columbia; there no longer was a void needing to be filled by this guide.

We also decided to eliminate the annotated checklist for non-bird species, for space, time, and feasibility reasons.

The chief aim of the second edition was to bring the guide current, taking account of changes in names, habitat, birds, access, and other features of original sites in the 12 years since the first edition was published as well as adding worthwhile new birding sites. Some of the first edition authors returned in this edition to update their own sections, happily and importantly including Hal and Andy. But when original authors were unavailable for the task, we recruited new experts to revise and update the sections. Each of the revisers was given the freedom to decide to what extent he or she would revise the section, add new sites or delete old sites. In some cases, revisers found no need to change much of the original content; in other cases, the revisers made major changes.

Besides Hal and Andy, Bob Boekelheide, MerryLynn Denny, Scott Downes, Jon Isacoff, and Bob Kuntz deserve special mention for revising three or more sections. They truly stood tall.

Once the revisers submitted their work and the material was given an initial edit, some 60 volunteers dispersed around the state to “ground-truth” the routes, making sure that the directions and descriptions were accurate and easy to follow. Their findings, as they drove and walked the routes, were extremely valuable in improving the quality and accuracy of the content. Thanks go to these ground-truthers: Carlos Andersen, Gloria Baldi, Jeb Baldi, Timothy Barksdale, Kent Bassett, Elaine Bassett, Brian Bell, Blair Bernson, Robert Britschgi, Debbie Dain, Cathy Darracott, Jan Demorest, William Ehmann, Stephen Elston, Deborah Essman, Bob Flores, Carol Furry, John Gatchet, Helen Gilbert, Ruth Godding, Lindell Haggin, Eric Heisey, Ken Hemberry, Dick Johnson, Kurt Johnson, Mary Klein, Kay Lennartson, Jane Lester, Barry Levine, Laura Lippmann, Steve Loitz, Tom Mansfield, Teri Martine, Andrew McCormick, Steve Moore, Henry Mustin, Bob Myhr, Henry Noble, Ollie Oliver, Grace Oliver, Jim Owens, Amy Powell, Scott Ramos, Jo Reeves, Jeanelle Richardson, Randy Robinson, Penny Rose, Dave Slager, Margaret Snell, Jennifer Standish, Jack Stephens, Jerry Tangren, Rick Taylor, Tina Taylor, Jean Trent, Claire Waltman, Art Wang, Cricket Webb, and Matt Yawney.

Work on the new guide proceeded under three WOS presidents: Jack Stephens, Penny Rose, and Dan Stephens. Upon leaving office, Penny was designated the liaison between the project and the board; she has been a strong and helpful proponent throughout. I thank Penny, Jack, and Dan and the WOS board for their steadfast support.

WOS wishes to express its appreciation to the ABA and its president, Jeffrey Gordon, for their interest and partnership in publishing this revised edition. Our goals have been remarkably in synch, and the relationship trouble-free. Scott Flora, the ABA project manager, deserves our gratitude for his cooperative spirit and his capable shepherding of the project.

Cindy Lippincott, a contractor to the ABA, is a marvel of complementary talents who made my job so much easier than it could have been. Cindy, editor and graphic artist, also knows birds, geography, and a slew of other useful subjects. Always helpful, always friendly, always with a sense of humor, always competent, always conscientious, Cindy was a true pleasure to work with.

Bob Berman worked many technical wonders, including his signature bar graphs that convey so much information so gracefully.

Certain other individuals deserve special mention for their notable contributions. Hal provided me invaluable advice and encouragement throughout the two-year project. He was always available when I needed an ear, some wisdom, connections, or a bit of his extraordinary knowledge. I relied immensely upon him. And he contributed heavily to the content. I consulted Andy as well, drawing upon his knowledge of habitats and birding venues, and his many contacts. As in the original edition, Andy once again authored an exceptional number of sections—more than any other person. At his side was Ellen Quiring Stepniewski, who followed up on many of the details. All three have my profound gratitude. This revision simply would not have succeeded without them.

I also am greatly indebted to Randy Robinson, who helped to assemble and indicate the map changes needed for a number of the sections. Randy also ground-truthed several sections and revised others. In sum, he did whatever was needed and provided steady encouragement and support. The guide would have been significantly longer in preparation without his efforts.

Brian Bell must be designated ground-truther extraordinaire, having ground-truthed five territories. The birders of Washington owe special thanks to Matt Bartels, who updated the annotated checklist of birds, adding 32 species in the process, and Ryan Merrill, who updated the bar graphs of seasonal abundance. Matt and Ryan are among the most knowledgeable persons in the state about Washington’s birds. As such, they are frequently called upon to share their knowledge, they have multiple responsibilities, and they spend much of their available time in the field. Lucky for us that they took what little spare time they have to update two of the most valuable features of this guide. Let us also thank the members of the Washington Bird Records Committee: without their conscientious and skilled consideration of rare bird reports, our picture of the birds of Washington—past, present and future— would be much the poorer.

Yet another set of individuals provided valuable assistance to the revisers or to me. This came in the form of helping to explore routes, sharing knowledge, answering questions, contributing maps or other documents, or reviewing text. Many thanks to these contributors: Jamie Acker, Steven Baker, Matt Bartels, Brian Bell, Joan Bird, Gary Bletsch, Wilson Cady, Sharon Cormier-Aagaard, Jim Danzenbaker, Mike Denny, Scott Downes, Jim Duemmel, Bob Flores, George Gerdts, Victor Glick, Bob Hansen, Dennis Hartmann, Randy Hill, Michael Hobbs, Mary Hrudkaj, Larry Hubbell, Stan Isley, Martha Jordan, Duane Karna, Kay Lennartson, Sheila McCartan, Ryan Merrill, Ann Musche, Glynnis Nakai, Dennis Paulson, Irene Perry, Steven Pink, Pam Pritzl, Jo Reeves, John Riegsecker, Randy Robinson, Douglas Schonewald, Michael Schramm, Libby Schreiner, Carol Schulz, Connie Sidles, Dan Stephens, Ruth Sullivan, Bill Tweit, Brad Waggoner, Andrea Warner, Diane Weber, Aaron Webster, Nancy Williams, Ann Marie Wood, Stan Wood, Charlie Wright, Matt Yawney, and Neil Zimmerman.

So many have contributed so much to this project. Washington’s birders are fortunate indeed.

Jane Hadley

Seattle, Washington, May 2015


map sites 1

map sites 2

map sites key




by Hal Opperman and Andy Stepniewski

revised by Hal Opperman, Jane Hadley, Josh Lawler, and Matt Bartels

Washington perches at the northwest corner of the conterminous United States—and birders know by instinct that corners are always good. Unlike the Southwestern borderlands, however, or South Florida, or or the bottom prong of the Lone Star State, Washington has no particular group of target species that occur nowhere else. Instead, our state is an ecological crossroads, offering year-round birding in settings of great natural beauty where an outstanding diversity of species can be found in a manageably small area.

Washington is the smallest of the 11 contiguous Western states, yet the state bird list stands at over 500 species, surpassing all but a few of the others. How can this be, for a state that covers just 3°20’ of latitude? One answer is the great variation in relief across its 350-mile width. Another is the 3,000 miles of saltwater shoreline (thanks to Puget Sound and all those islands). Then, too, the state lies between the valleys of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers—two sea-level cuts across the Cascade Range that funnel birds between the interior and the coast. Both rivers have their origins in the British Columbia mountains and are among the largest on the continent.

Five of Washington’s nine terrestrial ecoregions stretch north far into British Columbia, six extend south into Oregon or even California and Nevada, two reach eastward through the Rocky Mountains, while to the west lies the open Pacific. Have a look at the Ecoregions map on page ii and you will understand why 10 loons and grebes, 11 tubenoses, 12 woodpeckers, and 21 native sparrows and allies occur regularly every year in Washington, along with 42 species of shorebirds and 36 of waterfowl. Thirty-one species of gulls, terns, and their kin have been seen in the state, of which 20 occur regularly. What other state gives you a reasonable chance for 15 owls for your year list?

Equally revealing is a sampling of records of vagrants from the last half-dozen years: Baikal Teal, Common Eider, Hawaiian Petrel, Great Shearwater, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Lesser Sand-Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Mountain Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Long-billed Murrelet, Red-legged Kittiwake, Ross’s Gull, Black-tailed Gull, Costa’s Hummingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Variegated Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Northern Wheatear, Smith’s Longspur, McCown’s Longspur, McKay’s Bunting, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, Brambling, Lawrence’s Goldfinch. These and many others arrive from all the compass points.



Washington has a particularly complex, and fascinating, geological history. While you don’t need to know your geology to bird the state successfully, an understanding of the basics can be helpful. Birds, after all, are tied to specific habitats, determined largely by climate. Climate is a function of topography—and topography is a consequence of geological events. Three great forces shaped the Washington landscape: plate tectonics, volcanism, and glaciation. Together they account for just about all of the distinctive birding regions of the state.

The western coastline of the primeval North American continent was once situated in Eastern Washington, not far from the present-day Idaho line. Moving gradually westward, the North American plate collided with two micro-continents. The Okanogan and Cascade terranes were successively annexed in this way. Tremendous pressures forced the ocean floor upward, tipping and folding the earth’s crust into coastal mountain ranges that became the Selkirks and the Cascades. The Columbia Valley at Kettle Falls, the Okanogan Valley, and Puget Sound are remainders of the subduction trenches and former coastlines resulting from the meeting of these plates. Pushing westward, the continental plate next overrode an oceanic plate along a trench off the Washington coast, creating the Olympic Mountains and the Willapa Hills—a process that continues today at the rate of 2 or 3 inches a year. Raised up by subduction forces, the continental shelf slopes gradually to its edge 25–30 miles off the Olympic Peninsula—the destination of the Westport pelagic trips—before plunging steeply to the trench where the Juan de Fuca plate is slowly disappearing beneath the continent.

Plate collisions and crustal stresses have made Washington an area of intense volcanic activity for tens of millions of years. The most visible evidence is the High Cascades volcanoes—part of the “ring of fire” along the Pacific Rim—and the multiple outpourings of lavas in the Miocene epoch that left the Columbia Basin buried beneath basalt layers several thousand feet deep. Traces of volcanic activity are everywhere: pillow basalts, mudflows, layers of ash. The massive granite dome of the Okanogan Highlands results from an ancient volcanic event. Still farther back in time, the Blue Mountains trace their origins to an arc of volcanic islands off the coast of the old North American continent.

For the last two million years a succession of continental ice sheets advanced into Washington, then retreated. The most recent glaciation bulldozed its way across the northern third of the state beginning about 20,000 years ago, rounding off mountaintops, deepening valleys, gouging out future lake basins, and leaving behind great quantities of glacial debris when it withdrew 9,000 years later. The present physiognomy of Puget Sound is a textbook case of these processes at work. The glacial sheet was some 6,000 feet thick at the U.S.-Canada border; the site of Seattle lay beneath 3,000 feet of ice. Outwash from the melting glaciers created the gravelly soils of the South Sound Prairies at the southern extremity of glaciation, from Tacoma to Tenino. The Puget Basin is so filled with glacial crud (3,000 feet deep in places) that the nature of the underlying bedrock remains a matter of speculation for geologists.

On the Eastside, surges of glacial meltwater known as the Spokane Floods carved the Grand Coulee and many lesser but no less impressive channels, stripped topsoils to create the Channeled Scablands, steepened the Columbia Gorge, and deposited deep layers of silt in the beds of temporary lakes as far west as Vancouver/Portland. About 40 such floods occurred when periodic failures of ice dams released the impounded waters of Glacial Lake Missoula in western Montana.

Our book is organized into compact regions along county lines that artificially cut across the big topographic divisions more often than not. The following directory will help you to line up the topography with the associated birdfinding chapters (in plain italics).

Oceanic. Pelagic and inshore waters and coastline of Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca east to about Port Angeles. Since 2009, various Canadian, British Columbian, U.S. and Washington State geographic naming bodies have approved “Salish Sea” as an official designation for the inland marine waters of Washington and British Columbia. The Salish Sea extends from the north end of the Strait of Georgia and Desolation Sound to the south end of the Puget Sound and west to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Coast.

Olympic Peninsula. North of the Chehalis River floodplain, bordered by Hood Canal, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Pacific Ocean. Dominated by Olympic Mountains. High-precipitation zone of western slopes contrasts markedly with rainshadowed northeastern portion. Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Coast, Puget Sound.

Willapa Hills. Low coastal range south from the Olympic Peninsula to the Columbia River, including the Black Hills. Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Coast, Puget Sound, Southwest.

Puget Trough/Willamette Valley/Georgia Depression. Lowlands between the coastal ranges and the Cascades. Includes the Georgia Depression northward from the San Juan Islands, inland marine waters eastward from Port Angeles and Victoria, Puget Sound, and a northern extension of the Willamette Valley of Oregon around Vancouver. (See description of “Salish Sea” in the Oceanic paragraph above.) The central Westside landform though not the largest, it figures in all four Westside chapters: Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Coast, Northwest, Puget Sound, Southwest.

Cascade Range. High, wide mountainous belt separating Western from Eastern Washington. Wet west slopes, dry east slopes offer distinctively different habitats and birdlife, as do the Cascades north and south of Snoqualmie Pass. Northwest, Puget Sound, Southwest, South Central, Okanogan.

Columbia Basin. Central, dominant landform of Eastern Washington, relatively low-lying basin sloping from northeast to southwest and watered by the Columbia River and its tributaries. Core is in Columbia Basin chapter, periphery in all four of the other Eastside chapters: South Central, Okanogan, Northeast, Southeast.

Okanogan Highlands/Selkirk Mountains. Mountains and plateaus east of the Okanogan River and north of the Columbia Basin. Okanogan, Northeast.

Blue Mountains. South and east of the Columbia Basin, extending south into Oregon. Part of the Middle Rocky Mountains. Southeast.



Few states show more dramatic contrasts in their environment than Washington. Elevations range from sea level to over 14,000 feet. Precipitation varies from over 200 inches annually on the Olympic Peninsula, nurturing a temperate rain forest and mountaintop glaciers, to a mere 6 inches in parts of the Columbia Basin, where near-desert conditions prevail. The primary reason for these contrasts is the Cascade Range, which runs from north to south the entire length of the state. Pacific storms slam into Western Washington for much of the year. The Wet Side is often cloudy and enjoys moderate temperatures at all seasons. East of the Cascades, Washington’s Dry Side has a rainshadow climate. Summers are hot, winters cold; clear skies are the norm. Between these extremes, an array of precipitation and temperature regimes supports a remarkable variety of aquatic and terrestrial communities with a rich diversity of bird species. The most prevalent of these habitat types are summarized in the following pages.

Pelagic. Birding in Washington’s pelagic zone is as good as anywhere in North America. Marine life of many kinds concentrates 25–30 miles offshore, near the edge of the continental shelf where upwellings are strongest. Typical birds include Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed, Buller’s, and Sooty Shearwaters, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, South Polar Skua, Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, Common Murre, Cassin’s Auklet, Tufted Puffin, Black-legged Kittiwake, Sabine’s Gull, and Arctic Tern.

Inshore Marine Waters. There is great variability in this habitat due to depth, bottom configuration and substrate, currents, and effects of tides on the water column and its animals. Thus all open salt water isn’t equal when it comes to finding birds: different local conditions appeal to different species. The outer coast is exposed directly to the full power of the wind and waves of the Pacific Ocean; life here must be adapted to extremes, and many invertebrates are attached to the bottom. Eastward along the Strait of Juan de Fuca oceanic influences gradually diminish. The complex of protected basins and channels comprising greater Puget Sound is bathed twice daily through tidal action with an abundance of nutrients. Birds to expect in one place or another off Washington’s coastlines include Surf, White-winged, and Black Scoters, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated, Pacific, and Common Loons, Horned, Red-necked, and Western Grebes, Sooty Shearwater (oceanic), Brandt’s, Double-crested, and Pelagic Cormorants, Brown Pelican, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled and Ancient Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklet, Tufted Puffin, Heermann’s, Mew, Western, California, Thayer’s, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Common Tern.

Sandy Beaches and Dunes. Sandy beaches backed by dunes characterize much of Washington’s South Coast. Birds to look for near the water’s edge include Brown Pelican, Black-bellied Plover, American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Snowy and Semipalmated Plovers, Whimbrel, Ruddy and Black Turnstones, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, and Western Sandpipers, Heermann’s, Western, California, Herring, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Caspian and Common Terns, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. Shorebirds feed on the abundant California Beach Fleas, a nocturnal crustacean, and on many other invertebrates. Huge numbers of shorebirds may roost along the beach at high tide. The unstabilized dunes closest to the beach are colonized mostly by introduced European Beachgrass. Birds seen here include Northern Harrier, American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Snowy and Short-eared Owls, Horned Lark (strigata), Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and Savannah Sparrow.

Rocky Shores. This habitat occurs mainly along the Outer Olympic Coast and the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia, including the San Juan Islands. An exceptionally diverse fauna of marine organisms, including dozens of species of worms, snails, and other invertebrates, inhabits the intertidal zone. Sea stacks along the coast from Point Grenville north to Cape Flattery have large, but virtually inaccessible seabird colonies (Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Common Murre, Cassin’s Auklet, Tufted Puffin). Other typical birds of rocky shores include Harlequin Duck, Brandt’s, Double-crested, and Pelagic Cormorants, Bald Eagle, Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Rock Sandpiper, Heermann’s, Western, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Pigeon Guillemot, Peregrine Falcon, and Northwestern Crow.

Estuaries and Tidal Flats. The Puget Sound system is a giant estuary fed by numerous rivers, many with tidal flats. So, too, are two large, protected coastal bays—Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay. Rivers deposit sand and silt, providing an exceptionally rich substrate for burrowing invertebrates. Mudflats, salt marshes, tidal sloughs, and the littoral zone teem with loons, grebes, geese, dabbling ducks, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Other typical birds found here include Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Parasitic Jaeger, Pigeon Guillemot, Belted Kingfisher, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Purple Martin, and American Pipit. The spring shorebird stopover at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is of international significance, especially for Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher.

Westside Ponds, Lakes, and Wetlands. This lowto mid-elevation family of freshwater habitats ranges from large, deep lakes to ponds, sewage lagoons, marshes (including brackish marshes), streambanks, and wet fields. Characteristic seasonal residents and migrants in environments with emergent vegetation and/or shallow edges include waterfowl (other than diving ducks), Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, herons, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, shorebirds (Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper breed), gulls, Belted Kingfisher, falcons, Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and Cliff Swallows, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-winged Blackbird. Deeper, open waters attract loons, grebes, and diving ducks, although usually in lesser numbers than on salt water.

Westside Broadleaf Forests. Stands of hardwood trees blanket river floodplains, encircle ponds and wetlands, and crowd streambanks from the lowlands to the mountain passes. Red Alder and Bigleaf Maple dominate, with Black Cottonwood, Oregon Ash, Garry Oak, and various species of willows present locally. Broadleaf trees also appear following the removal of conifer forests by fire or clearcutting. The regenerating conifer forest eventually closes its canopy and shades them out, but small stands of hardwoods may persist even then in openings, near wet places, or on steep slopes. Bird species associated with broadleaf and mixed forest include Ruffed Grouse, Cooper’s Hawk, Western Screech-Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Hutton’s, Warbling, and Red-eyed Vireos, Black-capped Chickadee, Swainson’s Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow, Black-throated Gray, and Wilson’s Warblers, Blackheaded Grosbeak, and Bullock’s Oriole.

Westside Woodland/Prairie Mosaic. Pockets of grasslands dotted with brush and stands of Garry Oak, pines, and Douglas-fir occupy some of the driest parts of the Western Washington lowlands. Quite locally distributed, this unique habitat type occurs on the fast-draining glacial outwash soils of the South Sound Prairies and upper Chehalis River basin; south along the trough of the Cowlitz River to the plains around Vancouver; and in the lee of the Olympic Mountains from Sequim northeast to the San Juan Islands (the area of lowest rainfall in Washington west of the Cascades). Typical breeding species found much more commonly in one or more of these locales than elsewhere in Western Washington include Northern Harrier, Common Nighthawk, American Kestrel, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Whitebreasted Nuthatch (aculeata, now virtually extirpated), House Wren, Western Bluebird, Chipping and Vesper Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, and Purple Finch.

Westside Coniferous Forests. This is by far the largest habitat category, by area, in Western Washington. Forest types are differentiated into several zones by elevation and precipitation. All have been impacted in varying degrees by 150 years of commercial timber harvest.

Bathed in copious moisture, the luxuriant, moss-draped forest of the Sitka Spruce zone constitutes a narrow belt just up from the outer coastal beaches. Characteristic bird species of this rather uniform rain-forest habitat include Spotted Owl (scarce and declining), Rufous Hummingbird, Steller’s Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, and Red Crossbill.

Farther east, in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains, the original forest of the low-lying Puget Sound Douglas-fir zone has been all but completely logged off. The present-day landscape away from the burgeoning cities is characterized by fragmented second-growth conifer forest interspersed with broadleaf woodlands, semi-rural residential development, farmlands, prairie, wetlands, and glacier-carved lakes. Avian diversity and numbers are higher in this varied landscape than in the Sitka Spruce zone. Familiar breeding species include Northern Flicker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, American Crow, Violet-green and Barn Swallows, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, European Starling, Orangecrowned and Wilson’s Warblers, Spotted Towhee, Song and White-crowned Sparrows, Western Tanager, Brown-headed Cowbird, Purple Finch (declining), and American Goldfinch, along with several of the common coastal rain-forest species.

Forests of the Western Hemlock zone extend up the slopes of the Cascades and Olympics from just above the Sitka Spruce and Puget Sound Douglas-fir zones to mid-elevations, including all of the Willapa Hills. This is the most widespread forest type in Western Washington, dominated by Western Hemlock (the climax species), Douglas-fir, and Western Redcedar. Most of this zone is occupied by industrial tree farms, but significant stands of the original forests remain uncut—for example, in Mount Rainier National Park. Breeding birds more likely here than in the lower-elevation forest zones are Sharp-shinned Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Northern Pygmy-, Barred (increasing), and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Vaux’s Swift, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Olive-sided and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Common Raven, Brown Creeper, American Dipper, MacGillivray’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Junco, and Evening Grosbeak.

The Silver Fir zone occupies slopes of the Olympics and west Cascades at middle to high elevations. Silver Fir and Western Hemlock are the dominant tree species. These lichen-festooned forests receive abundant precipitation, much of it in the form of snow. Indicator bird species include Northern Goshawk, Gray Jay, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, Townsend’s Warbler, and Pine Siskin.

Above the Silver Fir zone is the Mountain Hemlock zone, an excessively snowy subalpine belt extending to the upper limit of closed forests. The most typical breeding species—all of which also occur in lower-elevation forest zones—are Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Yellowrumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Tanager, and Pine Siskin. Red-naped Sapsucker and several other Eastside species breed locally in small numbers in the Mountain Hemlock zone.

Alpine/Parkland. Clumps of Mountain Hemlock and Subalpine Fir, with some Whitebark Pine (drier sites), alternate with lush, herbaceous meadows. Sooty Grouse, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, American Pipit, Slate-colored Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and Pine Siskin are the typical breeding birds. Dwarf alpine vegetation occupies a narrow, treeless strip between these subalpine parklands and the permanent ice and snow of the highest peaks. White-tailed Ptarmigan, Horned Lark (alpina), and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch breed here. In late summer and early fall many raptors and passerines take advantage of the food resources of these high-elevation habitats.

Eastside Coniferous Forests. The Subalpine Fir zone is the interior complement of the Westside’s Mountain Hemlock zone. Dominated by Subalpine Fir and Engelmann Spruce, it occurs mainly on the east slopes of the Cascades and eastwards, but also on high, east slopes of the Olympics and at the summits of some of the drier ranges in eastern Skagit and Whatcom Counties. Typical birds are much the same as for the Mountain Hemlock zone, with the addition of Spruce Grouse (mostly Okanogan and Northeast), Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee (adjacent to the Canadian border), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Solitaire, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak (mostly Northeast), Cassin’s Finch, and White-winged Crossbill (irregular).

The Interior Western Hemlock zone, the wettest Eastern Washington forest habitat, has Western Hemlock and Western Redcedar as its principal tree species. It occurs mainly at midto upper elevations along the east slopes of the Cascades, and reappears at low to middle elevations of the Selkirk Mountains (the “Interior Wet Belt”). The typical birds are as for Western Washington wet forests.

The Grand Fir zone is a dense-forest type dominated by Grand Fir with a secondary component of Western Larch, Western White Pine, and Douglas-fir, often with an open understory. It occurs at lower middle elevations, below the Interior Western Hemlock and Subalpine Fir zones and above the drier forest habitats that edge the Columbia Basin. With few exceptions, the list of typical bird species resembles one for the Westside Western Hemlock and Silver Fir zones, e.g., Northern Goshawk, Spotted Owl, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Tanager, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, and Evening Grosbeak.

Downslope from the Grand Fir forests, at the point where the Interior Douglas-fir zone begins, much of the moisture from Pacific storms has been wrung from the clouds. This rainshadow climate results in a relatively open forest characterized by Douglas-fir and some Western Larch and Grand Fir. Birds are much the same as those of the Grand Fir zone, with the addition of Calliope Hummingbird, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, Townsend’s Solitaire, Nashville Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Cassin’s Finch.

An open forest dominated by Ponderosa Pine forms a broad ring around the Columbia Basin, with tongues up the Methow, Okanogan, and other river valleys. Fires are frequent in this tinder-dry habitat and are succeeded by extensive brushlands. This Ponderosa Pine zone has many birds of interest, including Flammulated Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Common Poorwill, Lewis’s, White-headed, and Black-backed (rare) Woodpeckers, Gray and Dusky Flycatchers, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, House Wren, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Spotted Towhee, and Slate-colored Fox Sparrow. Several of the common species of the Interior Douglas-fir and Grand Fir zones can also be found here.

Eastside Oak/Pine Woodlands. This small zone characterized by savannahs and woodlands of Garry Oak and Ponderosa Pine with a bunchgrass understory occurs at low elevations in the Southeastern Cascades. Transitional between the Ponderosa Pine zone and steppe-sagebrush habitats, the Oak/Pine Woodlands zone represents the northern extension of an ecoregion that stretches along the eastern base of the Oregon Cascades to California’s Modoc Plateau. Some of the typical bird species found here are Wild Turkey, Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Anna’s Hummingbird, Lewis’s and Acorn (rare) Woodpeckers, Western Wood-Pewee, Say’s Phoebe, Ashthroated Flycatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, House and Bewick’s Wrens, Western Bluebird, Chipping and Vesper Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Lesser Goldfinch.

Eastside Broadleaf Forests. Another bird-rich habitat is the fringe of Black Cottonwood, Quaking Aspen, White Alder, and other broadleaf trees along streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands in the dry conifer-forest zones, reaching out into the shrub-steppe in places. Most of the species mentioned above for Westside broadleaf forests are also found in this Eastside riparian zone (Hutton’s Vireo being a flagrant exception), together with Great Horned and Long-eared Owls, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Wood-Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Bewick’s Wren, Veery, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush (boggy areas, Okanogan and Northeast), Nashville and MacGillivray’s Warblers, American Redstart (mainly boggy areas, Northeast), Yellow-breasted Chat, and Song Sparrow. Aspen groves—widely distributed across conifer-forest openings, bottomlands, and mountain slopes—appeal to cavity-nesting birds, especially woodpeckers.

Shrub-steppe. Shrub-steppe was once Eastern Washington’s most extensive habitat type; it is now the most seriously threatened ecosystem in the state due to wholesale conversion for agricultural uses and to various other development pressures. Where it survives, the original landscape of the Columbia Basin might appear homogeneous to the passer-by, but this is hardly so. Grouped from wettest to driest are the following three major communities.

Almost all deep soils of the Palouse and Blue Mountain Steppe communities of Southeastern Washington have been converted to dryland wheat farming, hospitable to a limited range of species, including Gray Partridge and Horned Lark. The tiny remaining parcels of native vegetation are hillside Ponderosa Pine groves with scattered clumps of Quaking Aspen and thickets of Black Hawthorn, Common Snowberry, Nootka and Woods Roses, Western Serviceberry, Common Chokecherry, and Red-osier Dogwood, adjacent to grasslands with a high herbaceous cover. These harbor a riparian-like breeding avifauna including Northern Harrier, Eastern Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, House Wren, Gray Catbird, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Spotted Towhee, Vesper and Song Sparrows, and Bullock’s Oriole. Most of the typical steppe birds have vanished along with their habitat.

Occurring mainly on higher, northor northeast-facing ridges of the northern and eastern Columbia Basin, the Three-tip Sagebrush/Idaho Fescue communities are characterized by dwarfish mats of sagebrush with vigorous stands of Idaho Fescue and other tall bunchgrasses that attract shrub-steppe obligates such as Greater Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse (both rare, local), Swainson’s Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Common Nighthawk, Say’s Phoebe, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Sage Thrasher, Clay-colored (rare), Brewer’s, Vesper, and Grasshopper Sparrows, and Western Meadowlark.

The Central Arid Steppe is situated in the lowest, hottest part of the Columbia Basin. In pristine form it is swathed with a combination of Big Sagebrush and Bluebunch Wheatgrass. Native grass cover is now much reduced through livestock grazing, however, and much of the area has been invaded by Cheatgrass, an exotic. Typical breeding birds include Greater Sage-Grouse, Red-tailed Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl, Common Nighthawk, American Kestrel, Say’s Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s, Lark, and Sagebrush Sparrows, and Western Meadowlark.

Eastside Cliffs and Talus Slopes. Coulees and canyons throughout the Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Basin and elsewhere at lower elevations in Eastern Washington provide a niche for nesting raptors and a host of other species. Among the most typical are Chukar, Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagle, Rock Pigeon, Barn and Great Horned Owls, Common Poorwill, White-throated Swift, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Common Raven, Violet-green and Cliff Swallows, Rock and Canyon Wrens, European Starling, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch(winter night roosts).

Columbia Basin Wetlands. Widespread irrigation in the Columbia Basin has caused the water table to rise, expanding historical wetlands and creating new ones—a boon for many species of birds. A sample of the long list of breeding birds of Columbia Basin wetlands includes Canada Goose, dabbling ducks (several species), Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Eared, Western, and Clark’s Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Coot, Sandhill Crane (migration), Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Ring-billed and California Gulls, Caspian, Black, and Forster’s Terns, Belted Kingfisher, Willow Flycatcher, Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows, Marsh Wren, and Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Seep lakes, river deltas, ponds, and marshes offer excellent shorebirding, especially in fall migration.

Eastside Lakes and Reservoirs. Waterfowl, loons, grebes, and gulls have benefited greatly from the damming of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Especially in fall, the migration of many species usually more associated with marine waters has been stopped in its tracks by the lure of the deep, wide reservoirs. Huge flocks of ducks remain as late into winter as ice-free conditions permit. Other Eastern Washington lakes and adjacent wetlands have a similar effect on a smaller scale. American White Pelicans now breed on two islands in Eastern Washington and are being seen in increasing numbers along the Columbia in all seasons. Bufflehead, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Common Loon, Horned (rarely) and Red-necked Grebes, and Black Tern nest on natural lakes in forested parts of the Okanogan and Northeast.

Shrubby Thickets. This widespread family of habitats exists in a variety of situations at all elevations statewide—for example, forest edges and clearings (such as regenerating clearcuts); mountain slopes, including avalanche chutes; fencerows, dikes, and irrigation ditches; power-line and transportation corridors; free-standing patches of brush and small trees in open landscapes; and mature shrubbery in parks and gardens. Among the many birds that exploit these habitats for cover, nesting, or foraging are quails, Rufous Hummingbird, Willow Flycatcher (and other flycatchers), Black-capped Chickadee, Bushtit, House, Pacific and Bewick’s Wrens, kinglets, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Orange-crowned, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow, and Wilson’s Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Green-tailed (rare, local) and Spotted Towhees, American Tree, Fox, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, White-throated, Harris’s, White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch, Lesser and American Goldfinches, and House Sparrow.

Farmlands. Washington contains large areas of pasture and agricultural land, often inhabited by species of native grasslands, although many of the latter are not able to switch to the simpler habitats produced by human endeavor. For example, extensive wheat fields are used by only one species, the Horned Lark, out of many that existed in the original grasslands. White-tailed Kite (Southwest and South Coast but currently rare), Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, and Barn, Great Horned, and Short-eared Owls are among the raptor species that exploit high rodent densities of hay fields and pasturelands at any season, joined by Rough-legged Hawk in winter. Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks have adapted to hunting over Columbia Basin croplands in spring and summer. In Washington, Bobolinks nest only in irrigated hay fields in the Yakima Valley (declining), the Okanogan, and the Northeast. Dairies, feedlots, and grain-storage facilities may draw California Quail, Gray Partridge, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, and thousands of starlings and blackbirds, along with the hawks and falcons that prey on them. Certain Westside and Eastside farmlands are famous for their large winter concentrations of waterfowl, raptors, cranes, and shorebirds, providing some of the best birding in the state. Orchards and vineyards, on the other hand, offer relatively few birds other than those species commonly associated with mankind.



by Josh Lawler

Climate change has the potential to affect many of the bird species in Washington. As temperatures increase and precipitation patterns change, we will likely see changes in habitat, food resources, species distributions, and the timing of migration, nesting, and hatching of many species. Vegetation models project the loss of many subalpine and alpine habitats, a shrinkage of the sagebrush steppe, and potential changes in Westside forests—some projections are for drier conditions and conversion to more Eastside-like forests, whereas other projections are for conversion to more northern California-like forests. Many bird species are already shifting their distributions poleward and upward in elevation, seemingly tracking increases in temperature. In some parts of the country, we are seeing earlier returns from migration and earlier breeding events. These changes in timing themselves are not a problem, but when shifts in the timing of flowering, insect emergence, and bird migration do not coincide, the resulting mismatches can negatively affect bird populations.

In addition to these more obvious impacts, climate change will also have more indirect effects on birds. For example, projected changes in temperature and precipitation are expected to result in larger and more frequent fires, particularly in Eastern Washington. These fires will benefit birds that make use of earlier successional habitats, but will negatively affect birds that inhabit more mature dry forests. In addition, ocean acidification—like climate change, also a result of increased greenhouse-gas concentrations—and warming seas are affecting marine and intertidal food webs. In conjunction with sea-level rise, these impacts have the potential to affect food resources and nesting habitat for shorebirds and pelagic species. Finally, as species move in response to climate change, we can expect to see new communities forming, and new interactions among species. Some birds may encounter new predators or new prey species and others may have to compete with birds with which they did not previously interact.

This is not to say that all bird species will be adversely affected by climate change. The most widespread species that inhabit many different environments will likely remain common because they are adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions. And some species in Washington will likely benefit from climate change, particularly those that are today uncommon in Washington but are much more common in Oregon and California. However, for some species that will be more adversely affected, management and conservation actions will be necessary to prevent declines. These include mitigation actions that work to reduce the amount of climate change we will likely experience (e.g., reducing fossil fuel use and decreasing forest loss) and adaptation actions that help species or ecological systems address the changes that will occur (things like managing forests with and for fire, restoring coastal habitats, and protecting and connecting lands across elevation and temperature gradients). It will take a combination of these actions to reduce the impacts of climate change on Washington’s wild places and wild birds.



Throughout this guide, birding information intertwines with discussion of conservation concerns for birds and their habitats. By good fortune and foresight, large tracts of Washington lands are preserved in a natural or near-natural condition. However, economic pressures and the state’s population growth are such that practically no land is 100 percent invulnerable to human exploitation, even when it has been set aside for wildlife. The future of birding as we know it depends on the continued protection of important breeding, foraging, and migratory bird areas and on the increasing awareness and activism of birders themselves. Volunteer opportunities abound where birders can put their birding skills to use at every level—from saving the local marsh or tidelands from development to participating in projects of hemispheric importance.

Washington has always been a conservation-minded state. Many parks and refuges have “friends of” membership groups. Consider supporting some of the state and regional organizations that unite people of diverse interests in a common cause, for example, Washington Environmental Council, Washington Wild, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, Conservation Northwest, and Audubon Societies throughout the state. For a true hands-on experience, join in the restoration of your neighborhood watershed: what’s good for native vegetation is also good for water quality, spawning salmon, and birdlife. Most important, activities such as these build community understanding. Wherever you go, be an ambassador for birding. Wear your binoculars proudly. Patronize local businesses and tell people why you’ve come to their part of the state.



Washington is a year-round birding destination. However, most birds are strongly responsive to the seasonal cycle. Seasons are well marked, especially east of the Cascades. Precipitation is heavier in the winter and spring, summers generally being dry in all regions. In Western Washington winters are very wet, with overcast skies and light rain an almost constant condition in some years (before complaining, remember that overcast weather allows the best viewing because you do not have to contend with the low northern-latitude sun). This is interspersed with short periods of northeasterly winds that bring dry and cold air from the interior, resulting in clear skies and unsurpassed views of the mountains. Snowfall in the lowlands usually occurs at these times, when cold interior air meets moist coastal air. Above 1,000 feet in elevation, snow remains on the ground all winter, lasting at the 5,000-foot level into July or even August. Summers west of the Cascades are warm with the amount of rainfall variable from year to year; some summers are entirely dry and quite warm, others are cool and rainy. East of the mountains, winters are cold, and snow may stay on the ground throughout colder winters, even at the lowest elevations. In warmer winters, many ponds in the Columbia Basin remain open, and snow cover melts in a few days. Summers are very dry and hot in Eastern Washington. The desert areas remain green into June, but by July the general impression is one of death, many of the organisms having finished their annual life cycles and gone into a dormant state. Much of the vegetation is dry, and even birds are not particularly in evidence, except around water.

In four-month groupings, here are some of the highlights of the birding year. The bar graphs and the Annotated Checklist at the back of the book will help you fine-tune the specific destinations and the timing of your visits.

Spring and Early Summer (late March–early July). Spring shorebird migration is outstanding along the coasts, with highest numbers at Grays Harbor near the end of April (Red Knot, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher). In the Columbia Basin, Greater Sage-Grouse strut their leks in March–early April, about the same time that Sandhill Crane migration peaks. Forest owls are vocal and territorial. Prolonged and mostly low-key, spring passerine migration takes place over a broad front, with occasional weatherprovoked fallouts and concentrations at headlands, along drainage corridors, or in riparian oases. May is the month of greatest species diversity. Westside Big Day record counts cluster toward the end of the first week of the month and about two weeks later east of the Cascades. June is the heart of the nesting season in most of the state’s habitats—a good time to look for White-headed Woodpeckers and Gray Flycatchers in Ponderosa Pine woods; waterfowl, grebes, herons, rails, and terns in wetland habitats; or Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, and a few Tufted Puffins on the Protection Island boat trip.

Late Summer and Early Fall (late July–early November). Roads in the Okanogan high country are snow-free—an invitation to look for Spruce Grouse, Great Gray and Boreal Owls, American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, and Boreal Chickadee. This is also your window to look for White-tailed Ptarmigan and other species of alpine habitats. Or try the Blue Mountains for owls and woodpeckers. Midsummer to early fall, hawkwatching can be decent on clear days along Cascade ridges—for example, Red Top Mountain, Cooper Ridge, or Slate Peak. In late August–early September, passerine migrants concentrate in Eastside riparian corridors in open country. Hotspots such as Washtucna, Vantage, Tri-Cities parks, and Lyons Ferry and Palouse Falls State Parks are as close as Washington comes to true vagrant traps. Recently, Neah Bay, a coastal spot at the northwestern tip of the state, shows great promise and might prove to be the best of all. Late summer offersthe greatest diversity on the Westport pelagic trips and the possibility of sought-after species such as Laysan Albatross, Flesh-footed Shearwater, and South Polar Skua. Shorebirding on the coast also peaks at this season, with American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper occurring regularly.

Late Fall and Winter (late November–early March). Southwesterly winter storms and timing of the tidal cycle severely limit pelagic birding possibilities, but protected marine waters welcome great numbers of waterfowl, loons, grebes, and other waterbirds. Chances are good for Ancient Murrelet (November–December best) and there’s usually a Yellow-billed Loon around someplace. Black Oystercatchers, Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Rock Sandpipers patrol rocky shores, breakwaters, and jetties. Raptors and wintering waterfowl abound on Westside river floodplains, with prizes such as Emperor Goose, Gyrfalcon, and Snowy Owl. Raptors, including the last two named, work the snowy fields of Eastern Washington as well. Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings infiltrate Horned Lark flocks on the high plateaus. Northern Hawk Owls (rare), Bohemian Waxwings, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and Common Redpolls visit Eastside cliffs, weedy roadsides, orchards, and ornamental plantings in towns. Sagebrush Sparrows and other shrub-steppe breeders return as early as February. On the Westside, Hutton’s Vireos and Pacific Wrens are singing by early March.




For better or worse, the only practical way to bird Washington is by automobile. All of our route descriptions presume that you will be traveling in a private vehicle. Mileages are point-to-point rather than cumulative. In other words, you must reset your trip-odometer to zero at each new mileage indication (or keep track mentally).

Maps. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) no longer offers paper copies of its excellent highway map. On its web site at, the department has divided the state highway map into 18 small .pdfs that you can view or download for printing. Or buy a commercial map. Insets on any of these maps should be sufficient to steer you through all but the largest cities. For birding in and around Seattle, Spokane, or Tacoma, however, purchasing a detailed street map or using a digital map may save you time and anguish. Online maps often provide detail printed maps can’t, but aren’t always available in remote areas. For printed maps, the Washington Atlas and Gazetteer (DeLorme) is nearly indispensable if you are venturing off the main highways (but useless in cities). The Washington Road and Recreation Atlas (Benchmark Maps) covers the same ground at a smaller scale in attractive relief maps, with a few additional nuances such as regional climate information. These commercial maps and atlases are widely available at booksellers, convenience stores, and newsstands.

Some of the best birding in Washington is found in the six national forests: Olympic, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Gifford Pinchot, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Colville, and Umatilla. Forest Service maps that once were available free are now for sale either on-line or at forest service headquarters or ranger district stations. Somewhat detailed topographical maps are free for download from forest service web sites. (Type the name of the national forest and the word “topo map” into your preferred search engine or go to the web site for the individual forest and look for links to maps.) The downloadable topo maps have been divided into sections, which are easily viewable on a desktop computer. But the print is extremely small if you shrink these sections to fit onto 8.5 x 11-inch paper. National wildlife refuges often provide good maps on-line that you can print out, though you might have to search a bit for the link. Birders hiking in the Cascades or Olympics will appreciate the reliability and usefulness of the Green Trails maps, which can be purchased at outdoor and map stores: visit for specifics. Green Trails maps are now available for iPhones and starting to be available for Android.

Roads. Washington’s extensive road system is administered by several jurisdictions. Many roads are numbered. We rely on these numerical designations wherever possible, with assorted abbreviations: “I” for the interstate highway system (example: I-90), “US” for federal highways (US-12), “SR” for state routes (SR-20), “FR” for U.S. Forest Service and certain other numbered forest roads (FR-25), “CR” for county roads (rarely used).

Forest Service nomenclature takes a little getting used to. Each national forest has its own numbering system, so the same road number may be used on different roads in different forests. (The Wenatchee and Okanogan National Forests merged in 2000, yet did not renumber the roads, so the same road number may show up on two different roads in this one national forest. The forest service distinguishes them by identifying the county.)

Trunk roads typically have two-digit designators (e.g., 25) and are wide, all-weather thoroughfares, hard-surfaced or well-graded gravel—easily passable by any passenger car unless closed by snow (few forest roads are plowed). As you drive along one of these roads, you may notice that it has suddenly acquired a couple of extra zeros (e.g., 2500). This means that although you are still on the main road it has now dropped to a lower standard of engineering and maintenance (unpaved for sure, more dips and curves, maybe narrower and rougher).

Secondary roads branching from trunk roads have four-digit numbers, the first two digits being those of the parent road (e.g., 2517). Generally speaking, all of these four-digit roads are suitable for regular passenger cars although you should be on the lookout for rocks, potholes, and severe washboarding in places.

The lowest category of forest roads consists of spurs, usually indicated by vertical brown signposts where they branch off. These signposts display three digits reading top to bottom (e.g., 063 or 228). The number of the road from which a spur branches also appears on the spur signpost in small print, and technically is part of the spur’s designator (e.g., 2517-063)—but forest maps usually show just the three digits (and so do we in this guide). However, three-digit designators sometimes get reused within the same forest’s road-numbering system, so only the full seven-digit number is guaranteed to be unique—important to consider for reporting a problem or for record keeping. Maintenance of spur roads varies from adequate to none, depending on their current use status. Many are for high-clearance vehicles only. Note, too, that forest roads of all categories are subject to washouts, so be prepared to stop with little warning. Be wary of log-truck traffic. It is always a good idea to inquire about logging activity and local road conditions at ranger district stations.

Some county roads in Washington used to be numbered, and you will still occasionally see old number signs on roadside posts. Today, however, counties have moved away from numbers in favor of road names. Naming systems and signage standards vary widely from county to county and are not without an element of whimsy. Moreover they seem to be constantly changing, so that names on the ground may not correspond to maps, printed or on-line. Road names in this guide usually are those visible on actual road signs. We try to point out naming disparities, but you may still encounter some and will need to rely on your instincts.

Ferries. The Washington State Ferries are part of the state highway system. Visit for full, up-to-date details of routes, fares, and schedules. Or download the handy WSDOT app to your digital device. It provides information on traffic delays, mountain pass conditions, and ferry schedules. If your itinerary involves travel by ferry, plan carefully to avoid delays.

Fees. “Pay to play” is increasingly a fact of life on many public lands in Washington. The sale of parking and user permits generates millions of dollars in revenues each year that are pumped directly back into maintaining wildlife habitat and providing public access—critical functions in these times of strapped state and federal budgets. Acquire the necessary permits before your birding visits (most government offices are closed on weekends). Patrolling is aggressive and the fines are substantial.

Fortunately, the federal government now issues a single pass good for access to lands of five agencies nationwide: the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. The America the Beautiful Pass (one of several “Interagency Annual Passes”) covers entrance and standard amenity fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at fee areas that charge by the vehicle (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free. You can get passes at forest service district and ranger offices, national parks and a few national wildlife refuges. You can also order them on-line or by phone (888-275-8747 Ext. 3). Day passes are usually available at most sites. More detailed information about the various passes and how to obtain them can be found at

As of 2015, an America the Beautiful Annual Pass available to everyone costs $80 per year. Other Interagency Annual Passes are available for seniors, the disabled, and the military. The Senior Pass, available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over, is $10 for a lifetime pass. Free passes are available for the permanently disabled, federal agency volunteers, and U.S. Military members and dependents. Golden Access and Golden Age Passports are no longer sold but are still honored. A Northwest Forest Pass, $30 a year, allows access to developed national forest sites in Washington and Oregon. Those who will also be visiting national forests outside Washington and Oregon, national wildlife refuges, national parks, and other federal recreation lands may be better off getting the more expensive America the Beautiful Pass, which covers all of these federal lands nationwide. (When this guide mentions that an America the Beautiful Pass is required, assume that the various Interagency Annual Passes mentioned above as well as day passes will also work.)

Many Washington State public lands also provide good to excellent birding. In 2011, the Legislature instituted a single pass, the Discover Pass, to park at or use public lands or water access points managed by the Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). An annual Discover Pass costs $35 (including purchase fees); a daily Discover Pass is $11.50 (including purchase fees). The passes can be bought on-line, by phone (866-320-9933), or through license dealers such as sporting goods stores. Purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses are issued a free Vehicle Access Pass, which can be used at wildlife and water access sites in lieu of a Discover Pass. Full information about the Discover Pass is available at

Winter birders may need more than the Discover Pass. The state Parks Department requires either daily ($20) or seasonal passes ($40) at winter sports Sno-Parks between December 1 and May 1. You may also need a special groomed-trails pass ($40) if you are in designated groomed-trails areas. If you have a current seasonal Sno-Park permit, you will not need to purchase a Discover Pass to use a designated Sno-Park for winter recreation activities. However, your Sno-Park permit may not be used to access other state recreation lands. More information is available at

Field Hazards. The only poisonous snake, the Western Rattlesnake, is confined to lower elevations east of the Cascades, usually in rocky terrain. Typically it is not aggressive. If you meet one, give it space and it will likely retreat. There are bugs in Washington, though the good news is there are no chiggers. Mosquitoes and biting flies can be bothersome in the warm months, especially in the mountains and wetlands. Repellent should make your visit tolerable. Wood Ticks abound in some of the drier forests and sagebrush areas of Eastern Washington. The best way to avoid them is not to brush up against vegetation, especially in spring. Tucking pantlegs into socks and dousing both with repellent may help. Poison Oak is locally abundant in interior southwestern parts of the state and eastward through the Columbia Gorge, and Poison Ivy is common in many parts of lowland Eastern Washington. It is a good idea to learn these plants (“leaves of three, let them be”) before you head off into the bush. Black Bears can be met in forested regions. Heed the advice of “Bear Aware” pamphlets, particularly if you are in a campground. Out on the trail, troublesome encounters with either bears or Mountain Lions are very rare.

The summer sun can be intense, brutally so on snowfields and on the water. Protect yourself with broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and sunblock. If hiking at higher elevations, be alert for bad weather. A clear and calm morning can quickly change to cold rain and winds. Hypothermia is a definite hazard, even in summer. Carry the Ten Essentials (extra clothing, extra food, compass, map of the area, flashlight with spare bulb and batteries, knife, sunglasses, firestarter such as a candle stub, first-aid kit, matches in waterproof container). Water may not be available on high trails, especially late in the season. Assume all untreated water is contaminated.

Most areas open to hunters during hunting season should be   avoided.

Check dates at


Acronyms and Abbreviations used throughout the guide’s text and maps include the following:

ACE – Army Corps of Engineers

aka – also known as

BLM – Bureau of Land Management

CG – Campground

CR – County Road

DNR – Department of Natural Resources (state)

FR – Forest Road. Roads within national forests.

HMU – Habitat Management Unit

NWR – National Wildlife Refuge

SR – State Route

USFS – United States Forest Service

WDFW – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (state)

WSDOT – Washington State Department of Transportation

USFWS – United States Fish and Wildlife Service



The following resources are available to those planning a birding trip, looking for details on the current status of a particular species, seeking to report an interesting observation, or just generally interested in the birds of Washington.

Washington Ornithological Society. WOS publishes a bimonthly electronic newsletter (WOSNews) with birdfinding articles and other valuable features; a journal (Washington Birds); the Field Card of Washington Birds; and a membership directory. It sponsors numerous field trips to all corners of the state and hosts monthly meetings in Seattle and an annual conference at various locations. You can find a current, printable official checklist of Washington birds on-line on the WOS web site at

Washington Field Notes. This ongoing record of consequential bird observations is printed in the WOS newsletter about four times a year. The newsletters—and thus the field notes—can be searched on-line at the; look for the newsletter archives. Report your sightings by e-mail to The compiler, currently Ryan Merrill, is one of the Washington editors for North American Birds.

ABA members. Over 400 Washingtonians are members of the American Birding Association. Many of them have indicated that they are willing to guide visiting birders or respond to telephone or written queries. Codes used in ABA’s on-line membership directory enable other ABA members to contact these generous people. The ABA web site features a lively blog, checklists of North American birds, content from Birding magazine, and access to birding listservs from around the country, including Washington’s (click on “Birding News”).

eBird. The web site, launched in 2002 by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, has hugely affected the way birders report and get information about bird sightings, abundance, and distribution. Birders report multi-millions of sightings each year. You can easily learn what birds are found where in the state by going to the “Explore Data” section of the web site. Another web site,, taps into eBird data to show notable sightings, sightings at hotspots, and sightings by species or for any location within the past 30 or fewer days. A Northwest region version of eBird is available at:

Audubon chapters. Washington has 25 chapters of the National Audubon Society. Visit for links to chapter web sites, many of which offer detailed information on local birding areas. The web site also offers downloads of The Great Washington State Birding Trail maps, Audubon Washington’s seven full-color maps with information about key birding spots around the state.

BirdWeb. This is Seattle Audubon Society’s excellent on-line guide to the birds of Washington State. It provides handy seasonal abundance charts, range maps, and information about life history and migration and conservation status of Washington species. Ecoregion maps with checklists and birding sites can also be found here:

Washington Birder. Washington Birder web site offers well researched county checklists. You’ll also find a spreadsheet, created using the county checklist abundance codes, that provides a quick county-by-county comparison of species in Washington. Inspired by Ken and Laurie Knittle, this is headquarters for the growing number of birders who compile county lists.

North American Birds. Bird observations of regional significance are documented in the quarterly North American Birds, published by the American Birding Association. These may be reported to the Washington Field Notes compiler (currently Ryan Merrill) or to one of the regional NAB editors (currently Brad Waggoner and Ryan Merrill,

Washington Bird Records Committee (WBRC). Observations of species on the Washington Review List (those with names italicized on the Annotated Checklist in the back of this guide or not listed there at all) should be reported to the WBRC with written details and any supporting evidence such as photographs and sound recordings. Go to for more information and to submit a report. Committee decisions are published in Washington Birds.

Tweeters. The Burke Museum at the University of Washington hosts this e-mail list on the birds of Cascadia. Some 3,200 subscribers make Tweeters a lively forum for discussion and a great place to learn about the latest interesting bird sightings. In fact, the Tweeters list has become the principal reporting venue for most Washington birders. Coverage centers on Washington—particularly Western Washington—but many postings concern Oregon and British Columbia. To subscribe, visit Or you can read postings on-line in digest form at this same web site or on the ABA’s Birding News web site:

Inland Northwest Birders. Here is an e-mail list devoted to birding in Eastern Washington and adjacent parts of Oregon and Idaho. To subscribe, visit

Oregon Birders On-Line (OBOL). Washington-related bird observations and discussion occasionally figure on this e-mail list, especially in regard to the southwestern part of the state. Visit the web site at for subscription information. Recent postings are also available at ABA’s Birding News web site:



Washington and its birding profile have changed with phenomenal rapidity. In the 40 years between 1970 and 2010, the state checklist of birds grew at a steady rate of more than three birds per year. The official state checklist, which can be found at,, stands at 510 species, as of May 2015. However, the pace of the growth in the current decade beginning in 2010 has slowed to about two new birds per year. The growth in the earlier four decades was driven primarily by the fact that more and more people were looking for birds, spending more time in the field, and covering more territory. There still exist tantalizing possibilities for new species for the state. For example, seven birds have been recorded in British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon, and California, but not Washington, and 26 birds have been seen in three of those four states or provinces, but not Washington. Add in the potential new off-shore pelagic birds and you’ve got a rich pool of likely birds even without considering the surprises that pop up.