by Andy Stepniewski and Hal Opperman

revised by Scott Downes

Ellensburg is an agricultural and college town in the midst of the Kittitas Valley. Irrigated farmlands here grow high-quality Timothy hay of worldwide renown. Raptors, including owls, are beneficiaries of hay farming, as these fields support high rodent populations.

The Kittitas Valley is a notable wintering raptor area. Red-tailed Hawk is the most common species, usually with several Harlan’s in the local contingent. Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, and American Kestrel can also be numerous. Prairie Falcons hunt the fields and shrub-steppe edges. Merlins can be spotted perched atop tall conifers either in town or about farmhouses. Golden Eagles sometimes descend to the valley from the surrounding canyons where they nest, especially when snow cover is heavy. Bald Eagles are opportunists. There are usually a few along the Yakima River all winter, but look for them especially in the late winter and spring calving season, when they are attracted to afterbirth and perhaps stillborn calves. Barn Owls are common farmland residents, where they feed over the fields at night and roost in barns during the day. Great Horned Owls are residents of riparian areas and windbreaks. Short-eared Owls can be found in areas of high grass cover, especially around the Ellensburg Airport. Check livestock ponds for Cinnamon Teal and Wilson’s Phalarope in spring and summer. Though migratory shorebirds are not numerous in the county, checking flooded fields and livestock ponds are your best chance for finding this group. Northern Harriers, Long-billed Curlews, and Short-eared Owls attempt to nest each year in hay fields and grasslands, and some succeed, despite predation and adverse harvest schedules. A few pairs of Swainson’s Hawks nest, at the western edge of their Washington range, in the intensively farmed area east of I-82 and south of I-90. A Discover Pass is required to bird state-owned lands mentioned here. 



To bird Ellensburg, take Exit 109 from I-90 and proceed north on Canyon Road to the first pull-in on the right. (See inset map on page 272.) A large pond behind the Bar 14 Restaurant attracts waterfowl in spring and fall and can have Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, the occasional swan in winter (Trumpeter and Tundra both possible), and a variety of dabbling and diving ducks. If the fields surrounding the pond are flooded, check them for migrant shorebirds. Unusual geese such as Greater White-fronted and Snow have been noted.

Continue north (becomes Main Street) about a mile and a half to the Ellensburg business district. To the east lies a residential area and the Central Washington University campus. From December through February, ornamental plantings in these areas can host irruptive species such as Bohemian Waxwing and Common Redpoll. Both Blue Jay and Western Scrub-Jay have been recorded in this area. A Hoary Redpoll was found during the winter of 2002 amongst a large flock of Common Redpolls.

From Main Street, turn right (east) onto University Way; follow this road for 1.0 mile and turn left onto Brick Road, which eventually becomes Sanders Road after a sharp left curve. In 0.1 mile from the curve, turn right (north) onto Look Road and check open fields for raptors. The east end of the airport is on your left in less than a mile.



The Kittitas Valley north and west of Ellensburg is known for its raptor diversity. Songbird diversity and breeding Long-billed Curlews are also a draw for birders in spring and summer. Continue north on Look Road to Hungry Junction Road (1.8 miles from the start of Look Road). Check the stock pond just before the intersection for waterfowl and migrating shorebirds, then turn left onto Hungry Junction Road, which runs west to an intersection with US-97. The entire 4.2-mile stretch is worth exploring. The airport is on the south for over a mile—an excellent place for wintering raptors, including Northern Harrier and Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks. During the winter, Short-eared Owls frequent the western end of the airport near dawn and dusk.

From Hungry Junction Road, search areas south of the road at the west end of the airport for owls. American Tree Sparrows winter on airport grounds. Special permission is needed to go onto the airport grounds, but occasionally you can find birds along the north margin of the airport on Hungry Junction Road. Small numbers of Gray Partridge may be found in this area; previously common, the species is now declining.

At 2.3 miles, there is a small pond on your right (north) that can host a good variety of geese in migration, including Greater White-fronted and Snow Goose, both unusual. Slightly farther west, the intersection with Reecer Creek Road is a possible spot for Gray Partridge. West of this intersection, spilled grain at a big livestock-feeding operation attracts California Quail and Gray Partridge, especially when snow cover limits foraging opportunities in the farmlands. Blackbirds abound in the feedlots; search through these flocks for unusual species such as Yellow-headed Blackbird and, on rare occasions, Rusty Blackbird.

Roads to the north of Hungry Junction Road such as Faust, Clarke, and Reecer Creek Road have Gray Partridges in low concentrations. Search along the road, particularly in grassy areas and during dawn and dusk. If you find yourself in these areas during times of recent snowfall, Gray Partridges can be attracted to the road in search of grit. In spring, Long-billed Curlews are possible in the last two miles of the road, particularly on the north side.

Return to the intersection of Hungry Junction Road and Reecer Creek Road and turn left (north). Travel up Reecer Creek Road for 4.4 miles, reaching the intersection with Smithson Road. Smithson Road provides similar birding to Hungry Junction Road, but with a greater chance of seeing nesting Long-billed Curlews, particularly in the first mile east of US-97. Turn left onto Smithson Road and search the fields for the entire 3.8 miles to US-97. From January to March, concentrations of Bald Eagles can be found along this road.

Return to the intersection of Smithson and Reecer Creek Road. Turn left (north) and follow the road for two 90-degree turns as the road heads north, leaving the Kittitas Valley bottom and passing under several sets of power lines in the next mile. Wilson’s Snipes winnow above the wet fields east of the road in spring. Check the power lines for Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons. After passing a couple of ponds on the right (scope them from the road) and a ranchette development, the road narrows to a single, paved lane (FR-3500), bends toward the northeast, and enters the small canyon of Reecer Creek. For about two miles until it hits the hill, switches back, and starts to ascend steeply, the road follows the creek in an area of brush, grassy slopes, and small deciduous trees that can be fantastically birdy. In the riparian zone expect Warbling Vireo, Veery, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, and Yellow Warblers, and Lazuli Bunting; Gray Catbird is possible. To the left of the road, look for Vesper Sparrows in the mixed grassland and shrub-steppe. Bohemian Waxwings have been seen here in fall, feeding on the fruits of various berry-producing shrubs and trees (wild rose, Bitter Cherry, Common Chokecherry, Black Hawthorn, Red-osier Dogwood)—a natural habitat that birders too seldom search for this winter visitor. Northern Shrikes can be found here in the fall and winter. Upon climbing the hill, watch for dry-forest species such as Cassin’s Vireo and Western Tanager in the conifers at the head of the canyon; and Common Poorwill at night. By continuing north up Table Mountain on FR-3500, you can reach Lion Rock, Liberty, and Blewett Pass (page 404).



From the intersection of Hungry Junction Road and Look Road, drive south 0.5 mile on Look Road and turn left (east) onto Brick Mill Road to bird the northeast part of the valley. In winter, raptors should be in evidence in the numerous fields. In 5.1 miles, Number 81 Road turns off to the right and runs south 3.0 miles through similar habitat to the Old Vantage Highway. Go left (east) here to reach Vantage and the Columbia River. At least one pair of Swainson’s Hawks typically nests along Number 81 Road. Watch fields in these areas, as well as the corner of Parke Creek Road and Christensen Road, farther east, for Long-billed Curlews.

A series of canyons coming down into the valley from Naneum Ridge—the eastern extremity of the Wenatchee Mountains—can be reached by driving north a few miles from Brick Mill Road. Distances below are from intersection of Look and Brick Mill Roads. Once they leave farm and ranch country, these canyon roads are minimally maintained and recommended only for high-clearance vehicles. Areas above 5,000 feet may be snowed in until June or in some years, July. There are many spur roads in these areas; stay on the “Green Dot” roads as shown on the Naneum Ridge Forest “Green Dot” Roads map. If you are considering exploring these lands, download a copy of it at or pick up a copy at the district office in Ellensburg (713 Bowers Road, 509-925-8510) if you are there on a weekday.

To reach Naneum Canyon (gated at its mouth but you may walk or bike in), turn north on Naneum Road (2.3 miles from Look Road). Schnebly Canyon can be reached via Fairview Road (4.0 miles from Look). To reach Coleman and Cooke Canyons, turn north on Cooke Canyon Road (6.4 miles from Look); when the road reaches a T, go left to Coleman Creek Road for Coleman Canyon and right for Cooke Canyon. Take Colockum Road (7.2 miles east of Look), the old stage road to Wenatchee, up Trail Creek and over 5,373-foot Colockum Pass. Any of these canyons offers fine birding of the shrub-steppe/Ponderosa Pine ecotone, and for the adventurous, a transect of other forest habitats as one moves up, reaching the Subalpine Fir and Engelmann Spruce zones in several places. Colockum Road and Coleman Creek Roads are the most traveled and birded.

The best birding is along Naneum Ridge Road, accessed at the top of Cooke Canyon Road or by turning left just north of Colockum Pass on Colockum Road. Along this ridge, you can find Dusky Grouse, small populations of Spruce Grouse, and American Three-toed Woodpecker. Fall records of Boreal Owl exist. Riparian patches along either Cooke Canyon Road or Colockum Road are worth exploring for a diverse suite of riparian species.