by Randy Hill, Bob Flores, and Andy Stepniewski, Bill LaFramboise, and Nancy LaFramboise

revised by Randy Hill

Crab Creek originates near the Spokane-Lincoln County line between Cheney and Davenport and merges into Moses Lake and the Potholes Reservoir. Formerly an intermittent stream, it now flows yearlong thanks to runoff from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. Lower Crab Creek—the stretch below O’Sullivan Dam—supports fall Chinook Salmon and Steelhead. Bending westward from the dam, the stream reaches the Columbia at Beverly, about eight miles south of the Vantage bridge. Lower Crab Creek Road follows the creek through rocky coulees, seep lakes and marshes, steppe-sagebrush, and encroaching irrigated fields and orchards. To the north are the low Frenchman Hills and to the south the Saddle Mountains—a basalt ridge system that rises abruptly some 2,000 feet above the surrounding plateau. Sizable chunks of wetland and shrub-steppe habitats along Lower Crab Creek are protected in state wildlife areas and a federal wildlife refuge. A good selection of Columbia Basin birds may be found here and in the agricultural lands around Othello during the appropriate seasons. The spring migration of Sandhill Cranes is outstanding.



SR-26 heads south along the Columbia River from the I-90 interchange at the east end of the Vantage bridge. At the junction in 0.9 mile, where SR-26 heads east toward Othello, turn right onto SR-243 (marked Yakima/ Richland). Several good birding stops await you on the short drive down to Beverly, where Lower Crab Creek Road turns off. The first is in 0.2 mile at a pullout on the right above Wanapum Lake. Sea ducks such as scoters or Long-tailed Duck have been seen here in migration, while waterfowl in fall and winter usually include many Greater Scaup. Winter flocks of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches sometimes forage in weedy vegetation near the shoreline or across the highway to the east, below the cliffs.

Continue south on SR-243 to a road on the right at Wanapum Dam (3.5 miles). This road immediately doubles back 0.3 mile to a cove signed Wanapum Dam Upper Boat Launch (vault toilet); you may find bay ducks, loons, and grebes here. Return to SR-243, turn right, and in 0.3 mile turn off to the interpretive center below the dam. During July and August, Sockeye and Chinook Salmon pass through ladders and are visible at close range in the viewing room. Forster’s Terns forage along the river.

Southbound once more on SR-243, turn right in 1.1 miles onto a gravel track (hard-packed and passable for ordinary vehicles). Park in 0.4 mile, where this track joins another that parallels the river. The strip of riparian growth in both directions is often filled with migrants. Waterfowl, loons, and Osprey frequent the river. Desert Buckwheat and various biscuitroots dominate the spring wildflower display on the cobbles and sandy terrain up from the riparian zone. Drive south (downstream) on the cobble track to rejoin SR-243 in 1.0 mile, a mile north of the old railroad bridge across the Columbia.



Lower Crab Creek Road (aka Road 17 SW) turns east from SR-243 about a quarter-mile south of the railroad-bridge underpass at Beverly. Opposite this intersection, along the river, Townsend’s Solitaires are regular from fall through spring in a small grove of Rocky Mountain Junipers. Burkett Lake Recreation Area (parking, toilet), on the south side of Lower Crab Creek Road 1.6 miles east of the intersection, often has diving ducks and waterbirds.

For the next 25 miles the road follows Crab Creek along a series of wide scabland channels at the base of the Saddle Mountains. This scenic route features wetlands, shrub-steppe, and cliff habitats, significant portions of which are set aside in the 17,000-acre Lower Crab Creek Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. A short spur on the left (north) side of the road, 2.8 miles from SR-243, leads to a small parking area (Discover Pass required) and trailhead for Nunnally Lake—a popular fly fishing and waterfowl hunting site within the wildlife area. The half-mile trail north to the lake passes through dense Russian Olive groves where Long-eared Owls roost in winter and nest in early spring. American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers can be abundant here in the same seasons. Look among them for a few individuals of less-common species (Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit and Varied Thrushes). Also check for wintering sparrows, especially at edges and openings where the grass is thick. The trail emerges from the thickets and crosses rocky ground with scant shrub-steppe vegetation, soon reaching an overlook of a chain of lakes set deep in an old coulee. Redheads and other diving ducks are common here, but skittish. Rails, orioles, and other marsh and riparian birds inhabit lake-edge vegetation in the nesting season. You may see a Prairie Falcon along the basalt cliffs or hunting over the open landscape.

Continue east on Lower Crab Creek Road, which quickly becomes gravel (0.2 mile). Power lines attract raptors all year long, including Golden Eagles. Migrant songbirds and breeding Eastern Kingbird, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole can be found at wet spots with willow growth. The road crosses Crab Creek (2.6 miles) and hugs the base of the Saddle Mountains. Check the cliffs for nesting Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, White-throated Swift, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, and many Cliff Swallows. The bright green shrub along the valley floor is Greasewood, tolerant of alkaline soils. This is excellent habitat for Loggerhead Shrikes, which breed here rather commonly (uncommon in winter, when mostly replaced by Northern Shrikes).

At the community of Smyrna (7.8 miles), check the larger trees for migrants and wintering blackbirds. East of Smyrna look for shrub birds and for Barn and Great Horned Owls nesting in the low rock outcrops. In 1.5 miles, check the junipers and shrubs planted along the road. At the next junction (1.1 mile), turn east to stay on Lower Crab Creek Road. Two likely spots to look for Sandhill Cranes in late March and April are at 1.0 and 2.3 miles. In another 1.2 miles (3.5 miles from Road E SW), the road starts a steep climb through rocks where Great Horned Owl, Say’s Phoebe, and Rock Wren are found.

From here to the next junction is a landscape of shrub-steppe (Loggerhead Shrike, Lark and Sagebrush Sparrows) alternating with open grasslands (Long-billed Curlew, Horned Lark). This stretch is excellent at night for Barn, Great Horned, and Long-eared Owls, Common Nighthawk, and Common Poorwill. At the fork in 3.8 miles, jog left on Road B SE (aka Corfu Road) to the Crab Creek crossing in 0.6 mile. Swales here can be profitable for waterfowl or shorebirds, depending on the season.

The next 2.4 miles of this road up to the intersection with SR-26 border the Corfu Unit of Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, a reliable winter location for Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Northern Shrike, and American Tree Sparrow. Huge flocks of geese (sometimes five species), ducks, and Sandhill Cranes use the cropland in March and early April, and the activity at sunset can be spectacular. A willow woodland about 200 yards south of the intersection, to the east, is excellent for migrant songbirds (and often Lewis’s Woodpecker) in May and for breeders such as Swainson’s Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Kingbird, House Wren, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole. This unit is open to bird hunting October–January and closes during the spring crane migration.

Return to Lower Crab Creek Road and continue east; look for Chukar (upslope), Loggerhead Shrike, and Lark Sparrow in the first three miles of shrub-steppe habitats. Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon may be near a small colony of Washington Ground Squirrels that still survives in this vicinity. Irrigated pastures to the north have curlews and snipe in the nesting season, and other shorebirds during spring and fall migration. Cranes often use the area as a day roost in March and April.

Lower Crab Creek Road becomes Gillis Road at the Adams County line, where there is a cattle guard (4.6 miles from Road B SE). East along Gillis Road, cornfields and pastures have Sandhill Cranes in spring, and the cattail marsh to the north has Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe, Marsh Wren and blackbirds. Gillis Road ends in about a half-mile at an intersection with SR-26, eight miles west of Othello.




Extending nearly 10 miles south from Potholes Reservoir, the flood-carved Drumheller Channels offer some of the most rugged scablands terrain in the state. Seepage fills the lowest spots, creating innumerable lakes and small wetlands now mostly protected in a patchwork of public ownership—principally the 23,200-acre core area of Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and the WDFW’s Seep Lakes/Goose Lakes units of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area (8,423 acres). An excellent auto tour gives access to lake, shrub-steppe, cliff, and riparian habitats attractive to Columbia Basin birds. This route is especially good in spring when throngs of waterfowl are present. Certain areas are gated and closed during the winter months (October through February). Visit the web site for current regulations.

To enter the refuge at the north entrance, turn south from O’Sullivan Dam Road onto Soda Lake Road (eventually becomes Morgan Lake Road). This turnoff is 5.0 miles east of the entrance to Potholes State Park and is opposite a WDFW parking area and boat ramp. As you travel south toward Soda Lake, keep an eye out for American Kestrel, Black-billed Magpie, and Western Meadowlark. Check the large patch of willows on the left (1.5 miles) for Great Horned and Long-eared Owls.

Continue to the Soda Lake Dam turnoff (0.7 mile), take a left, and drive onto the dam (0.2 mile). Look for Common Merganser, Common Loon, grebes, and American White Pelican. Migraine Lake, below the dam on the right, is part of the sanctuary closure, but it is easily viewed from the road. It often holds large numbers of American Wigeons (good chance for Eurasian in March) and diving ducks. Shorebirds can often be found along the lake edge, and Rock and Canyon Wrens on the rocks. Bonaparte’s and occasionally Franklin’s Gulls are here during summer and fall, and Sabine’s Gull has appeared several years in September.

Go back to Soda Lake Road, turn left, then right at the next fork (0.2 mile). Stop at the parking area on the left just before the closed gate (0.2 mile). Scope Marsh Unit I from this overlook, or take a short walk down to the wetlands for closer views of waterfowl, grebes, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and shorebirds. Greater White-fronted Goose and Sandhill Crane are likely in early spring, but entry to this crane roost area is closed from February to April. Rarities here have included Baikal Teal, Green Heron, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The area is hunted October–January.

Return to the main road and turn right. Continue down the hill to the Crab Creek Trail (0.4 mile) and turn left into the parking area. This mile-long trail (winter closure) follows the floodplain through willows and shrub sandwiched between shrub-steppe and cliffs; it loops back, but an extension continues south to meet the two trails mentioned below. Birds expected include California Quail, Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, five species of swallows, Rock, Marsh, and Bewick’s Wrens, migrant kinglets and warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Song Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole. American Tree Sparrow is often found in winter in shrubs along the creek.

Coming out of the parking area, turn left, cross Crab Creek, then follow the road to the left and continue 1.1 miles to the parking area for the Frog Lake and Marsh Trails, on the right. While driving, watch for Ferruginous Hawk and Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged, Cliff, and Barn Swallows. The trailhead and kiosk with map are across the road from the parking lot. The Frog Lake Trail—two miles (round trip) of spectacular scenery, plus a one-mile loop extension beyond Frog Lake (now dry) that is closed in winter—takes you through shrub-steppe, wetland, and riparian habitats, up to a plateau overlooking the Pillar-Wigeon chain of lakes. American Bittern might be heard along Crab Creek as you work your way to the top of the trail; look also for waterfowl, Common Nighthawk, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Lark and Savannah Sparrows, and Bullock’s Oriole.

The 1.5-mile Marsh Trail (winter closure) turns right after crossing the creek and makes a loop through riparian and wetland habitats (the latter may dry up in summer). Birds noted on this trail include waterfowl, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, White-faced Ibis (rare), Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, other shorebirds, Eastern Kingbird, Song Sparrow, and blackbirds.

Continue south on this road (which soon becomes Morgan Lake Road) and stop at the north end of Morgan Lake in 2.8 miles. Listen for American Bittern (early and late in the day), Virginia Rail, and Rock and Canyon Wrens, and watch for Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, Prairie Falcon, and Say’s Phoebe. Wilson’s Snipe often can be heard winnowing above the adjacent pasture in spring. The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge office and visitor center (51 N Morgan Lake Road) are east of the road and open weekdays when staff or volunteers are present.

At McManamon Road, you can turn left to reach Othello (route described in reverse, pages 362). If you turn right instead, in 0.2 mile you reach two deep lakes straddling the road: Halfmoon Lake (north) and Deadman Lake (south). Park east of the guard rail. Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded and Common Mergansers are some of the expected ducks on these lakes; look closely for Barrow’s Goldeneye. Watch also for Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren around Halfmoon Lake and scan the surrounding cliffs for Prairie Falcon.

Continue west on McManamon Road, scanning for Long-billed Curlew, American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike, and Rock Wren. In 2.7 miles, look for unmarked Black Lake Road on the right (closed in winter). If the gate is open, drive through the coulees to the end of the road in one mile, admiring the spectacular columnar basalt. Take the footbridge across Crab Creek. Trails to the left (one mile long) and to the right (two miles long) through the narrow, rock-rimmed canyon offer a good variety of birds—some of them not found along McManamon Road. In the cliffs look for nesting Red-tailed Hawk, Barn and Great Horned Owls, American Kestrel, and Say’s Phoebe, and listen for Rock and Canyon Wrens. Migrant warblers can be found in riparian habitat along Crab Creek, and Common Yellowthroat nests here. Eastern Kingbird, Marsh Wren, Spotted Towhee, Song and White-crowned (especially April and September) Sparrows also occur. All of the Columbia Basin swallows normally can be found flying around the canyon. The wetland impoundments and creek will produce a variety of waterfowl (including Wood Duck), Virginia Rail, Sora, and Belted Kingfisher.

Go back out to McManamon Road, turn right, cross over Crab Creek, and drive to the overlook at Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark (1.7 miles). Look for Northern Harrier, Caspian Tern, various swallows, and Lazuli Bunting. Continue to May Road/Road H SE (1.1 miles); here the road signs display a letter/number grid for Grant County (north side of road) and family names for Adams County (south side of road). Turn right here to return to O’Sullivan Dam Road, at the west end of the dam, in about five miles. While en route, watch for Say’s Phoebe, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Lark Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark in the shrub-steppe habitat. Or by continuing straight ahead on Road 12 SE, you can reach Royal Lake and other birding sites, connecting to SR-26 west of Othello.



Within a short distance of Othello one can find deep, shallow, and saline lakes and wetlands, riparian habitats, grasslands, shrub-steppe, rock outcrops, and irrigated agricultural fields—all with a complement of characteristic birds. In migration, birds find the town’s urban habitats a good stop-off. Areas with conifers include Kiwanis Park (S Fifth and Sixth Avenues) and the cemetery (E Cemetery Street off 14th Avenue). The cemetery may have nesting Great Horned Owls and, sometimes, wintering Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Sandhill Cranes can be abundant in March and April, when thousands of birds pause to feed on waste corn in the fields south and west of Othello. This spectacle spawned the Sandhill Crane Festival, held annually at the end of March. Bus trips, other field trips, guest speakers, and exhibits draw thousands of visitors to this weekend event organized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and local volunteers. Lesser numbers of cranes occur during fall migration.

McKinney and Bench Roads, which intersect about a mile south and two miles west of Othello, are a good place to look for Sandhill Cranes. About nine miles west of town SR-26 crosses Crab Creek. Pull off on the right side of the highway in another 0.7 mile before a guard rail. Saline County Line Ponds to the north have breeding shorebirds (Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope). When the ponds hold water, many migrant shorebirds can usually be found here from July into September, including Baird’s and Semipalmated Sandpipers. The larger wetland south of the highway has fewer shorebirds but a greater variety of waterfowl, a crane roost some years, and occasionally a flock of American White Pelicans. A short distance west of the ponds, at milepost 30, another, larger crane roost is south of the highway. It is quite far out—you will need a scope. Be careful with traffic on SR-26!

Continue west on SR-26 to Road D SE (1.6 miles from the ponds) and turn right. Go north for two miles, watching for curlews, then turn right onto Road 15.1 SE. Sandhill Cranes and curlews are often found south of this road. In one mile, the road you are on curves north and becomes Road E SE. Check the refuge field to the east, where cranes and large flocks of geese (occasionally five species) feed from October to April. In 0.3 mile turn right (east) onto Road 14.8 SE. Stop at an overlook of Royal Lake (1.0 mile). Thousands of waterfowl winter on the lake, peaking at 40,000 to 50,000 birds in some years.

To connect to the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge auto tour or to loop back to Othello from the northwest, go north on Byers Road 1.7 miles, then right on Phillips Road to Barton Road (1.0 mile), watching for cranes and curlews. Both dark- and light-morph Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks have been seen here in winter. Continuing left for one mile, then right on McManamon Road (aka Road 12 SE) for one mile, brings you to the corner of Road H SE and McManamon Road. It’s about 10 miles on McManamon to Othello.

Along the west edge of downtown Othello, Broadway heads north, becoming McManamon Road as it crosses the railroad tracks near potato-processing plants. Spilled grain from transport trucks attracts hordes of blackbirds along the shoulder before the road starts down the hill. Just beyond a couple of potato sheds at the bottom of the descent are the Para Ponds (2.5 miles from the corner of Broadway and Main in Othello), one of the great birding spots in the Columbia Basin. Traffic moves fast here; do not park or stand in traffic lanes. During winter and migration, one can find large numbers of waterfowl, including Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Scaup, and Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes along with the commoner species. Thousands of Arctic-nesting geese fatten up in the fields to the north of the ponds during their late-winter and spring migration; scanning these flocks may produce five species. During spring and summer, this wetland is a showy place, with Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Marsh Wren, and four species of blackbirds including Tricolored (rarely breeding). American Bittern nests here, and this is one of the more reliable locations in Washington to see White-faced Ibis, usually in May. The fall shorebird migration typically has 10–12 species, with rarities that include Hudsonian Godwit, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Ruff. Past the ponds, the cattle pens are the most reliable location in Washington to find wintering Tricolored Blackbirds. Heading west keep an eye out for Long-billed Curlew, Say’s Phoebe, Common Raven, Lark Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark from spring through early summer in the surrounding shrub-steppe habitats. McManamon Road joins Morgan Lake Road and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge auto tour in about three miles (page 359).

Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks, Long-billed Curlew, American Kestrel, Black-billed Magpie, Horned Lark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed, and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Western Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, and American Goldfinch are common on the farmlands around Othello. Gyrfalcon is usually reported at least once each winter from the agricultural lands to the south and east of town, especially around the Adams County Fairgrounds. Burrowing Owls are traditionally found at the edges of fields north of SR-26 along Lemaster and Booker Roads (east of SR-17) and north of Sutton Road (west of SR-17) — more commonly in spring and summer, although a few overwinter. Short-eared Owls winter in this same area and are best found near dawn and dusk.


Scooteney Reservoir, southeast of Othello, can be a worthwhile stop, and offers one of the best viewing areas of a Sandhill Crane roost during the spring migration. Take SR-17 to Coyan Road (about nine miles south of SR-26 or four miles north of SR-260). Turn west onto Coyan Road, parking on the left just after crossing the Potholes Canal (0.5 mile). Walk along the dike to view waterfowl and shorebirds on the reservoir to your left and the field and marsh on your right. To reach the main reservoir access, return to SR-17 and turn right, then right (west) again in 1.4 miles at the sign. Waterfowl can be abundant in winter. From late February through March, when low reservoir levels expose an extensive mudflat formed by decades of irrigation water delivery, several hundred to over 2,000 Sandhill Cranes visit the reservoir and the surrounding farmland (smaller numbers in fall). To view the roost, take the right fork (gravel) and continue another 0.5 mile beyond the residence to an old gravel pit. Trails west offer elevated views of the delta mudflat. The shorebird migration (stronger in fall) brings Black-bellied Plover, both yellowlegs, Dunlin, Least, Pectoral, and Western Sandpipers, and Long-billed Dowitcher. Great Egret and American Pipit are sometimes present in fall migration. For another birding opportunity, try the ponds 1.2 miles west of the SR-17/SR-260 intersection along Hendricks Road.