by Andy Stepniewski revised by Jon Isacoff

The Northeast Corner, though remote, is among the finest in the state for sought-after boreal species. This region rests at the intersection of three distinct eco-zones: Pacific Northwestern, Rocky Mountain, and Canadian Boreal. Reflecting the diversity of ecosystems here, four species of chickadees can be found in this region in a single day: Black-capped, generally in lowland deciduous growth; Chestnut-backed in conifer forests, especially those with Douglas-fir and Western Redcedar; Mountain in the montane forest stands; and Boreal in the higher spruce and Subalpine Fir stands. It is not uncommon to find mixed flocks of Mountain and Chestnut-backed or Mountain and Boreal while birding in this area. Good roads into the subalpine zone make the Northeast Corner one of the best places in the state to look for boreal bird species.


Access to the Northeast Corner is either from Ione or from Metaline Falls, 10 miles farther north on SR-31. A good way to begin your visit is by following Sullivan Lake Road, which loops between these towns along the west shore of Sullivan Lake (elevation 2,600 feet). Here you will find four Colville National Forest campgrounds and good forest and lake birding possibilities. Other birding routes branch off from this road into the backcountry to the northeast, east, southeast, and south.

Coming from Ione, find the intersection with Sullivan Lake Road, on the east side of SR-31 at the south edge of town (about a mile from the downtown business district). Turn east here and cross the Pend Oreille River. Note the intersection with Dry Canyon Road (FR-1933) on the right in 4.6 miles; this is the turnoff for Dry Canyon, described below (page 479). In another 1.9 miles Harvey Creek Road (FR-1935) turns off on the right toward Bunchgrass Meadows (page 478). It is an additional 1.8 miles to the south end of Sullivan Lake and Noisy Creek Campground, an excellent place for Red-eyed Vireos and other riparian woodland birds. American Dippers periodically nest at the bridge where Noisy Creek enters Sullivan Lake. Check the lake for nesting Common Mergansers and Red-necked Grebes. Migrant Horned Grebes are somewhat common, and scoters occasionally make an appearance here in October and November before freezeout.

The road follows the shoreline 4.1 miles to the small dam at the north end of the lake. One-tenth mile ahead is the entrance to West Sullivan Lake Campground, on the right, opposite the Sullivan Lake Ranger District office (509-446-7500, maps, information). The combination of coniferous and deciduous habitats in the campground and nearby is attractive to a wide array of breeding species, including woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, and warblers (Nashville, Yellow, Wilson’s, American Redstart, and Northern Waterthrush). Black-chinned Hummingbirds have been seen here, too. Rarities have occurred at Sullivan Lake, among them Broad-winged Hawk, Magnolia Warbler, and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Four-tenths of a mile farther north, Sullivan Creek Road (FR-22) turns off to the right, providing access to high-mountain birding at Salmo Pass and Pass Creek Pass. Continuing ahead on Sullivan Lake Road, one reaches Mill Pond Campground in one mile, and the Mill Pond Historic Site half a mile beyond that. Both are linked into a system of trails around Mill Pond. Recommended are Trails 520 and 550 from the historic site. Look for Harlequin Duck (especially near the inlet of the pond), Red-necked Grebe, Osprey, and Bald Eagle. Sullivan Lake Road ends in 3.3 miles at a junction with SR-31. Turn left; the foot of the bridge over the Pend Oreille River at Metaline Falls is 2.2 miles ahead. Follow SR-31 across the bridge to return up the Pend Oreille Canyon to Ione.


Doubtless, the main attraction of the Northeast Corner is the boreal birding possibilities. Ready access to some fine high-country sites bordering the roadless, 39,937-acre Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area, is via FR-22 at the north end of Sullivan Lake. Turn east from Sullivan Lake Road about 700 yards north of the ranger station. East Sullivan Lake Campground is on the right one-half mile or so ahead. Check Sullivan Creek at established pullouts for Harlequin Duck (uncommon) and near bridge overpasses for nesting American Dipper. In six miles from Sullivan Lake Road, where FR-22 turns right toward Pass Creek Pass, bear left onto FR-2220. After 12.6 miles of steady climbing through mostly old-growth Western Hemlock, Engelmann Spruce, Western White Pine, and Western Redcedar (Interior Wet Belt species), you reach a fork at Salmo Pass (elevation 5,910 feet). Park here to bird the immediate area; then walk or drive along the right branch to a parking lot in 0.4 mile, where the road ends. Walk along the Salmo Divide Trail 535, which starts here and continues for three miles. The surrounding subalpine forest of Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, and Whitebark Pine has a diverse layer of boreal shrubs, including Sitka Mountain Ash, several types of huckleberries, and a dense cover of False Azalea and White Rhododendron— prime habitat for Spruce Grouse, Northern Goshawk, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Slate-colored Fox Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak, and White-winged Crossbill. The steep slopes on your left are probably the best easily accessible site in the Northeast to search for Boreal Owl. Common mammals include Hoary Marmot, Pika, Red Squirrel, and Red-tailed Chipmunk. This is also prime habitat for Fisher and Wolverine, though they are almost never seen. Grizzly Bears are very rare, but apparently some still survive, and the Salmo Priest Wilderness is an established federal Grizzly management area. Since 2000, several packs of Gray Wolves have repopulated the general area.

Return to the fork at the pass. The other branch, FR-270, is a spur climbing 2.2 miles to the summit of Salmo Mountain (elevation 6,828 feet). The views extend far into British Columbia—the Selkirks to the north, the Purcells to the northeast—and east to the Idaho Selkirks. The scrubby vegetation here has had a small breeding population of White-crowned Sparrows of the oriantha subspecies. All of the species listed above may be seen on this branch road. Other species to look and listen for include Dusky Grouse (late summer), Northern Pygmy-Owl, Rufous Hummingbird, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, and Townsend’s Warblers, and both crossbill species (White-winged in late summer and fall).


From the intersection with FR-2220 (the road to Salmo Pass), FR-22 turns south and in seven and one-half miles reaches Pass Creek Pass (elevation 5,400 feet). This vicinity has proven particularly good for Boreal Owl, especially in fall. Across the pass, the road number changes to FR-302 upon entering the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. You’ll reach Granite Pass (elevation 3,562 feet) in 7.4 miles. Stay right at an intersection; it is another 1.8 miles along FR-302 to the parking lot for the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars, on the right (trails to cedars and waterfalls). This area shows off what is perhaps Washington’s finest remaining Interior Wet Belt forest, with magnificent stands of Western Hemlock, Western Redcedar, and Engelmann Spruce. The list of birds to look for resembles one for the coastal habitats of Western Washington: Vaux’s Swift, Pileated Woodpecker, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Swainson’s and Varied Thrushes.

Return to Granite Pass. At the intersection where FR-302 goes left, stay straight onto FR-1013. Just ahead, a small Beaver pond and alder and boggy habitats lie next to the road—worth checking for Ruffed Grouse, vireos, and warblers. Nine-tenths of a mile from Granite Pass, walk north on closed FR-656. There is an intriguing June sight record of a Great Gray Owl along this road. Continue 0.3 mile on FR-1013 and look on your left for a small pullout, barely inside the Idaho line. A trail leads from here to Muskegon Lake (elevation 3,441 feet) in a few hundred yards. Barrow’s Goldeneyes and many Swainson’s Thrushes nest here.


Another jewel of the Northeast corner is Bunchgrass Meadows to the southeast of Sullivan Lake. Turn east from Sullivan Lake Road onto Harvey Creek Road (FR-1935) and begin winding up along the creek through a steep-sided chasm, densely grown to Interior Wet Belt forests. The road is rugged but should be passable to ordinary vehicles. Go a little over 10 miles until you come to a large parking area on the right. Here, the road sits on a divide, with the meadow below you to the right, draining westward to the Pend Oreille River. To the left, the Granite Creek drainage slopes east toward Idaho. Here is an open spruce-and-fir forest, with a tall shrub layer of White Rhododendron, False Azalea, Big-leaf Huckleberry, and Beargrass. Birds of this habitat include American Three-toed Woodpecker (watch for scaled-off bark on spruce trees), Chestnut-backed, Mountain, and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Swainson’s, Hermit, and Varied Thrushes, Nashville, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers, and Pine Grosbeak. White-winged Crossbills are irregularly common, usually from late July through the fall until snow blocks access to the area in late October or November.

From the parking area walk a short distance to the Bunchgrass Meadows Natural Area, a 795-acre boreal sedge meadow and sphagnum bog (elevation 4,961 feet) set in a subalpine basin rimmed by Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, and Lodgepole Pine. This area can be extremely wet and muddy throughout the summer due to the natural springs and bogs. Mosquitoes in June and July can be fierce. High waterproof boots are recommended. A number of warbler and sparrow species nest and feed in and around this area as well as species not commonly associated with 5,000-foot meadows. These include Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Wilson’s Snipe, MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers, and Song Sparrow, among others. Bunchgrass is among the best places in Washington to find breeding Lincoln’s Sparrow. It is also is a good spot for Moose. Rare mammals here include Masked Shrew and Northern Bog Lemming.


A quiet route south toward Usk, Dry Canyon offers lower-elevation woodland and riparian birding even when the high country of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness is inaccessible or unproductive due to inclement weather or the earliness of the season. This is also a fine choice as an entrance or exit route between the Northeast Corner and points south. Turn south from Sullivan Lake Road onto Dry Canyon Road (FR-1933). In 0.5 mile, at a junction with FR-4536, stay right on FR-1933. Soon you enter Dry Canyon, with Dry Canyon Ridge on the right and an area of boggy terrain on the left. There is excellent birding along this good gravel road for about the next six miles, up to a fair-sized lake on the left (look for Barrow’s Goldeneyes). The songbird mix along this narrow canyon is interesting, with Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, and Northern Waterthrush in the valley bottom forest, and Nashville Warbler in brush along the exposed talus slopes to the west.

Upon leaving the national forest about a mile past the lake (sign and cattle guard), the road surface is poor for about another half-mile, then improves. You are now on CR-3503. Clearcuts start to appear. In 5.6 miles from the cattle guard, the road crosses the West Branch of LeClerc Creek. Extensive willow-and-alder riparian habitat here has Willow Flycatcher (numerous), Warbling Vireo, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Fox Sparrow, and Evening Grosbeak. In another 2.1 miles is a large meadow with Vesper Sparrows. Pavement starts in two miles as you reach a T-intersection with LeClerc Creek Road. Turn right and travel another mile to a T-intersection with LeClerc Road (CR-9325). Turn left here to reach Usk (17 miles), Newport (33 miles), and birding sites of the Pend Oreille Valley described in the following section. Or turn right and head north to cross the Pend Oreille River and reach Ione in 18 miles.