by Jim Acton, Mark Houston, and Andy Stepniewski

revised by Jon Isacoff

Endless wheat fields flank US-2 as it crosses the northern Columbia Basin east from Coulee City, interrupted only when the highway dips into scablands where soils scoured away by ice-age floods have been slow to redevelop. Shrub-steppe, scattered Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian vegetation, marshes, and pothole lakes are found in these unfarmable places. Because of elevation and proximity to the Selkirk Mountains, precipitation is higher than in most other parts of the Columbia Basin. The increased moisture sustains verdant grasslands with much Idaho Fescue—a snow- and cold-tolerant bunchgrass—and Quaking Aspen copses. Similar scablands habitats are found near Sprague, 25 miles farther south.



Nine miles east of Wilbur on US-2, Creston is the gateway to the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area—20,000 acres of shrub-steppe, lake, marsh, riparian, and scattered Ponderosa Pine habitats. Taken together with close to 20,000 acres of adjacent BLM lands, this constitutes one of the most significant Channeled Scablands tracts in public ownership in Washington. Lakes in this wildlife area host high numbers of swans, geese, and ducks in spring and again in fall. Shorebirding can be exciting, particularly in late summer. Shrub-steppe denizens include Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s Sparrow in Big Sagebrush, and Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows in bunchgrass with less shrub cover. A primary habitat-management focus for Swanson Lakes is a remnant population of Sharp-tailed Grouse and a recently reintroduced population of Greater Sage-Grouse. They are seldom seen from publicly accessible locations, so time is probably better spent searching for other species.

The following circuit visits the major habitats, returning to US-2 east of Creston. Swanson Lakes Road turns south from US-2 just east of the grain elevators in Creston. Drive south through wheat farms and in 8.0 miles stop to scan steppe habitats on both sides of the road—excellent for Burrowing and Short-eared Owls, Horned Lark, and Vesper, Savannah, and Grasshopper Sparrows. Continue two miles to Swanson School Road. The old one-room schoolhouse on the left is plastered with Cliff Swallow nests.

Just south of the schoolhouse, the road crosses a narrow neck separating the two Swanson Lakes. When water levels are favorable, scoping the lakes from this vantage can yield most of the expected Columbia Basin waterbirds in spring and early summer, including Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback (a few), Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Wilson’s Phalarope. Interesting shorebirds observed here from July through September include Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plover, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, and Stilt, Baird’s, Pectoral, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, in addition to the common species.

Just south of the lake (0.5 mile), note the road going left (east) to the WDFW office (information, restrooms). Take the right fork at this intersection, continuing south on Seven Springs Dairy Road. In 4.4 miles search for Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s Sparrow in shrub-steppe habitat accessible from a parking area on the left. Turn right onto Reiber Road (0.3 mile) and go south 1.3 miles to a BLM parking area. If you walk the grasslands here, you might encounter Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Return to Seven Springs Dairy Road, turn right, and drive 4.3 miles to an intersection. Turn left and go north on Telford Road to Whitaker Lake Road (3.7 miles). If you are interested in searching for Sharp-tailed Grouse, park in the lot at this corner and explore the shrub-steppe terrain. Otherwise, drive to Whitaker Lake 0.7 mile east, where you may find waterfowl, shorebirds, and Black Tern. Starting about two miles farther north on Telford Road, an area of lake and marsh followed by an aspen copse may be worth some stops. Continue north on Telford Road to reach US-2 in a bit less than six miles.



For a quick change of scenery and birdlife, go straight across US-2 on Telford Road to visit Hawk Creek—rich in breeding birds, particularly in May and June. This 45-mile circuit takes you down Olsen Canyon to Lake Roosevelt and Fort Spokane, returning via Hawk Creek to US-2 in Davenport.

Go north on Telford Road 4.6 miles and turn right onto Miles-Creston Road. Follow this road 3.6 miles across rolling uplands interspersed with Ponderosa Pine stands to the top of Olsen Canyon. Stop in the open pine woods anywhere along Telford or Miles-Creston Roads to listen for the harsh, two-part song of Gray Flycatcher—the only breeding Empidonax in this habitat. You should also expect Lewis’s Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill. It is about three miles down Olsen Canyon to Hawk Creek Road. Partial logging of Douglas-fir stands along this stretch has fostered new deciduous undergrowth providing habitat for a nice diversity of species. The breeding empid of this quite different habitat is Dusky Flycatcher, which has a more spirited song than Gray. Several old logging tracks lead off to the left, allowing you to search for this species and many other birds.

At the intersection with Hawk Creek Road, you may turn left and drive half a mile to Hawk Creek Campground (hookups, fee) in the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Recreation Area. Or continue straight ahead on Miles-Creston Road for 7.2 miles, then left on SR-25 for half a mile to historic Fort Spokane (campground, hookups, fee). The Ponderosa Pine forest here has all three nuthatches, Cassin’s Finch, and possibly White-headed Woodpecker.

Hawk Creek Road follows Hawk Creek uphill from the intersection with Miles-Creston Road. In 4.6 miles, turn right onto Hawk Creek Ranch Road and park. A small parcel of state land with riparian vegetation along the creek offers a nice assortment of birds. Common breeding species include Ruffed Grouse, Calliope Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Veery, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting. There are several reports of Least Flycatcher from this area.

Once again winding up Hawk Creek Road to the upper reaches of the canyon, check the stands of mixed Douglas-fir and Ponderosa Pine for Wild Turkey, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Townsend’s Solitaire. On the plateau, be alert for Mountain Bluebird and Lark Sparrow. Hawk Creek Road turns left in 4.1 miles and goes east to an intersection with Gunning Road in five more miles. Turn right here to reach US-2 on the western outskirts of Davenport in 3.3 miles.



Mill Canyon is one of the most bird-diverse spots in the Columbia Basin, with nearly 200 species having been seen between the top of the canyon and its terminus, where Mill Creek meets the Spokane River. Locally- and regionally-rare birds documented here include Pacific Loon, Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Black-throated Blue Warbler, White-throated and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

From Davenport, proceed north on SR-25 and take an immediate right onto Sunset Highway. Go approximately three miles and turn left onto Level Road. Head north 4.8 miles on Level, turn right onto Green Canyon Road, and you are now in the Mill Canyon system. During breeding season, look for Western Wood-Pewee, Gray Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Lark Sparrow in the Ponderosa Pine section at the top of the canyon. In the evening, this is also a good spot to look for Common Nighthawk and Common Poorwill.

As you proceed down Green Canyon Road, which merges into Mill Canyon Road and the canyon proper, you may encounter all of the Lincoln County canyon breeding birds of interest, including Ruffed Grouse, Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds, Red-naped Sapsucker, Dusky Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Veery, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting. Most of these species nest throughout the canyon from top to bottom. Mill Canyon is also the most likely place in Lincoln County to encounter Pileated Woodpecker, which is seen more from fall through spring but may nest periodically. During winter irruptive years, Mill Canyon is an excellent spot for Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, and Common Redpoll.

In the lower portion of the canyon, Lewis’s and White-headed Woodpeckers have nested in some years, though they are intermittent. In the tall cottonwoods near the mouth of Mill Creek, Western Screech-Owls have nested. Unfortunately, the water level of the Spokane River at this location is highly irregular. When conditions are right during spring and fall migration, shorebirds may be present, including American Avocet, Semipalmated Plover, and Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers.

Winter birding in the Spokane River at the bottom of Mill Canyon can be excellent. Surf and White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Duck (rare), Red-breasted Merganser, Pacific (rare) and Common Loon, and all grebe species save Clark’s are attracted to the food-rich waters here. Herring Gull can be regular in winter and Bonaparte’s, Thayer’s, and Glaucous Gulls have occurred here seasonally.

You can retrace your route to Davenport, or, to proceed southeast toward Reardan, follow Mill Canyon Road 6.8 miles from the bottom of the canyon to the top, staying on Mill Canyon Road. (Bear left at the intersection with Green Canyon Road.) Turn left onto Zeimantz Road E and proceed 1.5 miles. Continue onto Mondovi Road N and go two miles. Turn left onto Sunset Highway for 0.3 mile and then right onto Bennett Road N for 1.0 mile. Turn left onto US-2 and head east for 6.4 miles into Reardan.



In birding circles, the Davenport cemetery is well known as a migrant trap. Near the west edge of town, turn south from US-2 onto SR-28, drive 0.9 mile, and turn right onto Mountainview Cemetery Road, reaching the cemetery in 0.7 mile. In spring and fall, this isolated patch of tall spruces, firs, and pines can be full of migrant flycatchers, vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, thrushes, warblers, sparrows, Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles, and finches. Vagrants seen here over the years include Ovenbird and Black-and-white, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, and Palm Warblers. Fall and winter bring an influx of Red and White-winged (irregular) Crossbills, Common Redpolls (irregular), and Pine Siskins.

Reardan is the next town east of Davenport, 13 wheat-field-lined miles on US-2. The Reardan Ponds are 0.4 miles north of US-2 on both sides of SR-231. Public access areas (Discover Pass required) are found on both the north and south sides of the ponds. Generally, most species of shorebirds and marshbirds are best seen from the south access. To reach that parking area, proceed north from US-2 on SR-231 for three blocks. Turn right onto Railroad Avenue, go 0.2 miles and turn left onto Audubon Way. The parking area will be visible on the left. The ponds are good for many species of ducks and marshbirds, including Black Terns from April to August. This is one of the best spots in Eastern Washington for shorebirds, especially in late summer after the water level has fallen off to expose mud. Less-common species such as Solitary, Baird’s, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, occur regularly. Rarities such as Piping Plover (the only Washington record), Whimbrel (two records), Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper (three of the five state records), and Red Phalarope have turned up here.

From December to February, try the 32-mile Lincoln County Winter Bird Route that loops around the high wheat fields north and south of US-2 between Reardan and Davenport. Rough-legged Hawks can be common along this route. Snowy and Short-eared Owls are seen regularly, as are Gray Partridge, Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, large numbers of Horned Larks (including side-by-side studies of the pale arcticola race and much yellower resident merrilli race), Snow Bunting, and American Tree Sparrow. Lapland Longspur and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch are less common but annual; Gyrfalcon is rare but annual. Most years, early spring finds some of the deeper swales in the wheat fields filled with snowmelt water. These temporary lakes can attract migrating Tundra Swans and clouds of geese and dabbling ducks.

Use these directions and the accompanying map (page 392) to find your way along the loop. Begin in Reardan at the junction of SR-231 and US-2. Go west on US-2 to Riffe Road (1.1 miles). Turn right and follow Riffe Road as it winds north and west. In 2.8 miles, turn left onto McRae Road. Wind west and south for 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Four Corners Road. Keep straight west for two miles and turn right onto Mondovi Road.

In one mile, keep straight as paved Mondovi Road swings to the right. You are now on Zeimantz Road (gravel). Go a half-mile, then swing left with Zeimantz Road. Waterfowl may be present in the shallow Mondovi Ponds on the left. Continue west and north 3.9 miles to Level Road. Turn left here and go three miles to Sunset Highway. Go right 2.8 miles to SR-25. Here, go left for 0.1 mile to US-2.

Turn right and go through Davenport (mind the speed limits); in 0.8 mile turn left onto SR-28. In another 0.9 mile turn left onto Fitness Lane, which becomes Omans Road. In 2.9 miles keep straight as Omans Road turns right. You are now on Morrison Road. In 2.9 miles turn right onto Janett Road. Turn left in 0.5 mile onto Detour Road. The knolls along this road are a good bet for Snowy Owl. Turn left onto SR-231 in 4.5 miles, rejoining US-2 in 1.7 miles. Reardan is about three miles east of this intersection and Davenport about 10 miles west.



The area around Sprague, about 36 miles southwest of Spokane, has emerged during recent years as one of the top birding destinations in Eastern Washington. The habitats here are varied and include deep-water Sprague Lake, several shallow lakes and ponds (some with marshy edges and mudflats), sewage lagoons, deciduous and riparian areas, productive grasslands, and Ponderosa Pine groves.

Leave I-90 at Exit 245 and go south on SR-23 to Poplar Street (0.2 mile). Turn right and go 0.2 mile to B Street. Turn left (south) and go 0.2 mile. Turn right onto First Street (becomes Max Harder Road) and drive west out of Sprague.

One stop many birders enjoy during migration is the Sprague Lake Resort (fees apply). To reach the resort, proceed as above and at 1.6 miles, turn right onto Sprague Resort Road. Go 0.3 mile to the end. The trees and shrubs at the resort form one of the finest migrant traps in Eastern Washington. Every regularly occurring migrant flycatcher, vireo, warbler, and sparrow has been observed here. Rarities seen include Least Flycatcher, Great-tailed Grackle, Tennessee Warbler (three records), Blackpoll Warbler, Eastern Blue Jay, Clay-colored Sparrow and nearly annual White-throated and Golden-crowned Sparrows. The marsh behind the resort is now thought to be the new home to the now defunct Tricolored Blackbird colony formerly at Texas Lake. Singing birds in counts up to 14 individuals have been seen during recent years. Be sure to obey private property signs at the edge of the resort.

To continue birding Sprague Lake, return to Max Harder Road and turn right. Proceed to the WDFW Public Fishing area at 4.4 miles (Max Harder becomes Danekas Road when crossing into Adams County). Turn right and drive north 0.3 mile to a fork, then left to an overlook of Harper Island, where Ring-billed and California Gulls nest in large numbers. In past years, American White Pelicans and Caspian Terns also have nested, though their status is intermittent. A scope is mandatory at this location to see the thousands of waterfowl that congregate in fall and spring. A number of local and regional rarities have shown up here over the years including Tufted Duck, Surf and White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Pacific Loon, Sabine’s Gull (September), Franklin’s Gull (spring and early summer), and Common Tern (September).

Return to Sprague on Max Harder Road and drive straight east through town on First Street, which becomes Sprague Highway Road. You will pass under SR-23 on the east side of town; continue 0.4 mile to the Sprague sewage ponds, on the right. Scoping from the road should yield a variety of ducks and gulls (including Bonaparte’s on occasion). If water levels are not too high, the eastern pond can have shorebirds, especially in August and September. Look for Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, both yellowlegs, Stilt, Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Continuing east on Sprague Highway another 3.6 miles brings you to the southern access to 8,000 acres of federal land at Fishtrap Lake. Habitat diversity is high for such a relatively small area—Palouse steppe, shrub-steppe, Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian thickets, and marsh-lined lakes. Turn right at the BLM entrance sign. Birding can be excellent in spring and early summer along this gravel road for the next three miles to BLM headquarters at Miller Ranch Road. En route you will find the trailhead for Fishtrap Lake, on the right. A 3.5-mile trail starts here and visits all the major habitats, including deeper waters of the lake, looping back to end at headquarters.

You can also bird quite effectively by making frequent stops along the road to sample the different habitats, most of which can be found close by. Shallow ponds and wetlands attract marsh species, including scads of waterfowl (Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Ruddy Duck), Virginia Rail, Sora, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black Tern, Marsh Wren, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Grasslands and shrub-steppe have Gray Partridge, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Common Nighthawk, American Kestrel, Horned Lark, and Vesper, Savannah, and Grasshopper Sparrows. Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Western Bluebird, and Lazuli Bunting nest in aspen and riparian habitats. Look for Lewis’s Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill in the pines.

The road forks at headquarters. Take the right branch, reaching Sprague Highway in 1.3 miles. Turn right here to reach I-90 (Exit 254) in 2.3 miles.