If you like birding in wide open spaces, give north central Washington a try. This vast area stretches more than half the distance from the Cascade Crest to the Idaho line, and more than half the distance from British Columbia to Oregon. Composed of just two counties, Okanogan and Chelan—largest and third largest in Washington, respectively—the region accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s population. Of people, that is. When it comes to birds, few other places in North America have as many breeding species (about 200). Migration and winter bring yet more birds; in all, more than 300 species occur in the region.

The geography is simple enough: mountains to the east (Okanogan Highlands) and to the west (northeastern Cascades), separated by the broad valley of the Okanogan River that gives the region its name. All three of these zones continue north, oblivious of the U.S.-Canada border. The Okanogan River flows south to join the Columbia River, which forms the southern boundary of the region. The Columbia channel marks the point where the recent basalt flows that inundated the Columbia Basin stopped abruptly upon contact with the much older rocks of the Okanogan country. West and south from the Okanogan River mouth, high ridges of the Cascades come right to the Columbia, side by side with the Methow, Stehekin/Chelan, Entiat, and Wenatchee River valleys.

Elevational differences produce a great variety of habitats. At 6,000–7,000 feet, the subalpine and alpine zones at Harts Pass and in the Okanogan Cascades offer superb opportunities to search for species such as White-tailed Ptarmigan and Boreal Chickadee. At the lower extreme (700–2,500 feet elevation), shrub-steppe habitats on the drier slopes of the river valleys and on the Timentwa Flats support Great Basin species such as Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s Sparrow. Well-watered sites in river bottoms—e.g., the Sinlahekin, the Similkameen, and the Okanogan near Oroville—sustain a bonanza of bird species of riparian, marsh, wet-meadow, and lacustrine habitats. Extensive Ponderosa Pine and mixed-conifer forests mantle the middle elevations between these extremes. The Okanogan Highlands offer a quite special land- scape of grasslands, Ponderosa Pine, Douglas-fir and mixed-conifer forests, and extensive riparian areas, interspersed with lakes and marshes. A small population of Great Gray Owls appears to be established in this mid-elevation mosaic of habitats, which is also excellent for Flammulated, Northern Pygmy-, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Summers are generally warm in the valleys (July average high temperature 87 degrees in Omak, 86 degrees in Winthrop) but cooler in the mountains (July average high 76 degrees in Chesaw, 66 degrees at Stevens Pass). If camping, be aware that nights are cold (even freezing) at 6,000 feet. Winters are cold in the lowlands (January average low temperature 22 degrees in Wenatchee, 17 degrees in Omak) and colder still in the mountains (January average low 11 degrees in Chesaw and Winthrop). Storms along the Cascade Crest are frequent and often prolonged, bringing heavy precipitation (494 inches annual snowfall and 81 inches total precipitation at Stevens Pass). To the east, precipitation is uniformly low, ranging from 9 inches annually at Wenatchee to 14 in Winthrop and Chesaw. The amount that comes as snowfall is much more variable, however—annual average 26 inches at Omak, 28 at Wenatchee, 50 at Chesaw, and a perfect 72 inches at Winthrop, making for famed cross-country skiing. Except for SR-20 (closed for the winter above Mazama), all state and federal highways are plowed and sanded, as are many secondary roads. With reasonable precautions, and allowance made for occasional severe conditions, winter driving in the Okanogan poses few or no difficulties.

Wenatchee—with 32,000 inhabitants, the largest city in Eastern Washington north of the Columbia Basin—offers a full range of accommodations and all essential services. Leavenworth, Cashmere, Chelan, Stehekin, Twisp, Winthrop, Mazama, and Pateros cater to travelers and vacationers in the Cascades. Along the Okanogan Valley on US-97, motels, restaurants, provisions, and gas stations can be found at Brewster, Okanogan, Omak, Tonasket, and Oroville. The region has many USFS and other campgrounds.