by Hal Opperman

revised by Hal Opperman

Seattle is built around Elliott Bay, at the estuary of the Duwamish River. Two miles east, Lake Washington gathers the flow of the Sammamish and Cedar Rivers from the Cascades and foothills. When the first settlers arrived, the surrounding lands were covered with an ancient forest of Douglas-fir and other conifers. The outlet of Lake Washington was the Black River, at its southern end. The Green River, draining the Cascades to the southeast and flowing northward from present-day Kent across a wide floodplain, joined the Black River in Tukwila to form the Duwamish. Vast tidelands occupied the southern end of Elliott Bay at the mouth of the Duwamish, some 10 miles farther north.

Today one sees a radically altered landscape. Long ago, the ancient forests found their way to the sawmill. The Duwamish was dredged to deepen and straighten it for port facilities. Railroad yards—more recently replaced by sports stadiums—were built on fill where the tidelands used to be. The opening of the Ship Canal to Puget Sound (1916) lowered the level of Lake Washington 10 feet, and the Black River ceased to flow. The flat floodplain valley of the Green River, with its rich alluvial soils, was first cleared for farming, and then succumbed to industrial and commercial development.

Despite the changes, nearly all of the typical Puget Lowlands avian species can still be found easily and enjoyably without leaving the Seattle metropolitan area. Described below are several fine birding sites right in the city. Numerous others in the surrounding suburbs are presented in clockwise order from north to south, all of them within a 30-minute drive by freeway from the city center.



Seattle’s best one-stop birding venue, Discovery Park can be exciting at any season. More than 250 bird species have been recorded in the park—half the number for the whole state. Scattered throughout its 534 acres are representative fragments of most of the habitat types that can be found in the immediate Seattle area, with saltwater, beaches, meadows, and mixed forest being the most important. Sixty-six species of birds breed here, and 80 species might be found on a good day during migration.

From I-5 Exit 169, go west on NE 45th Street through the Wallingford business district. Follow the arterial as it slants right to 46th, passes under the SR-99 viaduct, shortly bends right again to become NW Market Street, and descends Phinney Ridge into Ballard. Continue west on Market to 15th Avenue NW, turn left (south) and cross the bridge over the Ship Canal, then go right on Emerson Street (becomes W Emerson Place) past the Fishermen’s Terminal and railroad yard to the stop sign at Gilman Avenue W. Turn right onto Gilman, following this arterial as it becomes W Government Way and winds its way to the park’s east entrance, a bit more than five miles from I-5. (From downtown Seattle take Western Avenue northwestward along the waterfront, staying with the arterial as it merges into Elliott Avenue and turns north onto 15th Avenue W; exit right to loop across 15th onto Emerson Street and proceed west as above.)


A short distance inside the park, turn left into the east parking lot by the visitor center (open 8:30AM–5PM except Mondays and holidays). Here you may pick up maps and a bird list, and ask the naturalist about current bird-sightings information, birdwalks, and other programs. Permits are available for senior citizens and those with disabilities to drive down to West Point and park. Otherwise you may leave your car here, or continue along the main park road 0.5 mile to the north parking lot, or drive south from the east entrance on 36th Avenue W, then west on W Emerson Street, to the south entrance and parking lot.

The moderately level Loop Trail, 2.8 miles, circles the park, passing through woods, thickets, and grasslands. This circuit takes two hours at a leisurely pace; many side trails lead to beach and wetland habitats. Listen for the insect-like “song” of male Anna’s Hummingbirds in clearings. Hutton’s Vireo is easy to find in early spring by its monotonous zwee…zwee song. Owls may surprise you at any location or season. Bald Eagles survey the shoreline, and sometimes nest in the park. Pigeon Guillemots have nested in the South Bluff.

South Meadow has nesting Savannah Sparrows in summer, and occasionally a few Western Meadowlarks in winter. Raptors are often seen here, especially in fall. Look for Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, Willow Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Black-headed Grosbeak in brush or trees around the edges. Parts of the meadow have recently been cleared of Scot’s Broom and other invasive growth, and replaced by new plantings of Salal, snowberry, huckleberry, Cascade Oregon-grape, and other natives, providing excellent habitat for birds. Remnant Scot’s Broom and blackberry tangles are good for sparrows, including Lincoln’s and Golden-crowned in fall.

North Forest is a thick belt of mixed woodland with clearings, extending from the visitor center across the north side of the park. In winter, look for a Hutton’s Vireo or a warbler in the numerous flocks of small passerines. Accipiters are fairly common. Red-breasted Sapsucker is an uncommon visitor, usually around the beginning of the year. Wolf Tree Nature Trail leaves from the northwest corner of the north parking lot, and is a good place in summer for Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Pacific Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. A spur trail leads west to three small ponds where you may find herons, swallows, waxwings, and small numbers of ducks.

West Point, jutting out into Puget Sound, is an outstanding birding spot, with sandy and rocky shorelines and an historic lighthouse (1881). North Beach Trail (prone to mud-slide closure: check at the visitor center) descends the bluff to a rip-rap retaining wall. Loons, grebes, and ducks, including an occasional Long-tailed or Harlequin Duck, can be found on Shilshole Bay, while a long freshwater pond above the beach attracts dabbling ducks and other waterfowl. Look for Wandering Tattler (fall) and Whimbrel (fall or spring) on rocky outcrops exposed at low tide. Songbirds frequent the fringe of small trees, especially in migration. Both the north and south sandy beaches are good for shorebirds. Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are possible. Migrating Brant use the eelgrass beds offshore (January–April). West Point itself is a fine lookout for alcids, gulls, terns, and other waterbirds. Small numbers of Ancient Murrelets are likely in fall (November is best). Careful observation of fall flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls may result in a sighting of a rare Little or Sabine’s Gull, or a dashing Parasitic Jaeger. Franklin’s (rare), Heermann’s (uncommon), and Thayer’s Gulls may be seen close in. During stormy periods of strong southwest winds there is even a chance of a Sooty or a Short-tailed Shearwater well offshore, especially in late fall. South Beach Trail leads back up to the Loop Trail and South Meadow.



The Montlake Fill (“the Fill” for short; officially, Union Bay Natural Area) is a popular, productive birding destination on Lake Washington. When the lake was lowered, an extensive peat-bottomed marsh emerged from the shallows of Union Bay at the mouth of Ravenna Creek. Much of the marsh was gradually filled with garbage, debris, and rubble over the next 50 years, and converted to shopping malls, athletic fields, and parking lots. When dumping ceased, the most recent fill was covered with soil, graded, seeded, and left to nature. The tract grew up to grass and scattered brush with some stands of broadleaf trees, a swamp at the eastern end, and remnants of marsh around the edges. Almost at once, this 75-acre island of habitat became a magnet for birds.

To reach the Fill, go east from I-5 Exit 169 onto NE 45th Street, through the University District, along the north edge of the University of Washington campus, and down a viaduct across 25th Avenue NE to a traffic light. Bear left here, and at the second light go right onto Mary Gates Memorial Drive. The entrance to the Fill is on the right in 0.2 mile, at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture (free visitor parking). Find someplace else to go birding on football Saturdays.

Over 250 species of birds have been recorded, including state rarities such as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, and Indigo Bunting. Species more commonly associated with Eastern Washington stray regularly, for example, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, American Kestrel, Say’s Phoebe, both kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrike, Mountain Bluebird, Vesper and Sagebrush Sparrows, Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. American Bittern, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, and Sora are in the marsh much of the year (uncommon to absent in winter). In summer and migration, Vaux’s Swifts are common, and Black Swifts may forage over the Fill on overcast days.

Several shallow ponds at the Fill (formed in depressions where the garbage settled unevenly) and adjacent Union Bay host many ducks, including Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal in summer. The ponds help compensate for Seattle’s poverty of shorebird habitat, attracting a great diversity of species in spring and fall migration—albeit in small numbers. In addition to the usual yellowlegs, dowitchers, and peeps there are records for many scarcer species, including Solitary, Upland, Sharp-tailed, and Stilt Sandpipers, and Ruff.

The Fill is actively managed as a mix of habitats, with open grassland, native shrubs, and ponds bordered by plantings or left with open edges. Invasive Scot’s Broom, Himalayan Blackberry, and Purple Loosestrife are being brought under control. However, rampant woody growth around pond edges in recent years has increasingly diminished shorebird habitat and viewing access. Hope remains that the will can be mustered to reverse this unfortunate development. When you visit, please stay on the paths.


[Note: Access to Foster Island and the Arboretum will be disrupted and in some cases permanently altered by construction for the realignment of the western end of SR-520, currently underway.]

To explore the other side of Union Bay, you can walk from the Fill around the east end of Husky Stadium, along the Montlake Cut, left over the drawbridge, then left again down the steps and back east on the other side of the canal to East Montlake Park; you can also drive to the park as described in the next paragraph. Walk east across a footbridge onto the path (often wet) across Marsh Island, just north of SR-520. Tree Swallow, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and other species nest along the path. Another footbridge brings you to the north end of Foster Island, where a pair of Bald Eagles often hunts from a cottonwood. In winter, Union Bay can be packed with waterbirds (Trumpeter Swan, wigeons, Bufflehead, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, many others), and this is an excellent vantage point for scoping.

Continue south through the pedestrian underpass to reach the main part of the island (see map). Or you may drive there from the Fill by returning along Mary Gates Memorial Drive to NE 45th Street and turning left (west). Stay in the left lane and follow the road as it curves south, joining Montlake Boulevard NE. You will pass Husky Stadium and cross the bridge over the Montlake Cut. Immediately after the SR-520 overpass, turn left onto Lake Washington Boulevard E. (A short distance ahead on the left, 24th Avenue E is the entrance road to East Montlake Park, with parking for the Marsh Island footpath; see preceding paragraph). Lake Washington Boulevard curves right (south), then left, to a stop sign. Turn left at the next stop sign a few hundred feet ahead onto E Foster Island Road, which ends in about 0.2 mile, near the south footbridge to the island.

Foster Island woodlands and nearby backwaters of Union Bay are good for small songbirds, including mixed winter foraging flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and kinglets. Rare vagrants such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-and-white, Tennessee, and Chestnut-sided Warblers have been found here. Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron (summer), Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker are often seen around the island. Cliff Swallows nest nearby most years on the sides of the SR-520 bridge.

The neighboring Washington Park Arboretum was designed and installed as part of John C. Olmsted’s plan for Seattle parks and boulevards (1903–1936). Extending south from Foster Island for about a mile to Madison Street, the 230-acre public park holds the second-largest collection of temperate woody plants in North America. eBird reports 145 species for the park, including a good assortment of summer and year-round resident edge-loving and forest birds. You may walk into the Arboretum from Foster Island. You may also drive along Lake Washington Boulevard as described above, but rather than turning left onto E Foster Island Road, bear right with the boulevard and on into the park.


Alki Beach Park in West Seattle (see map on page 139) is a fairly consistent place for Black Turnstone and Surfbird in winter, especially at Duwamish Head on the north end and around Alki Point to the south, and is also a good seabird overlook. Take Exit 163A from I-5 southbound, or Exit 163 if northbound, onto the West Seattle Freeway, then exit onto Harbor Avenue SW, birding the shoreline parks on Harbor and Alki Avenue SW, ending at Alki Point.


The 22.5-acre Edmonds Marsh has birds of brackish marsh and tidally influenced mudflats, a rare habitat type for the Seattle area. (See inset map on page 139.) To get there, take SR-104 west from I-5 Exit 177 to the Edmonds ferry dock; do not get in the ferry lanes but turn left onto Dayton Street, then left into a parking lot just before the railroad crossing; the marsh is at the back. An interpretive walkway provides good viewing for waterfowl, rails, shorebirds, and passerines. The Edmonds Fishing Pier, at the north end of the marina, is excellent for seabird viewing. From the Edmonds Marsh, cross the railroad tracks on Dayton Street, park, and walk out.



Despite its modest size (110 acres), extensive groomed lawns, and proximity to a busy commercial district, this little jewel of an urban park is an enjoyable and productive birding destination in any season. Two boardwalks and a causeway provide elevated platforms for viewing and photography of a fine variety of wetland habitats, including wet meadow, cattail marsh, a beaver pond, alder/willow swamp, and the shallow embayment where Forbes Creek joins Lake Washington.

Resident wetland birds include Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Bald Eagle, Virginia Rail, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Marsh Wren, and Red-winged Blackbird, joined in summer by Green Heron (irregular, has nested), Osprey, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and Bullock’s Oriole. Winter brings an increased variety of waterfowl, including swans in recent years. Check the muddy edge of the lake at the north end of the bay for Wilson’s Snipe (September–April). The rest of the park, including the undeveloped half east of Market Street, contains just enough mature conifers and shrubs to round out one’s bird list with woodland and backyard species.

The park is located 1.4 miles north of downtown Kirkland on Market Street. Coming from farther afield, the fastest access is from I-405 Exit 20 (20B if northbound). Go west on NE 124th Street to the traffic light at 100th Avenue NE (1.1 mile). Turn left (south) here and follow the curving arterial (name changes to 98th Avenue NE). At the Forbes Creek Drive traffic light (1.2 mile), turn right (west) into the parking lot for the park.



Despite heavy use (over three million visitors a year), 640-acre Marymoor Park offers good birding in all seasons, with a list of over 220 species, and is a notable migrant trap. Early morning on a weekday is the best time to visit.

Travel east from Seattle on SR-520 to the W Lake Sammamish Parkway NE exit. Turn right. The park entrance is 0.2 mile south of the offramp, on the left. Obtain a parking ticket at automated pay stations ($1 bill; good all day). In about 0.4 mile, at the third stop sign, turn right and continue south to Parking Lot D. From the far left corner of the lot take the Audubon BirdLoop trail to the left, a 1.4-mile walk through most of the park habitats. An informative trail brochure is available at interpretive kiosks and the park office.

For the first half-mile the trail follows the Sammamish River through riparian habitat inside the dog-exercise area. Swallows and Common Yellowthroats abound in summer. Search the riverbanks for Green Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Snipe. Willow Flycatchers nest along the river; Wilson’s Warblers and Western Tanagers pass through in migration; Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Fox Sparrows are numerous in winter. Look for the nesting colony of Great Blue Herons in tall trees right beside the trail.

Passing through a gate at the other end of the dog area, the BirdLoop trail continues on a boardwalk through forest to a platform at the north end of Lake Sammamish, at the outlet of the Sammamish River. Western Wood-Pewee, Warbling Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, and Black-headed Grosbeak nest in the forest. Watch for Wood Ducks on the river. Gourds installed near the platform attract nesting Purple Martins and Tree Swallows. Black Swifts regularly forage over the lake on cloudy summer days.

Bending sharply left, the boardwalk goes through a cattail marsh (Virginia Rail) followed by a small deciduous woodland and finally wet grasslands lined by willows. You should find Rufous Hummingbird and Yellow Warbler in summer; Orange-crowned Warbler and other migrants; and Black-capped Chickadee, Marsh and Bewick’s Wrens, and American Goldfinch year round.

The trail splits upon emerging from the thickets to offer a choice between the east and west sides of an extensive meadow. Savannah Sparrow nests here in summer; Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike, and Western Meadowlark are seen in winter; spring passage brings the occasional Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebird, or Lazuli Bunting. The two branches converge at a kiosk. The nearby viewing mound is an excellent vantage for scoping the meadow.

Walk back west to the starting point on a path between the soccer fields and Parking Lot G. Sparrows gather along shrubby edges in fall and winter. The grass playing fields here and elsewhere in the park host American Pipits in fall, and gulls, shorebirds, and large flocks of geese (mostly Cackling and Canada, with sometimes a few Greater White-fronted and Snow) in winter.

A 0.4-mile side loop of the trail takes you from the back right corner of Parking Lot D through a grove of conifers to the park office and historic Clise Mansion. Barn Owls nest in the old windmill.



Lake Sammamish State Park occupies 512 acres at the south end of the lake, at I-90 Exit 15. At a traffic light north of the interchange, turn left onto NW Sammamish Road. In 0.4 mile, turn right into the park entrance (Discover Pass required). The park can be crowded, especially on summer weekends. Birding is best at the back, away from the beaches and freeway, on weekday mornings. Unsurfaced park trails are predictably soggy in winter months (mud boots advisable).

Drive in to the farthest parking lot (when gated in winter, park in the first lot and walk). The paved path along the two beaches is good for a seasonal variety of ducks, gulls, other waterbirds, and mixed-forest species. At the footbridge over Issaquah Creek, just north of the parking lot, look for Wood Ducks, mergansers, and returning salmon (fall). Walk left next to the fence without crossing the bridge, peering in at creekside logs and low branches, to the barrier-free boardwalk leading to the mouth of the creek. Green Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Tree Swallow, Swainson’s Thrush, and Black-headed Grosbeak are found here in breeding season.

Backtrack and continue across the north end of the parking lot, keeping the creek on your left. A path through large cottonwoods opens into a grassy clearing with old fruit trees. Red-breasted Sapsucker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Bullock’s Oriole, and Purple Finch nest here. Keep left along the edge of the clearing across a small footbridge. The trail follows the creek (nesting Belted Kingfisher and Northern Rough-winged Swallow), with a large wet meadow on the right (Northern Shrike in winter, Marsh Wren year round), to a Douglas-fir forest (Hutton’s Vireo year round, Pacific Wren in winter, Black-throated Gray Warbler in migration).

A 1.3-mile hike to the park’s boat launch starts from the parking lot. Cross the footbridge, go right on the mowed trail, then left at a fork in about half a mile. Rufous Hummingbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Savannah Sparrow nest along the way. Look up for Black Swifts on cloudy summer days and north for the Great Blue Heron nesting colony across the meadow in tall trees.



Located in an industrial zone at the south end of Lake Washington, this is the Seattle area’s finest site for gulls outside the breeding season (especially late November–early March). Herring Gull (very local around Seattle) is fairly common, as is Thayer’s. Glaucous is annual, though rare; Slaty-backed has occurred several times. The only state record of Great Black-backed Gull is from here (Jan–Feb 2004). The common gulls occur in large numbers, providing good comparative studies of plumage cycles. Winter also brings a nice variety of diving ducks.

Take I-405 Exit 2 (2B if southbound) for Rainier Avenue S/Renton. Go north 1.2 miles on Rainier Avenue S and turn right (east) onto Airport Way S, continuing to its end in 0.4 mile. Bend left here onto Logan Avenue S (becomes Logan Avenue N), and in 0.5 mile turn left (west) at the traffic light onto N 6th Street. At the stop sign (0.2 mile), continue straight ahead into the park entrance (gated at sunset), and right onto Nishiwaki Lane (formerly N Riverside Drive). A narrow park (toilets) follows the channelized river north to its mouth (0.6 mile), between the runway of the Renton Municipal Airport on the west and a Boeing plant on the east. Ample parking can be found along Nishiwaki Lane.

Walk out onto the decks at the City of Renton Boathouse at the north end of the park. Gull-watching is best approaching nightfall, as birds return to roost and bathe after spending the day upriver at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill. Old logs and stumps washed out from the river provide perches; some mud and gravel bars emerge when water levels are down. Migrant songbirds use the small trees and brush all through the riverside park. Palm Warblers have wintered here more than once.



The Kent Valley, the alluvial plain along the Green River south of Seattle, was once a vast area of wetlands and open fields famous for raptors, waterfowl, and migrating shorebirds—much like the Skagit and Samish Flats farther north. Although overtaken by industry, warehouses, and suburban growth in recent decades, the valley still harbors remnant patches of habitat. Favorite birding spots come and go; the following is perhaps the most stable and reliable of these.

The itinerary described here (map on previous page) proceeds in a clockwise loop from the corner of S 212th Street and 64th Avenue S, northwest of downtown Kent. To reach the starting point from I-5, take Exit 152 and go east on curving Orillia Road, which becomes S 212th Street upon reaching the valley floor. In 2.7 miles, turn right (south) onto 64th Avenue S. (Coming from SR-167, take the S 212th Street exit, travel west 1.5 miles, and turn left onto 64th.)

The Green River Natural Resources Area (GRNRA; familiarly, Kent Ponds) has transformed the former settlement ponds of a wastewater treatment facility into a 304-acre wildlife sanctuary and enhanced wetland for stormwater retention. What you will be mostly doing is scanning the wetlands from the periphery for waterbirds (Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron year round; in winter, wigeons, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck; Baikal Teal recorded); and for raptors perched or in flight (nesting Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks; Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Short-eared Owl; American Kestrel irregular; Red-shouldered Hawk recorded). A trail following the south edge, and other trails in the western meadows, provide passerine birding (nesting Willow Flycatcher, swallows, Marsh and Bewick’s Wrens, Common Yellowthroat, Savannah Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting; Yellow-breasted Chat recorded; winter sparrows). Parking is limited along the east and south sides, usually plentiful along the west side.

Go south on 64th to a small turn-in on the right marked by a GRNRA sign (0.5 mile). Walk up a short path onto the East Berm, an overlook to the west across a pond. Continue driving south 0.3 mile, turn right onto S 226th Street, then immediately right into a small parking area. A broad, paved, non-motorized, barrier-free trail goes north, connecting in about 350 yards to the Puget Power Trail, which runs west from here nearly a mile along the south edge of GRNRA.

Drive west on 226th from the trailhead parking spot to a T-intersection in 0.5 mile. Parking is allowed to the right, along the stub of 54th Avenue S that ends at the Puget Power Trail in a short distance. Walk 350 yards back east to a side trail into the South Tower (700 yards if coming from the east end). Climb the tower for decent scope views northeast to the largest of the three GRNRA ponds.

Go south on 54th to the T-intersection with S 228th Street (0.4 mile). Turn right here, and in 0.2 mile angle off right onto Russell Road. In 0.9 mile, find a GRNRA parking lot on the right with an entry gate into the meadows and access to the Southwest Tower. You also may park on the other side of the road at Van Doren’s Park (public toilets). Another parking area and gate with access to the North Tower and trails is 0.4 mile farther north. From here it is 0.2 mile north to S 212th Street.