by Bill LaFramboise, Nancy LaFramboise,

Mike Denny, MerryLynn Denny, and Bob Flores

revised by MerryLynn Denny

A significant expanse of Columbia Basin landscape survives in a near-natural state, from the crest of the Saddle Mountains south to the Hanford Reach—the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River between the Bonneville Dam and Canada. In this magnificent setting birders may find species characteristic of arid grasslands, steppe-sagebrush, and streambanks. By contrast, dams along the lower Snake River have eradicated the original canyon-bottom habitats. Nonetheless, there are several important birding sites along the Snake and especially a few miles farther north. Washtucna, Palouse Falls State Park, and Lyons Ferry Park are migration hotspots.



In 2000, the Hanford Reach National Monument (195,000 acres) was created to permanently protect the former buffer zone around the top-secret Hanford Site, which had remained in a relatively undisturbed state. Parts of the monument along the north and east shores of the scenic Hanford Reach are open to the public. Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1953 and has no public access, was incorporated into the Hanford Reach National Monument. The shrub-steppe community making up the refuge is one of only two large blocks of this habitat remaining in the state.

To explore the Saddle Mountains, northeast of Yakima, travel east on SR-24 from its junction with SR-243 for 16.5 miles and turn north onto the unsigned gravel road east of milepost 60. Look for Loggerhead Shrike and Lark and Sagebrush Sparrows in the shrub-steppe and Long-billed Curlews in the grassy areas. The road forks in 4.2 miles; turn right and drive along the crest of the ridge to a viewpoint (1.2 miles). Look for Chukar and Gray Partridge, raptors, Rock and Canyon Wrens, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch late fall through early spring. Prairie Falcon nests here most years.

Continue east on SR-24 for 2.8 miles and turn right onto an unsigned, partially paved road that gives access to the north portion of the Hanford Reach. Check riparian areas for vagrants during migration; Brown Thrasher has been seen here. Turn right at the four-way intersection and continue to the boat launch on the Columbia River. Check for waterfowl, gulls, and terns. Bank and Cliff Swallows nest in abundance on the White Bluffs.

Ringold and southern parts of the Hanford Reach are most easily visited from the Tri-Cities. In Pasco, take Road 68 north from I-182 (Exit 9) and bear right as it merges into Taylor Flats Road in 2.5 miles. Continue north 13.3 miles and turn left onto Ringold Road. In three miles, turn left again (sharply), following Ringold Road another 0.8 mile to a T-intersection. Turn right on Ringold River Road (gravel), then left onto one of three roads that lead to the Ringold Fish Hatchery and Columbia River. Park and walk to observe hatchery ponds. Check the river (Snowy Egret was seen here). The Russian Olive trees can be very birdy during migration, and Bullock’s Orioles nest here. Continue north on Ringold River Road, stopping at pullouts where you can reach the river. The road is closed by a gate in about eight miles—continue on foot.



The lower Snake River—made famous in the annals of Lewis and Clark two centuries ago—has been tamed by four major dams, drowning the canyon bottoms beneath reservoirs over virtually its entire course. Although the canyon walls retain much of their natural character, most of the surrounding uplands are converted to agriculture. A number of birding sites are accessed by county roads and state highways paralleling the Snake River northeast from Pasco. Many other sites lie along the opposite bank of the river in the Southeast (page 498).

The Pasco-Kahlotus Road takes off to the northeast from US-12 just east of Pasco. In 13 miles turn right on W Herman Road (gravel) to Big Flat Habitat Management Unit. Park and walk across the causeway to explore 600 acres of plantings—mitigation for habitat destroyed by dams. Birding is best during migration and winter when many sparrows, thrushes, and possibly owls can be found. Use caution during hunting season.

Continuing northeast on Pasco-Kahlotus Road, turn right in 16.8 miles onto Burr Canyon Road and head down to Windust Park (five miles). This spot also stands out for migrants: Variegated Flycatcher found here in 2008, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in 2009, and Black-and-white Warbler in 2007. In winter, it excels in owls. Watch for rattlesnakes May through September.

Continue east on SR-263 for 3.1 miles to Lower Monumental Dam; check for gulls any time of year. The highway turns and enters Devils Canyon. Here, look for Rock and Canyon Wrens; in winter Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches descend into holes in the cliffs in the afternoon. At the T, turn right with SR-263 into Kahlotus, another good migration spot.

Continue north, turn right onto SR-260, and head east 14 miles to Washtucna, an island of greenery in the midst of an arid hillscape that has proven to be one of the most consistent migrant traps in the Columbia Basin. The best birding is in and around Bassett Park, which can be swarming with passerines during spring and fall migrations. Cornell’s eBird reports 189 species for Bassett Park, which features a variety of habitats. Among the birds commonly seen are California Quail, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow, Hammond’s, Dusky, Gray, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Say’s Phoebe, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, kinglets, Townsend’s Solitaire, Swainson’s, Hermit, and Varied Thrushes, Gray Catbird, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, MacGillivray’s, and Wilson’s Warblers, Western Tanager, blackbirds, Bullock’s Oriole, and Evening Grosbeak.

Uncommon or rare species seen at the park include: Broad-winged Hawk, Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers, Eastern Phoebe, Bell’s, Blue-headed, and Philadelphia Vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting. Among the warblers seen here are Northern Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Mourning, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Black-throated Gray, and Black-throated Green. American Redstart and Gray and Least Flycatchers are regular.

The sewage ponds southeast of the park are always worth a look as well (off Klein/Portland Street).

Backtrack west on SR-260 and turn south onto SR-261 for 8.7 miles to Palouse Falls State Park (Discover Pass required), which deserves a stop at any season for birds and scenery. The few trees can be a magnet for birds during migration (Blue-headed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler). Peregrine Falcons and White-throated Swifts nest here, and in winter look for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches on the cliff face.

Continue south five miles on SR-261 to Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery on the right (heated restrooms open all winter). Check trees for sapsuckers in fall and winter. Just across the road is Lyons Ferry Park, where the Palouse River runs into the Snake. This is another migrant trap worth exploring anytime of year; a walk out to the island can be productive.