by Andy Stepniewski and Jim Acton

revised by Kim Thorburn

The southern end of Washington’s Northeast belongs to the Columbia Basin. Rolling plateaus—originally grown to steppe and scattered shrub-steppe, and groves of Ponderosa Pine—are interrupted by Channeled Scablands topography of lakes and marshes. Much of the deeper-soiled terrain is now given over to dryland wheat farming. This is, on average, the warmest and driest part of the Northeast and holds the bulk of the human population, mainly in the Spokane River Valley. The Spokane metropolitan area has numerous sites for finding birds of dry forest, grassland, and riparian habitats, especially in late spring and early summer when breeding activity is at a peak. These same sites can also be excellent in spring and fall migration. Notable Spokane vagrant records include Broad-winged Hawk (September), Tennessee Warbler (August), Black-throated Green Warbler (July), Blackpoll Warbler (May), Ovenbird (November), Indigo Bunting (September), and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (June, October). Less than an hour from the city, Mount Spokane State Park offers mountain birding with a flavor of the Selkirks, while Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a fine Channeled Scablands birding site.



If you find yourself in Spokane with a half-day or less at your disposal, your best bet for seeing both typical birds and possible vagrants is the canyons of the Spokane River and tributaries, in the western part of the city. The following itinerary visits several of the most productive sites.

To reach the Little Spokane River Natural Area, leave I-90 at Exit 281 and go north on US-2/US-395 (Division Street) 4.4 miles to the intersection with Francis Avenue. Turn left (west) here onto SR-291. In 2.2 miles swing right onto Indian Trail Road, which ends in 4.8 miles at Rutter Parkway. Bear right onto Rutter and continue 0.9 mile to a parking lot on the left, just across the Little Spokane River bridge (Discover Pass required).

A two-mile trail goes west from here, ending at a parking lot on SR-291 not far from the Spokane House Interpretive Center in Riverside State Park. If you walk the first half-mile, you will encounter a variety of habitats, including river, marsh, a fine riparian zone (Black Cottonwood, Quaking Aspen, willows, Red-osier Dogwood), brushy slopes, Ponderosa Pine woodland, and granitic cliffs. Species expected on this trail include Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Cassin’s, Warbling, and Red-eyed Vireos, a variety of swallows; Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, all three nuthatches, Rock, Canyon, House, Pacific and Bewick’s Wrens, Veery, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat (infrequent), Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Bullock’s Oriole, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill.

Back at the parking lot and across the bridge, another trail runs upstream (eastward) on the opposite bank, through Douglas-fir habitats on shady, north-facing slopes.

Turn right (south) out of the parking lot, re-cross the Little Spokane River, and keep right on Rutter Parkway to SR-291 (3.1 miles from the parking lot). Turn left, travel 3.5 miles, and turn right onto Seven Mile Road, which soon crosses the Spokane River. Look for a sign for the Riverside Park ORV Area in 2.2 miles. Turn left (south) onto Inland Road and drive through dry Ponderosa Pine woodlands, continuing past the parking lot where ORVs load and unload. In about 1.1 miles, you reach the beginning of an area of open grasslands where you may encounter a few hikers, bicyclists, or horseback riders, but no ORVs. For the next half-mile, grasslands and bordering pines are home to White-headed Woodpecker (rare), Gray Flycatcher, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebird, and Chipping, Vesper, and Lark Sparrows. Turkey Vultures fly around the dry basalt cliffs to the west.

Return to Seven Mile Road and cross over the pavement onto State Park Drive, about 75 feet to the right. The road is gated in 0.3 mile (Discover Pass required), but you may walk in past the gate and look down into the forested basalt canyons along Deep Creek, on the left. Listen for Rock and Canyon Wrens. During breeding season, Townsend’s Solitaires are common. Northern Goshawks have been seen on snags here. From the Deep Creek Overlook, a Bald Eagle’s nest can be seen in a snag across the canyon.

Retrace your route along Seven Mile Road back across the Spokane River to SR-291 (Nine Mile Road), and turn right. In 1.4 miles, turn right onto Rifle Club Road (brown sign for Riverside State Park), then left in 0.4 mile onto Aubrey L. White Parkway. After 1.6 miles, turn into the parking lot on the right for the Riverside State Park Campground (Discover Pass required). A short trail affords great views of the Spokane River in a gorge with the Bowl and Pitcher and other dramatic rock formations as a backdrop. Check for Osprey and Bald Eagle. White-throated Swifts nest on the high basalt cliffs to the west, and an impressive Cliff Swallow colony resides just below the viewpoint. Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, and Red Crossbill are also common in this part of the park and in the old burn in the Ponderosa Pine woodland to the north.

Continuing along the parkway (becomes Downriver Drive), exit left in 3.4 miles, before the underpass, and circle right, crossing a bridge over the Spokane River onto Fort George Wright Drive. In 1.4 miles, turn right onto Government Way and, in another 1.4 miles, reach Aubrey L. White Parkway (aka Aubrey White Park Drive and Riverside State Park Drive), an access to Riverside State Park and the Spokane River Centennial Trail. At this junction, extensive areas of brush mantle the hillside to the south, very attractive to Nashville Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, and many other species. Drive in one mile to a parking area that overlooks the Bowl and Pitcher from the other side of the river (Discover Pass required). If you continue on foot past the gate and down toward the river, you will reach a recent burn with woodpecker potential. Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, and Lark Sparrow also reside in this area.

Turn around and follow Government Way back the way you came. At the traffic light where Fort George Wright Drive goes left, stay straight on Government Way for 1.2 miles, then turn right onto Greenwood Road. Bear right where the roadway splits (0.3 mile) and go uphill into Indian Canyon Park. The dense riparian growth along the creek on your left is filled with vireos and warblers, including a few Yellow-breasted Chats. There are a few places to park and walk trails.

As you reach the top of the hill along Greenwood, the roadway splits again (0.7 mile). Take Rimrock Drive to the right (north) through Palisades Park. This overlooks the city and has large-rock borders to prevent off-road activities. The length of the road all the way to Houston Street (2.0 miles) can be especially good for passerines in fall migration (late August–September), when you might see Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and Chipping, Lark, and White-crowned Sparrows, among other species. Look for accipiters here, also, including Northern Goshawk during winter. Midway along this route, a sketchy path follows a small creek westward for 150 yards along the forest edge to a marsh (may dry up in summer); here you may find Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, all three nuthatches, and Red Crossbill.

Double back along Rimrock Drive, continuing past the Greenwood Road intersection 0.6 mile to the junction with Bonnie Drive. Turn left onto Bonnie, drive 200 yards or so, and stop anyplace suitable. Walk left to the canyon edge. You are at the narrow upper end of a forested funnel through which a small creek flows down to Latah Creek. In fall migration, birds work their way up the canyon to this spot and can often be seen at or below eye level as you look out onto the Douglas-firs. Eastern Kingbirds stay for days; small numbers of Hammond’s, Gray, Dusky, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers may be seen.  Cassin’s, Warbling, and Red-eyed (scarce) Vireos pass through. Cedar Waxwings and Western Tanagers are interested in the many berry-producing shrubs. Fall warblers found here include Orange-crowned, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow, Palm (rare), Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, and sometimes even a Common Yellowthroat. Sparrows are everywhere in September, with White-crowned most numerous, Chipping and Lincoln’s in moderate numbers, Golden-crowned uncommon, and Clay-colored, White-throated, and Harris’s appearing once in a while. Cooper’s Hawks breed in the canyon, and Sharp-shinneds and Northern Goshawks are possibilities during later fall and in winter.

Continue east on Bonnie Drive, turn left at Indian Canyon Park Drive (0.4 mile), and go downhill to a small parking place on a hairpin curve (0.2 mile), another good fall migration spot for vireos, warblers, and some sparrows. Below the cliff is a small waterfall. This middle part of the canyon is breeding territory for Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, and Western Tanager. Calliope Hummingbirds breed throughout the canyon—Black-chinneds too, although they are not as numerous. Other possibilities are Vaux’s Swift, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Rock, Canyon, House, Pacific, and Bewick’s Wrens, Golden-crowned (winter) and Ruby-crowned Kinglets (migration), Gray Catbird, and Black-headed and Evening (fall and winter) Grosbeaks.

To reach I-90, proceed down Indian Canyon Park Drive to rejoin Greenwood Road (0.6 mile) and continue 0.3 mile to Government Way. Turn right onto Government Way and, in 0.8 mile, turn left onto Sunset Boulevard. Continue 1.1 miles to Maple Street, then turn right and follow the signs a few blocks to the onramps.



The Spokane Valley, now much of it incorporated as the cities of Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake, stretches east from the city of Spokane to the Idaho line. The small population of Upland Sandpipers that once nested here was extirpated several decades ago, but remnant patches of habitat still support a few Grasshopper Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, and other grassland birds. Also of interest to birders are some forested preserves in the hills at the valley’s south edge.

The Dishman Hills Natural Area consists of 562 rugged acres of dry forest, brushland, small seasonal springs and ponds, and rocky cliffs. Over 100 species of birds, nearly 400 of plants, and more than 50 of butterflies have been found here. The best time to visit is May or June; bird activity is much diminished in the hot summer months. Birds to expect include Western Wood-Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Violet-green Swallow, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, all three nuthatches, Rock Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Red Crossbill.

To reach this natural island in the midst of urban development, go east from downtown Spokane on I-90 to Exit 285 (Sprague Avenue), which dumps you directly onto Appleway Boulevard, the eastbound lanes of Sprague. In 1.4 miles, turn right onto Sargent Road and go two blocks to the north parking lot and entrance at Camp Caro. (A sign at the entrance reads Ina Hughes Johnston Natural Area.)

The preserve has an extensive network of trails. The Pinecliff Loop Trail visits the main habitats in a one-mile loop, starting just behind the environmental education center. Walk south through Ponderosa Pine woodland and patches of brushland. In about 500 yards, note granitic Caro Cliff to your left. Just beyond the cliff, take the right branch of the trail to Enchanted Ravine. Dense vegetation has developed in the shade of the gorge, dominated by Douglas-firs. From the ravine, the trail ascends to a high, forested plateau. Here and there, openings afford good views of the Spokane Valley. A spur trail leads to East and West Ponds—potholes that fill with water from winter and spring rains. Although they dry out in summer, the depressions are moist enough year round to maintain wetland vegetation, a magnet to many birds. The trail returns to the parking lot in about one-quarter mile.

Iller Creek Conservation Area is a 1400-acre tract at the southern end of the envisioned Dishman Hills Conservancy. A coalition is working to create the conservancy by establishing a corridor connecting the Iller Creek Conservation Area to the Dishman Hills Natural Area. Iller Creek has a number of different habitat types, including riparian, brushy, and forested slopes. A walk up the trail offers some of the best passerine birding in the Spokane area. Of the regularly occurring Eastern Washington vireos, thrushes, and warblers, all but Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat can be found here, and even these two have been recorded. Although best from mid-May through June, birding holds up quite well through the heat of summer.

From Camp Caro, return to Appleway, turn right, and go 0.4 mile to Dishman-Mica Road. Turn right, go 2.3 miles, and turn right onto Schafer Road. In 0.9 mile, turn right onto 44th Avenue, left in 0.2 mile onto Farr Road, and right in 0.3 mile onto Holman Road, which ends in 0.8 mile at a turn-around where the trail starts. Look for Calliope Hummingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat in the Buckbrush on the west side of the road, and Lazuli Bunting and perhaps Black-headed Grosbeak along the slopes of the creek below. The lower part of the trail follows Iller Creek closely in a riparian zone of Mountain Alder, Douglas Maple, willows, and Black Cottonwood. Ponderosa Pines grow on the exposed sunny slopes of the gorge. Look for Red-naped Sapsucker, Willow and Dusky Flycatchers, Warbling and Red-eyed (uncommon) Vireos, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow, and Wilson’s Warblers, American Redstart, Spotted Towhee, and Chipping, Fox, and Song Sparrows.

As one works upstream, Ponderosa Pine and Black Cottonwood are replaced by Western Hemlock, Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, and Western Larch. Birds common along this portion include Ruffed Grouse, Olive-sided (along the ridge) and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, and Townsend’s Warblers, Western Tanager, and Red Crossbill. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrush are conspicuous in migration. The trail loops at Big Rock, the site of an old burn. (There is also access to this portion of the trail from Stevens Creek Road off of the Palouse Highway to the south.) Lewis’s and Pileated Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, and Brown Creeper have nested in the burn area, and Rock Wrens are regularly found in the rocky outcrop to the east. The usual raptors along the drainage are Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks, and sometimes Barred Owl.

Returning from Iller Creek, go back on Dishman-Mica to Sprague. Here, two one-way streets face you across Sprague: Mullan Road (northbound) and Argonne Road (southbound), connecting to and from I-90 at Exit 287 in 1.2 miles.

Liberty Lake Regional Park is 3,600 acres of wetland, riparian, and mountain-forest habitats. From I-90, take Exit 296 and follow Liberty Lake Road 0.2 mile south. Turn left at East County Vista Drive, travel 0.8 mile to North Molter Road, and turn right. Proceed 0.3 mile and turn left onto East Valleyway Avenue, which curves right and becomes North Lakeside Road. In 2.3 miles from Molter, turn right onto South Zephyr Road, which leads in 0.3 mile to parking (fee May to September).

An extensive trail system climbs from the Liberty Lake marsh to a cedar grove conservation area through Ponderosa Pine then Douglas-fir, Western Larch, and Western Redcedar. Wood Duck, Virginia Rail, Sora, and Red-winged Blackbird inhabit the marsh. The trail follows Liberty Creek where Red-naped Sapsucker, Willow, Least, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, and MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers breed. At higher elevations, there are Ruffed Grouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Varied Thrush, and Cassin’s Finch.


Mount Spokane, about 25 miles northeast of Spokane, is part of the southern Selkirk Mountains. Upper-elevation forests offer a chance of finding Dusky Grouse and Hermit Thrush. Gray Jays are common and conspicuous. Sought-after boreal species such as Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill occur erratically in winter. Moose and Mountain Lions are possible.

From Exit 281 on I-90, go north on US-2 (city streets a good part of the way) for 10.4 miles to SR-206 (aka East Mount Spokane Park Drive), and turn right. Proceed on SR-206 for 2.3 miles to a traffic circle, where you take the second exit and continue 13.3 miles to the entrance to Mount Spokane State Park. Alternatively, from I-90 take Exit 287, go north on Argonne Road (later Bruce Road) 8.5 miles to the traffic circle at SR-206, and take the first exit (right) onto SR-206. Continue 13.3 miles to the park. (Discover Pass is required; Sno-Park permit required from December 1–May 1.)

Dense forest on the initial stretch of park road has resident Barred Owls. On reaching the pass (3.2 miles), turn right and park by Selkirk Lodge (0.3 mile). Enjoy the views extending to the mountains of the Northeast Corner and east into Idaho. Wet-forest habitats with abundant Douglas Maple, alder thickets, and Western Hemlock make this probably the best area for birds in the park. Walk (or ski) the trails south and east of the lodge during winter for Northern Pygmy-Owl, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Red and White-winged (irregular) Crossbills, and Common Redpoll (irregular). During the breeding season, look for Ruffed and Dusky Grouse, Vaux’s Swift (inclement weather), American Three-toed Woodpecker, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Pacific Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s, Hermit (more common higher up), and Varied Thrushes, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers, Fox Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, and Pine Siskin. During migration, large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows can be present. Always be on the watch for Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle.

The road from Selkirk Lodge north to the downhill ski area passes through more stands of mature Interior Wet Belt forest—especially good for Chestnut-backed Chickadee and crossbills—although this stretch can be a human zoo, especially on weekends. The four-mile road to the summit (elevation 5,883 feet) offers a different set of habitats. The road is closed to vehicles during the winter, but open to foot or ski traffic. Montane forests of Subalpine Fir, Douglas-fir, Lodgepole and Western White Pines, and Western Larch, encountered first, are home to Dusky Grouse, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, and Hermit Thrush. High south slopes with grasslands and lichen-covered rocks have Horned Larks, Mountain Bluebirds, and American Pipits. Check this area in fall for migrating raptors. Bohemian Waxwings, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings may be around at times in fall and early spring. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches have been seen along the road.



The 18,200-acre refuge, situated about 20 miles southwest of Spokane, is one of the area’s prime birding sites, with over 200 species recorded. Coming from Spokane, go west on I-90 to Exit 270, then south on SR-904 to Cheney-Plaza Road in Cheney (6.4 miles). Coming from the west, take I-90 Exit 257 and follow SR-904 to Cheney and the intersection with Cheney-Plaza Road on the right (10.4 miles), marked with a brown refuge sign. Go south 4.3 miles on Cheney-Plaza Road to the main visitor entrance (Smith Road), on the left.

Roads inside the refuge are well signed. Drive to an interpretive display at the entrance station (fee or America the Beautiful Pass required), where you can pick up a refuge brochure with a map. Maps and birdfinding information can also be obtained at refuge headquarters during weekday business hours. June is the best month overall, when nesting is at its peak, but May and September are good for landbird migrants, and April, October, and November for waterfowl migration. Rare vagrants recorded on the refuge include Mountain Plover (May), Golden-winged Warbler (August), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Rusty Blackbird (October).

Most of the refuge is closed to the public, but a large visitor-use area permits sampling of all of the habitats. The 5.4-mile Pine Creek Auto Tour Route is the most convenient way to do this. The tour starts just before refuge headquarters, on the left, and runs one way counterclockwise, ending near the entrance station. Three main habitats are encountered on this drive.

In the open Ponderosa Pine parkland, look for many bird species characteristic of the dry coniferous forest, including Hairy Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted and Pygmy (common) Nuthatches, Western Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill.

In the scattered groves of Quaking Aspen, Water Birch, Douglas Hawthorn, and alder, with understory thickets of wild rose, Red-osier Dogwood, serviceberry, and other shrubs, expect Ruffed Grouse, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Willow and occasional Least Flycatchers, Warbling and Red-eyed (uncommon) Vireos, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Veery, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, and more.

Most of the common waterfowl species of the West nest in Turnbull’s marshes and lakes, including Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Mallard, Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green-winged Teal, Redhead, and Ruddy Duck. Small flocks of Tundra Swans, and many other species of waterfowl, come through the refuge during migration. Other marshbirds include Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Coot, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Black Tern, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds.

To reach areas of native bunchgrass prairie, another habitat on the refuge, take the hike south along Headquarters Trail, which runs east of Winslow Pool and Pine Lake about 1.5 miles to the far end of Cheever Lake. Areas of pines and riparian and marsh habitats, are also met with on this trail, making this probably the most species-rich area open to the public on the refuge. In the grasslands, look for Gray Partridge, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Say’s Phoebe, Western Bluebird, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows, and Western Meadowlark.

The refuge is also good habitat for mammals, including Columbian Ground Squirrel, Red Squirrel, Least Chipmunk, Elk, White-tailed Deer, Coyote, Badger, River Otter, and Long-tailed Weasel. In May and June, the open spaces among the pines are carpeted with an astonishing collection of wildflowers. Take precautions against Wood Ticks, which are especially plentiful from March through May.