The western Columbia Basin has seen a wholesale conversion from dry shrub-steppe to irrigated cropland. Increased runoff has caused water tables to rise, flooding innumerable potholes and other low-lying spots and creating a diverse, bird-rich mix of habitats. From the Columbia River to Moses Lake, I-90 provides access to cliffs, marshes, lakes, and remnant patches of shrub-steppe, large areas of which are managed by state and federal fish and wildlife agencies. A Discover Pass isrequired to visit most of these sites. 


From Vantage head east across the Columbia River, take Exit 143 from I-90, and turn west on Silica Road. Check marshes and trees around homes for vagrants during migration. Turn left at the first intersection onto Vantage Road SW and look for White-throated Swifts as you travel down into Frenchman Coulee. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches come in to the cliffs to roost on winter afternoons. Say’s Phoebes and Rock Wrens are common nesters here. Back at the intersection, turn left on Silica Road and look for Sagebrush Sparrows at 2.0 miles and at 2.5 miles.

Head back under I-90 and take Frontage Road east. In one mile turn right and check Caliche Lakes for waterfowl, terns and blackbirds. Continue east past George and turn right into Martha Lake, which can be full of waterfowl and terns in April and May. Another nine miles east are the rest area sewage ponds—across I-90 is the Winchester Wasteway, reached by crossing over I-90 at the next intersection and heading west on Frontage Road. Look for waterfowl and terns in spring and shorebirds in fall.

From the intersection, head south on Dodson Road about two miles, turn left onto Road 1 SW and take an immediate right onto the WDFW access road to the Audubon Dodson Road Nature Trail. The trail is best in April and May to see the waterfowl courtship displays. Drive another 1.4 miles south on Dodson Road to a large WDFW parking area on the left along Winchester Wasteway. If water levels are low enough, there may be shorebirds working the mudflats.

Proceed a little over six miles to Frenchman Hills Road and turn right to “Birder’s Corner.” Pull off at the small parking lot and check over the marsh. Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet and Wilson’s Phalarope nest here, and other shorebirds occur in migration.

Head back east on Frenchman Hills Road five miles, turn left on SR-262, and drive 5.6 miles to Potholes State Park. A variety of winter waterfowl such as Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot can be seen here, along with various raptors: Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagle, and Merlin. Shorebirds, including both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers, as well as Long-billed Dowitchers, can be seen in August and September. In summer and fall, look for Bonaparte’s, Franklin’s, Ring-billed, California, and Herring (September–October) Gulls. Caspian and Forster’s Terns appear in summer, and Common Terns in August and September. Black Terns may be seen in August and September, but are not common. Both the park and MarDon Resort a mile to the east are great migrant traps and can be good birding anytime of year. Vagrants include Red Knot, Brown Thrasher, Northern Parula, and Common Grackle.



O’Sullivan Dam is the south end of Potholes Reservoir, which serves the irrigation needs of the central Columbia Basin. The reservoir and surrounding land comprise the Potholes Wildlife Area—32,500 acres of sand dunes, shrub-steppe, and riparian communities. The reservoir can be full of waterfowl fall through spring unless it freezes over. Western and Clark’s Grebes nest here. There are only a couple pullouts along the dam. You need a scope to check Goose Island, although Caspian Terns, which used to nest there by the hundreds, have been driven out by wildlife officials seeking to protect salmon.

From MarDon, continue six miles east on SR-262, turn left onto M SE, and go 0.4 mile to Lind Coulee. If water levels are low in late summer or fall, this area can be full of shorebirds and waders; it’s a good place for Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers. There is a pullout on both left and right sides of the road (Discover Pass required at both). You can drive up and over the hill and through the riparian area. This is a great area to check any time of year for vagrants; also, winter sparrows may be found here. Just to the northeast is a private residence with many trees where Washington’s first Eastern Wood-Pewee spent a few weeks in August 2013 and returned in 2014.

In winter, continue north on M SE and look for Rough-legged Hawk, Snowy Owl, Merlin, Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, Northern Shrike, and, in snowy years, Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. From 6 SE up to 2 SE and to both sides of M SE, drive the roads and check the fields and farm implements for perched owls.

The North Potholes Reserve is accessed off I-90 Exit 174 just west of Moses Lake. Turn onto S Frontage Road and go west 2.5 miles to Road D.5 (look for green signs reading Public Fishing and Public Hunting). Turn left and wind through areas of sandy shrub-steppe looking for Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, and Lark and Black-throated Sparrows (rare). In the fall, hundreds of American White Pelicans congregate in this area. At a major fork in 2.6 miles, turn right for 1.1 miles to another fork. Angle right and traverse down a steep hill to the edge of the lake, which is lined with large willows. Park where the dike road makes its first turn to the left.

Potholes Rookery to the north is the state’s largest wading-bird rookery—estimates include 600 pairs of Double-crested Cormorants, 50 pairs of Great Blue Herons, 60 of Great Egrets, and 300 of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Snowy Egrets have been observed (rare) but there are no breeding records. This area can be full of shorebirds in the fall, and during winter afternoons up to 60 Bald Eagles may come in to roost. Continue on the dike road to the gate, beyond which you can explore the area on foot. The interior race of Bushtit may be found here as well as at Potholes State Park. Make a right back up at the last fork and go south to several pullouts with excellent views of the islands and sloughs. Least Tern was found here in June 2012.



Clark’s Grebes (usually with Westerns) may be seen during the nesting season on Moses Lake from several waterfront locations including Montlake Park. Take Exit 179 from I-90 and go north 0.5 mile. Turn left onto Yonezowa Boulevard, then right at the third roundabout onto Division Street. Go 0.3 mile to Linden Avenue (street sign obscured by tree). The park is down the hill 0.2 mile. Many waterfowl can be seen here from fall through spring.

The Gloyd Seeps Wildlife Area can be birdy, especially in spring. At the north end of Moses Lake, head north on Stratford Road. Beginning at 3.5 miles north of SR-17, check for Long-billed Curlews in the shortgrass fields west of the highway; at 7.0 miles from SR-17, turn left to the wildlife area. Trails thread through the marsh and grasslands. Tricolored Blackbirds have been seen here.

Neppel (pronounced Neh-PELL) Landing, a narrow strip of prime waterfront viewing in downtown Moses Lake, is a good spot to scope waterfowl, including Wood Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, and mergansers. Also of special interest are nesting Western and Clark’s Grebes. This city park is a good site for gulls, such as Ring-billed, California, and Herring and occasionally other species. Trees attract migrating warblers. Keep an eye and ear out for Belted Kingfisher and woodpeckers. In winter, the area functions virtually as a refuge, as birds from outlying areas stream in to avoid hunting pressure. Viewing is easy and close on this public walking and biking trail.

To reach Neppel Landing from I-90, take Exit 176 signed for Moses Lake. At the end of the freeway ramp, head north on SR-171 (aka West Broadway Avenue) 2.6 miles to S Ash Street. Turn left onto Ash; a parking lot is on the right a short distance ahead.

Leaving the park, you can retrace your steps to I-90 and head east for Spokane or west for Ellensburg and Seattle. Or you can continue north on SR-171 (Broadway) about a mile to a junction with SR-17. Turn left for Ephrata (18.6 miles), right for Othello (26 miles).