by Bill LaFramboise and Nancy LaFramboise

revised by Jane Abel and Keith Abel

The Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco) are three neighboring cities located near the confluence of the Columbia, Yakima, and Snake Rivers in a semi-arid region of southeastern Washington. The area receives an average of five to seven inches of precipitation a year and boasts over 300 sunny days. Shrub-steppe communities dominate the landscape and provide habitat for a host of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects, while the immediate shoreline of the three rivers provides excellent riparian habitat. Together, these two differing habitats offer excellent opportunities for birdwatching in the Tri-Cities. For more Tri-City birding locations and information, visit:



Rattlesnake Mountain is a treeless, east-west, subalpine ridge reaching 3,600 feet in elevation and is the dominant landform of the lower Columbia Basin. Much of the north face of the mountain is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument with restricted public access; however, the south slope is accessible by car on county roads. Although heavily farmed, pockets of shrub-steppe habitat remain, and during nesting season (April through July), you can find Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s, Sagebrush, and Grasshopper Sparrows. In winter, search flocks of Horned Larks for Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Gyrfalcon (rare), Prairie Falcon, and Northern Shrike are also regular winter visitors.

A tour of the south slope begins near Prosser and returns to Benton City. Be aware that there are no services between Prosser and Benton City. Take Exit 80 from I-82 about 25 miles west of Richland or 45 miles southeast of Yakima. Proceed north on N Gap Road to Johnson Road (0.4 mile) and turn right. Continue for 2.4 miles to Bunn Road and turn left. The marshy areas along the road (0.2 mile) are often good for migrant waterfowl and shorebirds from early to mid-spring.

Continue north along Bunn Road for 0.7 mile and turn left onto King Tull Road. In 1.0 mile turn right onto Crosby Road, which begins the ascent of Rattlesnake Mountain. Look for Prairie Falcon, which can be found year round, Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks, which are seen in spring and summer, and Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrike, found in winter. Continue north on paved Crosby Road, following its turns for 6.7 miles. When the pavement curves sharply right, continue straight on graveled Rotha Road to the top. The roadside at this point is flanked by Big Sagebrush; in April through late May, wildflowers such as Thompson’s Paintbrush, Columbia Puccoon, Carey’s Balsamroot, Lupine, Fleabane, penstemon, and many others add a brief but colorful display to the shrub-steppe landscape. Look for Gray Partridge, Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s and Sagebrush Sparrows. Short-eared Owl and Common Poorwill are possible at dusk.

After passing Pearl Road in four miles, the terrain has more grasses attractive to Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows. Continue for one mile on Rotha to Crooks Road and turn right. In winter, this is one of the better locations for Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting, found among large flocks of Horned Larks that frequent the wheat fields. Side trips can be made down Crosby, Rothrock, or Franks Roads through similar habitat.

After traveling 4.0 miles from the junction of Rotha Road, Crooks Road bears to the right, becoming Case Road, and descends the mountain. In 10.7 miles, turn left onto Hanks Road. Travel this road for two miles to District Line Road and turn right. After 1.3 miles turn left, heading east, on Old Inland Empire Highway. Look for nesting Red-tailed Hawks, Barn and Great Horned Owls, Prairie Falcon, and Rock and Canyon Wrens on the basalt cliffs. Beware of fast-moving traffic. A good place to view the cliffs is at the Chandler pumping station 1.3 miles on the right after turning onto Old Inland Empire Highway. Virginia Rails are usually found in the marsh on the southwest side of the parking lot, and the hillside above the marsh is home to a large colony of Yellow-bellied Marmots.

Old Inland Empire Highway intersects SR-225 in 7.1 miles. Turn left to reach Horn Rapids Park (7.6 miles to entrance) or turn right, traveling through Benton City for two miles, to the I-82 interchange (Exit 96).

Horn Rapids County Park consists of nearly 800 acres of transitional river-to-upland shrub-steppe habitat, located along the Yakima River just west of Richland. After entering the park, take the first left turn and then a right turn to the day-use area. Some of the best birding is around the cottonwood trees near the day-use parking area; however, if time permits, visit the outer areas.

Often seen during spring migration (April–June) are Lewis’s Woodpecker, multiple species of flycatchers and warblers, including Yellow-breasted Chat, kinglets, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird (rare), migrating sparrows, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole. Great Horned owls frequent the park, and from mid-May until July Common Nighthawks can be found roosting in cottonwood and locust trees. Long-billed Curlews nest (March–June) in the shrub-steppe areas near the park and are frequently seen and heard.

From Horn Rapids Park, take SR-225 north to SR-240 (0.8 mile). Turn right (east) on SR-240 and continue 1.4 miles to Snively Road on the right. Proceed on Snively (past the River Meadow Farm) as the road winds through Barker Ranch to Twin Bridges Road.

Barker Ranch is a private hunting ranch, but birding in this area can be enjoyed from the roadside. Increasing numbers of Sandhill Cranes use the fields as a stopover during spring migration and are often found along Snively or Twin Bridges Roads, from late February through April. The flooded fields and marshy areas also attract small numbers of migrating shorebirds, White-faced Ibis (rare), Wilson’s Snipe, Swamp Sparrow (rare), and migrating passerines. Turn left onto Twin Bridges Road, which has narrow shoulders and few pullouts, so use caution. Proceed two miles to return to SR-240.



Parks and natural areas near the rivers provide opportunities to observe a great diversity of waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and passerines. Waterfowl, uncommon inland, turn up here with regularity, including Surf and White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, and Red-breasted Merganser. The usual shorebirds are Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Spotted, Least, Pectoral, and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, and Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes. Less common, but regular are Black-bellied, American Golden-, and Semipalmated Plovers, and Solitary, Stilt, Baird’s, and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Larids are also seen in large numbers, with the possibility of Parasitic Jaeger and Black and Common Terns in migration.

Several flycatchers, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, six swallow species, most of the western warblers, and Western Tanager are typical of the many passerine migrants. Birds of special interest seen regularly include Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Clark’s Grebe, Sabine’s, Franklin’s, and Glaucous Gulls, and Peregrine Falcon. The list of Washington rarities recorded in the Tri-Cities over the years is staggering: Garganey, Hudsonian   Godwit, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Le Conte’s Sparrow, and Brambling.


Richland’s W.E. Johnson Park is a 236-acre undeveloped natural space along the Yakima River, used primarily for horseback riding and archery. The park’s extensive wetland, riparian and shrub-steppe habitats offer good birding in all seasons.

There are two entrances to the park. First entrance: Exit SR-240 at Van Giesen Street heading west, travel 0.3 mile, then turn left onto Hall Road. Drive 0.4 mile and park in the archery range parking lot. Second entrance: Exit SR-240 at Duportail Road. Go west 0.1 mile to Riverstone Drive and turn right, then left on Banyon Street and right on Tanglewood Drive. The park entrance is a half-block farther on the left.

Habitats throughout the park attract migrating hummingbirds, flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, warblers, sparrows, and Western Tanagers. Marsh Wren, Wood Duck, and Virginia Rail can be found in marshy areas. Breeding species include Black-chinned Hummingbird, Bewick’s Wren, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting. In winter look for Pacific Wren, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, Bohemian (rare) and Cedar Waxwings, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Fox Sparrow, and Purple Finch (rare). The park is also a good place to search for owls: Barn, Western Screech-, Great Horned, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet have been found here.

Leslie Groves Park is a long and narrow park with multiple entrances that runs parallel with the Columbia River in north Richland. It is often an excellent place to study winter waterfowl and gulls.

To enter at Park Street, from SR-240 and Van Giesen Street head east on Van Giesen 1.5 miles to George Washington Way. Turn left and continue 0.7 mile to Newcomer Street. Turn right on Newcomer, travel 0.2 mile to Davison Avenue and turn left. In 0.3 mile turn right on Park Street and continue into the park. Additional entrances are at Snyder, Saint, Newcomer, and Hains Streets.

Over 25 species of waterfowl have been recorded in winter, including Canvasback, Redhead, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, and Hooded Merganser. Large concentrations of gulls can be found on the north end of nearby Nelson Island in winter, including the more uncommon Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous. Thickets of Russian Olive trees provide food for several species of woodpecker, kinglet, thrush, waxwing, warbler, and sparrow. Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Red-tailed Hawks, Merlin, and Northern Shrike are also common in winter. Spring and fall bring many passerine migrants.


Bateman Island is located at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. Access to Bateman Island is on foot over a causeway and continues with a very gentle circular trail system running through most of the island. Except in the midsummer heat, this is almost always an interesting place to bird.

From the junction of SR-240 and I-182 (Exit 5A) travel east on SR-240 and continue for 3.2 miles to the Columbia Center Boulevard. Turn left on N Columbia Center Boulevard. Continue 0.4 mile to Columbia Park Trail. Parking for Wye Park and Bateman Island is straight ahead.

Both spring and fall offer a great variety of passerine migrants. Wintering species include Pacific Wren, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, American Tree (rare), Fox, Song, Lincoln’s, Harris’s (rare), White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

From the Wye Park boat launch (west of Bateman Island causeway), you can continue by foot or car over a very narrow and poorly maintained gravel road for about one mile. The road ends near the Ben Franklin Transit bus depot and the SR-240 bridge over the Yakima River, with plenty of room for vehicle turnaround. From this point, there is a reasonable view of the Yakima Delta and mudbars. Over 30 species of waterfowl and 32 species of shorebirds have been recorded here. Unfortunately, there is no predictable way to know if the water level (controlled by dams) will be high or low on any given day. Lower water levels expose mudbars for shorebirds. Sightings have included Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Red Phalarope—all highly unusual for this area of Washington.

Columbia Park is located east of Bateman Island on Columbia Park Trail and runs parallel with the Columbia River for several miles between Columbia Center Boulevard and US-395.

Many waterfowl and gull species, as well as loons and grebes, can be found here in fall and winter. Large flocks of Canada Geese sometimes contain a Greater White-fronted or Snow Goose. Brant and Eurasian Wigeon can often be found in flocks of American Wigeons. The Dr. Rod Coler Audubon Nature Trail (approximately two miles east of Bateman Island) is in woody habitat on the south side of the road and attracts many migrating and wintering passerines including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Hermit and Varied Thrushes. Bald Eagles frequently roost in the larger trees during winter.

Two Rivers County Park is located near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers directly opposite Sacajawea State Park and offers a large lagoon for easy waterfowl viewing.

From the junction of US-395 and SR-240, take Columbia Drive (through two traffic circles) into downtown Kennewick and continue east for 1.6 miles to Gum Street (SR-397). Turn right onto Gum Street, which becomes E Chemical Drive. In 1.7 miles turn left onto Finley Road. Two Rivers Park is on the left in 1.5 miles at Glynn Wheeler Lane.

Possibilities here include Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, and many species of diving ducks. Surf Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser are rare, but regular in late fall. Check the large groups of gulls for Mew, Thayer’s, or Glaucous. The nature trail at the park’s east end winds through nice riparian growth and is excellent in migration. Lewis’s Woodpecker (spring migration), Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, and a variety of sparrows have been seen along this trail.

Sacajawea State Park is a 284-acre park at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Although a very busy park in summer, it offers great river viewing, has many riparian areas and offers good year-round birding. Discover Pass required.

From Pasco, drive east on US-12 toward Walla Walla. Just before the Snake River, take a right on Sacajawea Park Road. Continue for one mile and cross the railroad tracks. The park is at the end of the road.

Spring migrants include many species of flycatchers and warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole. Check flocks of American Goldfinches for Lesser Goldfinch. In winter, you can find Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Fox Sparrow. Many species of loon, grebe, and waterfowl are also common in winter, and Bald Eagles roost here in that season. Though facilities are closed in winter, you may walk in.



The Nine Canyon Wind Project is located eight miles south of Two Rivers County Park and is worth the trip during winter months to see Snowy Owls and other interesting birds. At this writing, the road to Nine Canyon is closed for construction, but is expected to re-open in early 2016. Call 509-372-5860 for information.

From Two Rivers Park take E Finley Road west out of the park and turn left on S Haney Road. In 2.4 miles, Haney becomes Nine Canyon Road. Continue 5.7 miles to the top of the hill.

The owls are most often seen in the vicinity of Nine Canyon Road and Mills Road, at times perched directly on the road signs. If time permits, check the nearby fields for Gray Partridge, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Rough-legged Hawk and Gyrfalcon (rare) have also been found in winter.