by Mike Denny and MerryLynn Denny

revised by MerryLynn Denny

The western part of the region, extending to the base of the Blue Mountains, occupies the lowest and some of the driest parts of the Columbia Basin. Notable topographic features include the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, the Walla Walla River valley, and Wallula Gap, where basalt lava flows laid down 17 million years ago and since exposed by erosion are visible. Irrigation has dramatically changed the landscape. Shrub-steppe habitats are now mostly only a memory, replaced with productive farmland grown to wheat, potatoes, orchards, vineyards, alfalfa and hay, onions (the famous Walla Walla Sweets), and other crops. Open country is devoted mainly to cattle grazing. The following sites are accessed  from US-12, the main highway across southeastern Washington.


Heading southeast from Pasco, US-12 crosses the Snake River to Burbank. Take the first exit and head east on SR-124. Hood Park is the first left after the roundabout. Many migrants can be found here in spring and fall; check the park and wildlife area for owls, sapsuckers and sparrows in winter. Scan the waterfowl on the river; scoters are sometimes present. A trail under the highway allows access for scoping the waterfowl on the other side.

Continue east on SR-124, turn left onto Monument Drive in 5.2 miles, and continue to Ice Harbor Dam. Drive west along the shoreline below the dam. Late fall and winter produce close views of waterfowl, American White Pelicans and gulls. Thayer’s, Lesser Black-backed, and Glaucous Gulls have been seen on the mid-river island. Heading back upstream, take Shoreline Drive over the hill where there are pullouts from which to view the lake behind the dam. Keep going to a T-intersection at Charbonneau Drive. Turn left to reach Charbonneau Park, another migrant spot, and check for sparrows and owls (winter).

Head south on Charbonneau Drive to a T-intersection with Harbor Boulevard. Turn right and go 1.6 miles through the unincorporated village of Sun Harbor to SR-124. Turn left onto SR-124, continue 7.5 miles east, and turn left onto Fishhook Park Road. Follow this road through several curves to Fishhook Park in 4.4 miles. You’ll be driving through one of the country’s largest privately owned orchards at over 6,000 acres. Park at the gate in winter and walk in. Look for waterfowl, owls, winter finches, and mountain birds. Spring and fall can produce rare migrants: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Rusty Blackbird, and White-winged Crossbill have been seen here.

Continue east on SR-124 four miles and turn left onto C M Rice Road for eight miles to Hollebeke Habitat Management Unit, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mitigation site. These 247 acres are covered with plantings that attract many species of birds every month of the year. Be very cautious during hunting season. Winter birds that may be found here include Swamp, White-throated, Harris’s, Golden-crowned, and many White-crowned Sparrows. Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings feast on the berries. Owls can be found in the dense overgrown areas.


Lake Wallula is the name given to the huge impoundment of Columbia River waters behind McNary Dam. The east bank of the reservoir from the mouth of the Snake River to the Oregon line is one of the most productive areas in Washington for birds associated with water and shorelines; the shallows are an important nursery for fall Chinook Salmon. Most of the best birding spots are in the McNary National Wildlife Refuge—15,894 acres of river islands, backwater sloughs, seasonal wetlands, delta mudflats, riparian area, and shrub-steppe uplands set aside for wildlife in 1954 in mitigation for bottomlands drowned by the dam.

Coming west into Burbank on SR-124, about a mile east of the intersection with US-12, take South Lake Road 0.7 mile to McNary National Wildlife Refuge headquarters (64 Maple Street), where refuge information is available. There is a deck with scopes, and a paved walk leads to a blind for closer looks. Just up from the blind is the “birding spur,” where Canada and Prothonotary Warblers were found. In winter, Burbank Slough may have over 100,000 geese, including 8,000 Snow Geese.

Continue south from the headquarters on South Lake Road and turn left on East Humorist Road for 2.6 miles to a pullout on the right where you can scan the slough for geese, swans, and eagles. Backtrack 1.1 miles to Hanson Loop Road to check the fields on both sides for geese. Continue on Hanson Loop 2.2 miles, crossing US-12 to an unmarked gravel road going left before the right curve. Drive down to Casey Pond, where many waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls can be found fall to spring.

Return to US-12, turn right, and continue east three miles, turning right at Dodd Road to Two Rivers Habitat Management Unit. At the end of the paved road, go straight ahead 0.5 mile to Quarry Pond, veering left to the parking area. From fall to spring, many hundreds of waterfowl can be seen, and when the pond turns to ice, the Bald Eagles and gulls gather. Red-breasted Mergansers winter here. Back just before the pavement, turn right onto the dirt road and stay left 0.8 mile to the parking area. Walk down Old Highway 12 to the trees, then right on a trail out to the river where you need a scope to see terns (Caspian, Common, Arctic, and Forster’s), gulls, shorebirds (Ruff), and waterfowl. This spot is best in fall with low water before hunting season begins; be careful during hunting season. Riparian areas can be good for passerines. A Red-shouldered Hawk was seen here in 2014.

Cross over US-12 and proceed past the Tyson slaughterhouse on Dodd Road. On the right are many feedlots where blackbirds gather, and on the left are the “blood ponds” that may have shorebirds. Pacific Golden-Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Sabine’s Gull have all been seen here. Backtrack west on Dodd Road and turn left on Railex Road 1.5 miles to the famous “poop piles.” Thousands of gulls and blackbirds can be present from October to April, if there is a fresh dumping of waste from the slaughterhouse. Park off-road and stay clear of trucks and equipment. Tricolored, Yellow-headed, and Rusty may join the thousands of Red-winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds and European Starlings. Gulls include Mew, Ring-billed, California, Herring, Thayer’s, Glaucous-winged, Glaucous, and, occasionally, Franklin’s or Lesser Black-backed. Across US-12 to the west is Badger Island, one of the few places in the state where American White Pelicans nest. A no-hunting island, this area can attract up to 60,000 waterfowl in winter.

Heading south on US-12 from Dodd Road for 5.4 miles, you arrive at North Shore Road and Madame Dorion Park (currently closed but may open in future). Across the road to the west is the access to the Walla Walla River delta. Go right (north) on the dirt road parallel to the railroad tracks to a small parking lot. Watching for trains, cross the tracks and follow the trail either down to the shoreline or up to the bluff on the right. You will need a scope to bird this area. About 200 species have been recorded here, including Brant, Garganey, Steller’s Eider (the only interior Lower 48 record), Brown Pelican, Snowy Egret, White-faced Ibis, American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Snowy Plover, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Sabine’s Gull, Black-tailed Gull, and the state’s first Lesser Black-backed Gull in 2000, Snow Bunting, and Northern Waterthrush.

Water levels on Lake Wallula fluctuate as reservoir control officials respond to competing demands for power generation, barge traffic, irrigation, recreation, movement of salmon and various other wildlife considerations. The level can be checked on-line; search for “McNary Pool Level.” If the forebay level is above 339, there will be little mud for shorebirds. This area is heavily hunted from October to January. In February, the waterfowl come in by the thousands, and shorebirds are always present if there is exposed mud. Eight species of gulls may be present, especially in winter.

Take North Shore Road east up the hill to the overlook (0.4 mile). Sanctuary Pond (aka Smith’s Harbor) is not hunted and can be full of waterfowl in the winter. Continue on east for 1.2 miles to the Millet Pond, heavily hunted but often great for waterfowl and shorebirds February through May. A Black-and-white Warbler was seen here. You can go past the ponds and down to a parking area and walk the dike trails. Many passerines are present during migration. Snowy Egret and White-faced Ibis have been seen here.

Backtrack to US-12, turn left (south), cross over the Walla Walla River, then turn right on US-730 and go two miles down into Wallula Gap. In another two miles, turn right into Port Kelley (large grain elevators) and check the river for waterfowl, gulls, and passerines in migration. Continue west 1.5 miles to a large pulloff on the left. Look for White-throated Swift, Prairie Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, Canyon Wren, and passerines in the willows and sage during migration.


Going east on US-12 you will come to Touchet (pronounced Too-she). From here, you can either head north on Touchet River Road and explore the riparian areas along the river or head south and look over the alfalfa and hay field for raptors, including Swainson’s Hawks that sometimes gather by the dozens in September. Continue east on US-12 past unincorporated Lowden for three miles, turn right onto Old Highway 12, proceed east 2.3 miles to Swegle Road, and turn right. Whitman Mission National Historic Site will be the next left (0.5 mile). A walk around the grounds can be especially good during migration; in winter look for sparrows and owls. Many summer birds nest here, including Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Bullock’s Orioles.

In Walla Walla, take Myra Road south from US-12 1.6 miles to Fort Walla Walla Park and Natural Area. There are trails around both that can be birdy anytime of year. Look for Wood Duck (April), California Quail, Wild Turkey, Red-tailed Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, and Lesser and American Goldfinches, among other species. A Brown Thrasher was found here in 2008. A Northern Parula also was seen here.

East of Walla Walla on US-12, take Airport Way south (turns into North Tausick Way) 0.6 mile and turn left (east) onto Reservoir Road. Follow it to Bennington Lake. You’ll find several trails around the lake and groves of juniper and pine to explore for owls in winter. Northern Shrike and Townsend’s Solitaire also are found in winter. Summer nesting species include Tree Swallow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Bullock’s Oriole, and many more. A Broad-winged Hawk and a Wilson’s Plover were found here in 2012.

Rooks Park is another U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site with trails. Backtrack to North Tausick Way, turn right (north), go 0.3 mile to East Isaacs Avenue, turn right (east), go 1.5 miles, and turn right to Rooks Park. There are over two miles of paved trails along Mill Creek east and west of the park; if the park gate is locked, you can park outside and walk in.