by Andy Stepniewski

revised by Andy Stepniewski

Yakima is situated at the head of the richly productive Yakima Valley and the foot of the Cascades. This thriving center for light manufacturing, forest products, and (especially) agriculture has 93,000 residents. Parks on the edges of the city offer birding of wetland and riparian habitats in any season. The agricultural land and shrub-steppe of the Moxee and Black Rock Valleys east of the city are known for raptors and for migrating and wintering songbirds. To the south, lower Toppenish Creek hosts species of wet fields and marshes in all seasons, while Fort Simcoe in the upper Toppenish drainage has Lewis’s Woodpeckers and other birds of Garry Oak habitats. The lower Naches Valley west of Yakima features birds of cliffs and streamside vegetation.




Fine birding is available right within the city, principally along the Yakima Greenway—a wide, paved path paralleling the Yakima River for nine miles that passes through riparian, marsh, and open-field habitats. There are four main access points, one from US-12 and three from I-82.

At the 16th Avenue exit on US-12 (one mile west from Exit 31 on I-82), go north and immediately find the parking area for the western part of the Yakima Greenway. Walk the path east (downstream), to the base of the railway-bridge abutments. American Dippers descend to winter here from their summer haunts in the Cascades.

From Exit 33 or 33B on I-82 (Yakima Avenue/Terrace Heights), drive east on E Yakima Avenue 0.3 mile to S 18th Street. Turn right (south) and continue  0.1 mile to the Sarg Hubbard Park entrance and parking. You can go either north or south from here. The path to the south soon reaches a small, marshy area where Virginia Rail and Wilson’s Snipe might be found. Dabbling ducks such as Green-winged Teal are frequent. Farther south is Buchanan Lake, on the west side of the path. In winter, this large, deep lake is attractive to diving ducks and grebes. Ring-billed Gulls are common in summer. The Yakima River lies east of the path. Bald Eagles are common here in winter, as are Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers.

From Exit 34 on I-82, go east on Nob Hill Boulevard (SR-24) 0.1 mile to the first traffic light. Turn left (north), then immediately left onto W Birchfield Road, which becomes Arboretum Drive as you curve north to reach the Yakima Area Arboretum and Jewett Interpretive Center (0.3 mile). Many trails connect here, including the Noel Pathway to Sherman Park. To the east are Black Cottonwood and mature riparian woodlands of the William Schroeder Memorial Wetland. This habitat is good in migration and winter for a variety of passerines. Western Screech-Owl is possible here, as are Downy Woodpecker and Bewick’s Wren. To reach brush piles that are excellent in winter for sparrows, walk left on a small path at the William Schroeder Memorial Wetland sign about 200 feet to an opening surrounded by brush. Lots of seed is put out here by the Yakima Valley Audubon Society, attracting Fox, Song, Lincoln’s, White-throated, Harris’s (rare), White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Extensive ornamental plantings are another feature of the arboretum. In fall and winter, American Robins, Varied Thrushes, and waxwings feed in the hawthorns just to the north of the center. To reach the Yakima Greenway, head back south on Arboretum Drive and then east on Birchfield, continue straight, past the parking for the southern end of the Noel Pathway, 0.2 mile to the Robertson Landing parking area. From here, walk north or south on the greenway trail.

Yakima Sportsman State Park can also be reached from Exit 34. From the traffic light 0.1 mile east of I-82, drive east on SR-24 to University Parkway (1.0 mile). Turn left (north) and go 0.9 mile to the park entrance. The duck pond in the park is good for Wood Ducks—often more than 100 may be found here. Western Screech-Owl is possible and Great Horned Owl is common. The riparian woodlands on the west side of the park can be birdy: look for Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, and Bewick’s Wren.

From Exit 36 on I-82, pull into the parking area on the north side of the roundabout on the east side of the freeway for the southernmost access to the Yakima Greenway. From the parking area, walk southeast to the Bob and Helen Popoff Nature Trail (gravel). The trail makes a short loop north through a cattail marsh where Common Yellowthroat is sometimes found, then past several ponds, and finally groves of Russian Olive trees, swarming in winter with berry-eating birds such as American Robin, Varied Thrush, and Evening Grosbeak (and clouds of European Starlings). The Helen Jewett Pathway begins another few hundred feet to the east. This has proven to be a very popular local birding trail. First comes riparian woodland, then a tree-rimmed pond attractive to Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, and other diving ducks from fall through spring (except when frozen). Western Screech-Owl and Bewick’s Wrens are expected year round in the riparian woodland. In summer the cast swells, including Eastern Kingbird and Gray Catbird.



East of Yakima on SR-24 is the Moxee Agricultural Experiment Station, 16.5 miles from I-82 Exit 34. (See map on page 304.) This USDA research facility features 10 long rows of conifers and some deciduous trees planted as windbreaks to shelter field crops, and appears as a wooded island in the midst of wide-open country. Long-eared Owls have nested here. Barn, Great Horned, Short-eared, and other owls roost in the trees in winter. Swainson’s Hawks also nest. You will see lots of Black-billed Magpies and California Quail, which attract Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Goshawk in winter. Migrant passerines use this oasis, too. Pull off and park near the caretaker’s house between the road and the rows of trees, and obtain permission to enter. The gate may be closed on weekends. Don’t neglect the westernmost row of trees that has many ash trees where Purple Finches winter erratically.

In some winters, good hawkwatching can be had along SR-24 in the Black Rock Valley, for example, in an area of mostly abandoned wheat fields 1.8 miles east of the experimental station. Short-eared Owls forage in these fields, especially in winter, and sometimes roost in the trees. In addition to raptors, look for Gray Partridge (fairly common but elusive resident of the valley) and Long-billed Curlew (April through July). Beginning 2.5 miles farther east on SR-24 and continuing for the next six miles, scan the open country for Northern Harrier, Red-tailed, Ferruginous (mainly March through May), and Rough-legged (November through April) Hawks, Golden Eagle (especially February through April when migrants are moving north), American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon. Though rare, Gyrfalcon is regularly found here; most records span December through mid-March. Horned Larks by the thousands gather grit on the roadway in winter. Pick through these large flocks carefully for Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. If you stop, make sure to park your vehicle completely off the pavement. Traffic moves very fast.



For mountain birding offering a chance at Spruce Grouse, woodpeckers, and Boreal Owl, head west on Ahtanum Road; it’s 40 miles to the end at Darland Mountain. Take Exit 36 from I-82, go west 0.3 mile, through two roundabouts, to Main Street. Turn left (south) onto Main and go 0.4 mile to Ahtanum Road. Go right (west) 13.7 miles to St. Joseph Mission at Ahtanum, where a fine stand of Oregon White Oaks attract Lewis’s Woodpeckers and many migrants, especially in spring migration. In another 5.3 miles go right (west) in Tampico onto North Fork Ahtanum Road. In the breeding season, check the oak and riparian habitats, then dry conifer forest along the next 9.4 miles to the bridge at the end of the pavement. This is a very birdy drive. Especially notable are the many Veeries in the lower-elevation riparian habitat.

Just before the bridge, you have two options. For a try at Spruce Grouse, go right onto the gravel North Fork Ahtanum Road. In 6.5 miles, turn left to continue on the main North Fork Road. Cross the stream and park. In a few yards, head left (east) up a gated logging road. Spruce Grouse may be encountered anywhere up this and other roads on this north-facing slope but especially near streams or seeps. You can continue driving up the North Fork Road, poking about on as many of the side tracks as time allows. Take care in the hunting season; wearing hunter orange is advisable.

For woodpeckers and Boreal Owl, from the end of the pavement, keep straight ahead (south) onto the gravel Middle Fork Ahtanum Road. Park at a wide spot on the right in 1.5 miles, near a tiny pond. Another 100 feet up the road, find an old track on the right, blocked by a ditch and berm. Use this to guide yourself right cross country a few hundred yards, following the moist drainage to a small pond in the forest with a grove of aspens amid pines and firs. An impressive suite of woodpeckers has been noted here including Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and Downy, Hairy, White-headed, and Pileated Woodpeckers.

Return to the road and continue uphill 4.3 miles to Tree Phones Campground, checking other aspen and willow groves along the way for songbirds, especially May and June. For Boreal Owl (best September and October before snow closes the road), do not enter the campground, but follow the main road right (west) and climb steadily three miles to Eagle’s Nest Viewpoint, which offers fine views amid subalpine forest good for Gray Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker. Raptors sail overhead in fall.

Return to the Middle Fork Ahtanum Road and continue uphill 0.4 mile to Clover Flats Campground. Boreal Owls are found in this mature forest of Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir, best in fall from September until snow closes the road. In years when the spruce are laden with cones, crossbills (White-winged is irregular) can be common here. Check also for Pine Grosbeak.

The road deteriorates beyond Clover Flats Campground. Hike, or if equipped with a high-clearance vehicle, drive to the top of Darland Mountain, one of the highest points reached by road in Washington (elevation 6,981 feet). Besides glorious views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, look for Clark’s Nutcrackers in the Whitebark Pines and Mountain Bluebirds in openings. In fall, this vantage is a good hawkwatch site. This road is in very poor condition, but in dry summer weather you can eventually connect to the North Fork Road.


The Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge is a rich birding area situated in the Toppenish Creek bottomlands some 20 miles south of Yakima. Bobolinks (almost extirpated) and a variety of other species nest on the refuge, while migration and winter bring many waterfowl, raptors, sparrows, and blackbirds. To reach the refuge from Yakima, take I-82 southeast to Exit 50. Turn right onto SR-22 and proceed 3.2 miles to the second light in Toppenish. Go straight through this traffic light (you are now on US-97) to Pump House Road (4.7 miles), also marked Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. Turn right here, then make an immediate sharp right into a parking lot with an information kiosk and short, paved path to a covered, raised observation platform. This is an excellent place in spring and early summer to study a variety of waterfowl, and later on, when waters recede, shorebirds such as Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. Eastern Kingbird and Gray Catbird nest in riparian thickets in front of the platform.

A road leads from the parking lot to refuge headquarters (0.5 mile). Proceed by car if the gate is open; otherwise you may walk. Trees and brush about the headquarters may be teeming with migrants in spring and fall. Great Horned Owls nest in these trees, often mobbed by Black-billed Magpies. A trail goes north, shortly crossing a concrete bridge to seasonally flooded fields and marshes where birding is often good for waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat, from February to June.

Return to Pump House Road and turn right (west). A good area for shrub-steppe species is reached in 0.7 mile. Park by the road and walk south into the sagelands along the base of Toppenish Ridge. Look for sparrows from April through early August—Sagebrush Sparrow in the densest tracts of Big Sagebrush, Lark Sparrow in the rocky and more arid places nearby, and Vesper Sparrow in areas of dense grass with few shrubs. Common Poorwills can be found at dusk from late April into September. Another patch of shrub-steppe habitat a short distance farther on (0.3 mile) offers similar possibilities.

Continue west on Pump House Road and turn right onto Old Goldendale Road (1.2 miles from the second sagebrush patch, 2.2 miles from the headquarters turnoff). A marsh on the right side of the road (0.5 mile) has Virginia Rail, Sora, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat. American Bitterns “pump” here on spring and summer nights.

Return to Pump House Road, turn right, and go 7.0 miles to Lateral C Road, checking flooded fields (mainly spring) along the way for waterfowl and shorebirds (especially Long-billed Curlew) and the Greasewood-dominated shrub-steppe for Loggerhead Shrike. Black-tailed Jack Rabbit, a declining species in Washington, is common here. At Lateral C, turn right and descend to the bridge over Toppenish Creek (0.4 mile), from which you often can see waterfowl and many swallows. Look, too, for Barn, Western Screech-, and Great Horned Owls. Another 0.4 mile on Lateral C brings you to an area of wet fields, site of a disjunct (nearly extirpated) Bobolink colony; look and listen for them from late May through July. The nearest other populations are in irrigated hayfields along the northern tier of counties east of the Cascades. Lateral C Road meets Fort Road 3.1 miles farther north. You may turn right here to join US-97 in Toppenish, or left to visit Fort Simcoe.

Fort Simcoe, a historic frontier outpost west of Toppenish and now a state park, is famous for its Lewis’s Woodpeckers. Indeed, the planted Garry Oak groves around the grounds are probably the best place to observe this charismatic species in Washington. Most common from April through early September, the woodpeckers may winter in smaller numbers if acorns are available (some years the mast crop fails). Other birds of the Garry Oaks include California Quail, Northern Flicker, Steller’s Jay (mainly winter), and White-breasted Nuthatch. Brushy growth by the creek south of the fort usually has a few pairs of Ash-throated Flycatchers in early summer. Migrants are occasionally numerous in both spring and fall in the thick brush, especially around the ranger’s residence.

Fort Simcoe is reached by driving west from US-97 in Toppenish on Fort Road to Fort Extension Road (19.0 miles) and then 0.2 mile to Signal Peak Road. (From the intersection of Lateral C and Fort Road, it’s 9.7 miles west to Fort Extension Road.) Turn left onto Signal Peak, go two miles, and turn right onto Fort Simcoe Road. The park entrance is on the left in five miles. Habitat on the approach to Fort Simcoe appears parched for much of the year, but is enlivened with many colorful wildflowers in early spring (March–April). Check shrub-steppe along the road for Loggerhead Shrike and Brewer’s Sparrow.



Just west of Yakima is scenic, cliff-rimmed Cowiche Canyon, protected by a land trust. (See Wenas Creek map on page 292.) Take 40th Avenue south from US-12 to Summitview Avenue (1.5 miles). Turn right and go 7.1 miles to Weikel Road. Make a right here to the signed entrance (0.5 mile). A three-mile gravel trail follows the canyon bottom beside Cowiche Creek. Check the cliffs for Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Violet-green Swallow, and Rock and Canyon Wrens. The thick, brushy riparian vegetation has many resident Black-capped Chickadees. Flycatchers, vireos, and warblers can be numerous in migration. Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Black-headed Grosbeak are a few of the summer residents.

Snow Mountain Ranch, showcasing riparian woodland, Garry Oak groves, and shrub-steppe-covered uplands, is another Cowiche Canyon Conservancy preserve. Return to Summitview and turn right (west). Go 1.75 miles to Cowiche Mill Road. Turn left (south) and drive 2.5 miles to parking. Walk the trail south to the Garry Oak Trail which traverses riparian habitat and oak groves. Western Scrub-Jays are resident. In summer, expect Yellow-breasted Chat and Lazuli Bunting.

Return on the trail the way you came and continue right (south again) to a bridge over Cowiche Creek South Fork to an information kiosk with map that depicts the trail system on Cowiche Mountain. A rewarding day can be had by heading up Cowiche Mountain. From the kiosk (bird-rich riparian woodland), climb the mountain, by crossing a grassy field to a brushy ravine (Ash-throated Flycatcher), then ascend up through shrub-steppe (Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows, and Western Meadowlark). The summit affords fine views and is ablaze with wildflowers in April and May. Horned Lark is common on these slopes.

Return to US-12 and head west, turning left onto Ackley Road (1.4 miles west of the 40th Avenue exit). A few hundred feet ahead is Powerhouse Road. Stop here to admire the petroglyphs at the Painted Rocks, up a short flight of steps, and to view nesting White-throated Swifts and Cliff Swallows (April through July). These imposing cliffs are the terminus of the Tieton Flow, a sinuous andesite lava flow that originated from the Goat Rocks volcano one to two million years ago.

Turn right (west) on Powerhouse Road and return to US-12 (0.9 mile). Turn left, passing Allan Road (7.0 miles), a southern access to the Wenas Creek region. Continue 1.2 miles on US-12 to the traffic light in the center of Naches (check your fuel if headed west to the mountain passes). From here it is 4.5 miles to the junction of US-12 and SR-410. Go right at this intersection onto the Old Naches Road. You will soon (0.1 mile) cross a canal where migrants can be thick in spring and fall. In summer, look for Yellow-breasted Chat and Lazuli Bunting. Continue on this road for another 0.5 mile to a WDFW parking lot on your left, in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. This is a winter feeding station for the Bighorn Sheep that reside on Cleman Mountain, to the north. A Golden Eagle nest—active for years, near the top of the cliffs directly across the river—can be scoped from here, and both eagle species often soar high above. Chukar and Rock Wren utilize the talus.