Day 1 – I met up with my group of 7 Limosa Holidays customers today at Seatac and we did a little afternoon birding in the Green River Natural Resource area. It was mid-afternoon, sunny and warm, and the birds were a bit quiet, but we saw a few things nonetheless. We had several
good views of Common Yellowthroat here, as well as Willow Flycatcher, American Goldfinch, Savannah Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Great Blue Herons and Marsh Wren. We watched Tree and Violet-green swallows swarming over the long grasses where presumably they were catching insects. After about an hour and a half here, we headed to our hotel and went for a very enjoyable dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 2 – Our first morning in Washington didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped as we had to deal with a van issue. Once we finally got off the ground, so to speak, we headed for Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. Views here were fantastic with The Narrows being the significant body of water in front of us, along with the accompanying Narrows Bridge. Pigeon Guillemot was seen for the first time and we caught up with our first California and Glaucous-winged gulls, species we would see many times again before the trip was over. In the towering coastal rainforest we had some nice passerines including Wilson’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Red-breasted
Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hutton’s Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Dark-eyed Junco to name a few. An immature Cooper’s Hawk showed off for us as it responded to my Barred Owl imitation. Raccoons were seen all along the road through the park, trying their best to look cute and get some edible donations.
Our route took us north across the Hood Canal Bridge and through the town of Sequim. We arrived at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge in the late afternoon and we were quite happy to have a leg stretch so we went off down the trail to the spit. Along the way we had a couple of nice birds, most notably a Pacific Wren that sang vociferously from atop a tree stump. A Pine Siskin posed briefly for scope views before taking off. Views of the Pacific were great here again, especially with the long sand spit and snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. Birds were a bit distant but we saw more Pigeon Guillemots as well as our first Rhinoceros Auklets. We arrived at our hotel in Port Angeles and enjoyed dinner at a local seafood and steak restaurant. Despite the slow start, the day turned out quite nicely.
Day 3 – This morning we headed for Ediz Hook in Port Angeles before breakfast and enjoyed some lovely birding. The weather was great this morning with mixed sun and cloud and views of Mount Angeles in the distance. We had brilliant views of Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots and small numbers of Marbled Murrelets here. Pelagic Cormorants were seen well and we were treated to views of several Harlequin Ducks. A
female Belted Kingfisher posed on a telephone wire for scope views as did White-crowned Sparrow. Gulls were numerous and amongst the abundant Glaucous-winged Gulls and their various hybrids, we had smaller numbers of Heermann’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and California Gull. Distant scope views of Surf Scoter, Common Loon and Common Murre were obtained. In addition to Harbor Seals, we saw also a few Harbor Porpoises at Ediz Hook this morning.
After breakfast we began the journey to Cape Flattery, along a long and winding road that takes much of the day to complete. Along the way we made several stops and the scenery was breathtaking. We paused at Tongue Point where in the wooded campground we saw birds like Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler and
Dark-eyed Junco. We walked down to the rocky beach and soaked in the views of the Salish Sea. We are getting spoiled with great views of Harlequin Ducks along the coast, and here we saw several Bald Eagles of various ages frolicking about. As we returned to the van a Townsend’s Chipmunk and a Douglas Squirrel appeared briefly, both new for the mammal list.
Our next stop was a lunch stop at Sekiu, where we sat at the edge of the water and had a picnic while more Bald Eagles and several Common Mergansers entertained us. Pam spotted a Western Kingbird, locally quite uncommon, along a fence line. It was seen by all through the scope and then it flew right over us. A stop at Seal Rocks was very worthwhile as I spotted a Sea Otter floating on its back as it fed. The otter entertained us for quite a while as we admired through the scope. Sitting with a group of Pelagic Cormorants was a single Brandt’s Cormorant, and on the shore of the island were hundreds of Harlequin Ducks. Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre were fairly numerous here and in some berry bushes beside the road we had a good view of a Swainson’s Thrush and Orange-crowned Warbler.
We drove through the village of Neah Bay and onwards to the Cape Flattery Trail. As we walked the trail there was a very light rain that the Brits may ‘mizzle’, but it was not bad at all. The walk was worth the while because from the viewpoint we were able to watch several Tufted Puffins through the scope. In addition to the puffins there were thousands of Common Murres on the water and many Pigeon Guillemots as well. Pelagic Cormorants were nesting in caves below the viewpoints, offering a unique eagle’s eye view from above.
Several nests with eggs were spotted. The scenery at Cape Flattery is fantastic as well. Every stop today produced Bald Eagles, adults, second year and third year birds. We drove on to La Push in the later afternoon as a steady rain fell. Upon arrival it didn’t take us long to cozy up to our rooms overlooking the steely gray Pacific. As we had dinner in a local restaurant we watched up to 5 Bald Eagles right outside of the establishment. Note to self, take binoculars to dinner tomorrow night.
Day 4 – It was a bit dull and dreary this morning with a light rain that accompanied us as we explored the area around our resort in La Push. We scanned the ocean from the beach
and spotted several White-winged Scoters and a pair of Surf Scoters. Bald Eagles greeted us once again this morning. It began to drizzle half way through our walk but that didn’t stop us from adding Downy Woodpecker and Steller’s Jay to the trip list.
We had breakfast in La Push and counted up to 20 Bald Eagles from the restaurant windows! Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Northwestern Crows and Song Sparrow all poked around piles of crab traps. On our way to the Hoh Rain Forest we stopped in Forks to pick up lunch. We then explored a little side road in to the forest but once we heard logging trucks in the distance we retreated. Before we left we found Black-throated Gray and Wilson’s warblers, Warbling and Hutton’s vireos and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.
We then drove the road into the Hoh Valley, following the Hoh River for its length. At a bridge over a little rushing creek we paused and found an American Dipper. A little farther
along a female Varied Thrush was seen from the van. A wetland area near the end of the road had several Mallards with chicks and two female Wood Ducks with chicks of their own. Two male Belted Kingfishers battled each other and in the reeds we saw a few Red-winged Blackbirds here as well. We enjoyed watching Vaux’s Swifts on a couple of occasions today with our first sighting being the best as the birds swooped down to the surface of a pond. Once at the visitor’s center we had lunch, inside the van I might add, because of the light rain. We then walked the Spruce Trail, a lovely walk through old growth rainforest with massive specimens of Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce and Broad-leafed Maple, all draped in moss. Birds we
encountered included a group of Gray Jays, a lovely male Western Tanager, an adult and immature Hairy Woodpecker, several Pacific Wrens, and a Brown Creeper that looked truly diminutive against the trunk of a massive spruce. We didn’t see many mammals today but we did have a look at a Douglas Squirrel as it sat in a tree next to the road. We returned to our resort in the late afternoon and enjoyed a lovely sunny break in the weather.
Day 5 – The .7 mile walk to Second Beach made for a nice pre-breakfast outing this morning. As we strolled through the rainforest on the way to the beach we heard singing Pacific Wrens, Wilson’s Warblers and Swainson’s Thrush. Once at the beach we scanned the offshore rocks and had a number of Tufted Puffins, along with hundreds of Common Murres and a few Pigeon Guillemots, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters and a Black Oystercatcher. New for the trip list was a singing ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow.
After a lovely breakfast at the River’s Edge Restaurant we reluctantly left the La Push area and made our way to Forks where we picked up lunch. As we followed Hwy 101 south from Forks we stopped at Ruby Beach where we scanned the beach and ocean below, spotting most notably a couple of Sea Otters. Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and White-crowned Sparrow all appeared for scope views here. Our next stop was at Fourth Beach where we did a short walk down to the beach along a trail through the rainforest. In the distance we saw two Pacific Loons flying by, but little else that was new. Groups of Rhinoceros Auklets worked their way across the horizon. On the tidal rocks we saw sea stars and sea anemones.
Our next stop was at the Quinault Lake Lodge where feeders attracted a selection of birds including up to a dozen Rufous Hummingbirds and a number of stunning Evening Grosbeaks. A couple of Purple Finches were seen briefly and we finally had a good look at a Warbling Vireo. A short stop at Merriman Falls was enjoyable as this was a very scenic location. To finish off the day we drove on to Ocean Shores, picked up breakfast and lunch food for our pelagic trip the next day, and checked into our hotel.
Day 6 – We left our hotel in the darkness and drove to Westport where we boarded the
Monte Carlo for a pelagic trip out to Gray’s Canyon, 35-40 nautical miles offshore. A nice selection of seabirds were counted with today with highlights including Sooty and Pink-footed shearwaters, Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, South Polar Skuas, Red-necked Phalarope, Tufted Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Cassin’s Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, and the giant Black-footed Albatross.
The showing of mammals was also rather impressive with Humpback Whales, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Right Whale Dolphins, Dall’s Porpoise, Harbor Porpoise and, Northern Fur Seal and Steller’s Sea-Lion all seen. A Mola Mola, or sunfish was also spotted by the trip leaders. As we came back in to the docks in the late afternoon a number of Brown Pelicans foraged around the boat.
Day 7 – A fog hugged the immediate coast at our hotel in Ocean Shores as we departed this morning, but it didn’t take long for it to burn off and we enjoyed lovely sunshine for the day. Our first stop was at Midway Beach, where we never actually reached the beach, but we did find a little marshy area where we had views of Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, Greater Yellowlegs, Cliff Swallow and several other species. At Grayland Beach we were lucky to find three Snowy Plovers, a locally endangered species that reaches the northern limits of its western North American range here on the sandy beaches of southern Washington state. At North
Beach we scanned through a flock of roosting gulls and had Heermann’s, Western and California gulls as well as Caspian Tern. The Tokeland Marina offered up good views of several pairs of Purple Martins, the only time we encountered this species on the tour.
After picking up lunch in Aberdeen we headed to part 2 of the birding session today, the Capitol Forest. Here, amongst the mixed woods of hemlock, cedar, alder, maple and fir, we had a nice selection of birds including the newly split California Scrub-Jay, Western Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and a stunning Red-breasted Sapsucker. One final stop just before we were about to leave the forest proved most rewarding as we had a Northern Pygmy-Owl here, as well as our first MacGillivray’s Warbler of the tour. We drove on along the Columbia River to our hotel in Hood River, Oregon, a very scenic place we all agreed, and dinner tonight was exceptional.
Day 8 – After a great breakfast we reluctantly left Hood River and traveled back across a bridge into Washington State. We visited a small pond in an industrial area and we were surprised by the variety of bird life here. There were Mallards, American Wigeon, Gadwall and Blue-winged Teal here, along with American Coot and Great Blue Herons. Several Western Scrub-Jays were noted around the pond, as were House Finches, Bewick’s Wren, Violet-green Swallow, Killdeer, American Goldfinch and more. Bald Eagle and Osprey were also noted over the Columbia River.
We picked up lunch in Bingen and made another stop at a place called Coyote Ridge where steep cliffs of basalt provided us habitat to look for Canyon Wren, which we did find. A number of Turkey Vultures teetered on tilted wings, and Violet-green Swallows zipped about at a rapid pace. We continued up Courtney Rd, through the lovely oak dotted grasslands where we found a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers that posed nicely for us. In the oak groves we were treated to a nice selection of birds such as Red-breasted and
White-breasted nuthatches, Cassin’s Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Western Wood-Pewee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, and several Lesser Goldfinches. We had lunch in a mixed forest where Western Tanager, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Finch were tallied after we finished eating. New for the butterfly list at the lunch stop was a Great Basin Wood-Nymph. California Ground Squirrels were common today and were new to the trip list.
A stop at the Lyle Cemetery, amongst the oaks, produced several gorgeous Western Bluebirds and a very attractive Lark Sparrow. We made a short pit-stop in Lyle before driving east along the Columbia to Maryhill where we headed north and climbed up and over the 3000 foot Satus Pass. A final stop of the day was made at the Toppenish NWR. In a small grove of cottonwoods we had a family group of Western Kingbirds and a pair of Bullock’s Orioles feeding young in a nest. Two Eastern Kingbirds hid in the shade of a telephone pole, as temperatures today reached over 30 degrees Celsius. The drive into Ellensburg this afternoon was quite enjoyable, and we had a wonderful dinner at the Yellow Church Café tonight.
Day 9 – As we emerged from our hotel just after 7 AM the temperature was comfortably cool, but as the day wore on it heated up to mid-thirty degrees. Our journey today took us west from Ellensburg into the foothills of the Cascades at Wenas Creek. Along the way we paused along Umptanum Rd where a nice variety of new trip birds were tallied including Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebirds and Common
Nighthawk. Farther along the road we encountered a pair of lovely Lewis’s Woodpeckers in an open area dotted with large pine trees. Along Wenas Creek in the deciduous vegetation we had views of our first House Wrens, Yellow Warbler and several Red-naped Sapsuckers. Another Lewis’s Woodpecker was spotted atop a tall dead cottonwood. A brilliant blue male Lazuli Bunting put on a nice show for us today perching atop bushes next to the road. Once we were at Wenas Campground we went for a little stroll through the pine trees spotting a few goodies including Cassin’s Finch, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Mountain Chickadee. Highlight before lunch, however, was a female White-headed Woodpecker foraging on a pine tree at eye level. What a great bird. We had lunch in the shade of the pines and then went for another walk. Gray Flycatchers were noted on several locations and we got our first Mountain Chickadee of the trip. I did my best screech-owl imitation and low and behold one answered from the thickets in
front of us. After an intense search of the area I finally located the bird, a Western Screech-Owl, as it sat on branches at eye level, 20 feet away. Everyone in the group got a great view of his intense little yellow eyes peering back at them. New for the mammal list today was a Yellow Pine Chipmunk, but we saw decidedly little in the way of furry creatures. We returned to Ellensburg and had a short stop at a gas station for cold drinks and convenience, then we headed east along the Vantage Hwy. At Wanapum Lake we had an Eared Grebe, a Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelicans and Caspian Terns. A family of Rock Wrens bounced around on the rocks along the roadside, showing nicely. We visited Getty’s Cove where a Belted Kingfisher was found, along with a Lark Sparrow and a juvenile Golden Eagle. Our trip then took us east to Moses Lake where we spent the night. Dinner at Michael’s on the Lake was most enjoyable.
Day 10 – In Moses Lake this morning we briefly visited Blue Heron Park, but found the lighting difficult to deal with, so we headed down towards the Potholes region, spotting a Swainson’s Hawk or two along the way. Our first stop was to view a male California Quail, as he sat in the open atop a tree stump in the morning sun. At Lind Coulee we had good looks at about half a dozen Clark’s Grebes, as well as Great Egret, Cinnamon Teal, and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. A drive through the Columbia NWR provided stunning scenery, along with a few birds, with the highlight being a Prairie Falcon that sailed right overhead. On ponds at the reserve we saw Spotted Sandpipers, new for the trip list, as well as an early migrant Greater Yellowlegs and a Killdeer.
We paid the Potholes State Park a visit and here on Potholes Reservoir we had several Western Grebes. Paul spotted a Forster’s Tern, our first for the tour. In trees surrounding the lake we had Bald Eagle as well. A young fellow that was cutting the grass pointed out a fledgling Cedar Waxwing here, and soon thereafter we found another one, accompanied by a watchful adult.
Next, we followed Dodson Road north, but the extremely hot temperatures of about 35 degrees kept many of the birds in hiding. We did see several Sage Thrashers, but couldn’t find any Sagebrush Sparrows unfortunately. Great Egrets were noted here, along with a little flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Some of us caught a glimpse of a Sage Lizard in an old hide. We drove through continuous crops today and yesterday in the Moses Lake and Omak areas. A short pause at Soap Lake, where the locals were wading out into the shallow waters, produced 5 American Avocets on the south shore. At Lake Lenore the scenery was spectacular and we added Red-necked Grebe to the trip list with two pairs visible. Caspian Terns were about in good numbers at Lake Lenore and we saw a Rock Wren and heard a Canyon Wren.
At Dry Falls we stood in awe of the scenery, taking into account the geological forces that took place here during the last ice age. Violet-green and Cliff swallows soared about the cliffs and distant White-throated Swifts made us squint to see them. I spotted an adult Peregrine Falcon, but nobody else was around to see it. After a quick ice cream break and a peek inside the air conditioned visitor’s center, we carried on northwards into the Okanogan Valley. This valley is just south of my home and I know the habitats and the birds of the area well. Osprey seemed to be on every pole that had a platform. We drove on into the town of Omak on the Okanogan River, checked into our hotel and went for dinner in a funky little café in the downtown district.
Day 11 – Our last full day in Washington was again hot and sunny and we enjoyed a lovely day in the Okanogan Highlands. We drove from Omak to Tonasket and then followed the Havillah Rd up through some hayfields where we had a good number of male Bobolinks. Excellent start to the day! As we carried on up the road we began to see numbers of
Western and Mountain bluebirds, as well as Western and Eastern kingbirds. A couple of stops in the Ponderosa Pine forests produced a nice selection of birds with highlights being Pygmy Nuthatches, Calliope Hummingbirds and a few Lewis’s Woodpeckers. A visit to the mixed Douglas Fir / Western Larch forest at the Highland Sno Park was most rewarding. Here we saw up to three male Williamson’s Sapsuckers, as well as some other nice birds including our first Dusky Flycatcher and first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the trip. Other species were also noted along our walk here such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Western Tanager, Mountain Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Northern Flicker. Our first and only American Red Squirrels of the tour were noted in the forest this morning. We paused on the way to Teal Lake to have a look at our one and only Grasshopper Sparrow of the tour, and once we arrived at the lake more new birds appeared. There were several Ring-necked Ducks, along with Ruddy Ducks and Bufflehead here. At least 5 Soras were calling here, but only one was briefly seen by Pam as it scurried across a little patch of marsh. At Molson Lakes we enjoyed a nice variety of waterfowl, many of which were new for the tour; Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Barrow’s Goldeneye most notably. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were numerous in the marsh here, as were American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes. Just before we had lunch an adult Peregrine Falcon sped through and took a swipe at a duck, missing it by only a few inches. As we ate our lunch in the sun we watched a couple of White-tailed Deer on a distant hillside, our first for the trip. Before leaving Molson we had a wander around the old abandoned mining town. Before we returned to the valley bottom we made a couple more stops and added a couple more birds; Lincoln’s Sparrow and Black Tern. Once in Oroville we checked Osoyoos Lake State Park, where we could see Canada in the distance. Out on the water were Common Loon, Western Grebe and Red-necked Grebe. Overhead the first Osprey of the day sailed by and we spotted Eastern Kingbird and Western Wood-Pewees, both sitting on nests. It had been a most enjoyable day and we tallied an extensive list of bird species on our travels.
Day 12 – Before we left Omak this morning we tried to find a Horned Lark in an open area near our hotel since I had heard one singing here the previous evening. It didn’t take long for us to find the bird and this made for our 200th species on the tour. We had quite a journey today that took us south along Hwy 97 to Wenatchee, where we stopped to stretch our legs. We then headed up over Snoqualmie Pass and the Cascade Mountains, via I-90. We stopped at the summit and did a little birding at the Gold Creek Campground where two more birds were added to the trip list; Hammond’s Flycatcher and Townsend’s Warbler. We had lunch at a café at the summit before carrying on to Seatac Airport where I said goodbye to the group and wished them a safe journey home.