phil jeffrey:: Washington/Oregon 2011 trip planner


Washington/Oregon Birding Trip 2011

In my quest for an eventual 700 species (and an even more eventual goal of 700 in the lower 48) my biggest gap is alcids/pelagics. My second biggest gap is a few northwest coast species on the Pacific slope that I hadn't mopped up during the AZ-NM-CO trip of early summer 2006. The most obvious choice for the pelagics is late summer off NC, fall off CA, but there's still some room for picking up the easier species off WA during the summer.

Summer pelagics are rare - in particular there's a single Westport Pelagic on June 25th and a single Monterey Pelagic on June 24th so both are not possible, especially since I need recovery time from a pelagic. Most of the other species I wanted to see are closer to Westport than Monterey, this was somewhat of a no brainer. Therefore the trip was constructed to give me the best chance at maximising the number of new species found. I haven't been west in a few years and I have never really explored WA-OR anyway. My original plan reflected including northern California as well, but since Tricolored Blackbird occurs into OR (and sometimes into WA) that would be a lot of extra miles for no significantly new species, so I dropped the CA part of the trip.

Crucial to this trip was - as usual - the location of prior trip reports and monitoring of the main local area lists. RBAs aren't as fastidiously posted online in the WA-OR area, and RBAs typically include more of the rare Eastern birds than the ones I am interested in (Pacific Wren is not rare). The trip reports in particular showed that Sisters OR was an area of great potential, which is why I ended up going there quite early in the trip. The trip lasted 10 days, about 2,600 miles, and included one pelagic. The last two days were "slow" since I was worn out from the boat trip.

View WA-OR sites in a larger map

The Road

For a change, the drivers in WA and OR are proficient and law-abiding. They obey the speed limit to a much greater extent than the east coast, which is fine except that the speed limits in WA and OR are much lower than TX and somewhat lower than NJ. US-101 down the west side of the Olympic range is at most 55mph under conditions that TX would have it posted at 70mph. Therefore it takes a while longer to get around. Speed limits of 45-50 are not uncommon on smaller roads. In the urban roads it's faster and more aggressive but it bears no resemblance whatsoever to NYC.

Traffic was only bad around the Seattle-Tacoma area where it was often spectacularly bad, particularly on I-5, even away from rush hour. I got stuck on one big jam around SeaTac in the middle of the afternoon for no obvious reason. Check Google maps for traffic when in the area - local roads would surely be more effective than the interstate.


I've mostly dispensed with paper maps, finding that the pseudo-GPS Google maps iPhone app is adequate in most situations. However reception certainly fades out in some areas, so for a lot of traveling in the montane a cheap satellite-GPS based system might be a better option. Rental car companies offer these, although in many cases it's actually cheaper to buy your own. I also downloaded the DOT state roads maps for both states and in a few cases (e.g. Timber, OR) did screen grabs of Google maps for personal use. In the last several trips I've started to take notes via the iPhone voice notes app which saves me time, paper and the need for a notebook. I transcribe the voice notes onto this trip report or elsewhere on the laptop most evenings. Finally my newest addition is the BirdsEye iPhone app which uses the eBird database to locate recent sightings. It is no substitute for prior research into an area, but this app actually got me my life Vaux's Swifts over the river in Oregon City OR - I found local sightings around me and then found a local park via Google maps that was close to a sighting cluster. 20 minutes later I was watching three Vaux's hunt over the river. It also picked out a Vaux's Swift sighting from the prior day over Bend OR although my search for that one did not pan out. eBird is not perfect (I've ranted about that myself) but it's a pretty good addition to your other resources.

WA Birding Site Internet Resources

OR Birding Site Internet Resources

CA Birding Site Internet Resources (not used nor updated on this trip - expect them to be unreliable)

Trip List

In what follows, bold indicates a new life bird. There were a shocking 19 of these on this trip, propelling me from USA #622 to USA #641. #641 was South Polar Skua flying right over the boat. If the species name is in (parentheses) this means I only heard the bird. Short-tailed Albatross and Laysan Albatross were the rarities seen on the trip. The former bird has a global population of a mere 2,400. It's not the rarest bird I have seen (Whooping Crane is probably that). But it's close. of the 143 trip list birds there were 19 life birds, and ~51 year birds.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Prineville, OR
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Des Moines Marina, WA
Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis Westport Pelagic, WA
Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes Westport Pelagic, WA
Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus Westport Pelagic, WA
Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis Westport Pelagic, WA
Pink-footed Shearwater Ardenna creatopus Westport Pelagic, WA
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus Westport Pelagic, WA
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma furcata Westport Pelagic, WA
Leach's Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa Westport Pelagic, WA
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis Westport harbor WA
Brandt's Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus Cannon Beach, OR
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus widespread coastal, one or two inland
Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus widespread coastal
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias riparian, coastal
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura widespread
Canada Goose Branta canadensis a few mated pairs in riparian areas
Gadwall Anas strepera a few ponds
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos widespread in ponds
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera Willamette valley, OR
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris Prineville, OR
Greater Scaup Aythya marila Columbia River and Westport Pelagic quite far offshore
Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus Salt Creek CP, WA
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata Salt Creek CP and Neah Bay, WA
Barrow's Goldeneye Bucephala islandica western Cascade lakes (Clear Lake, Fish Lake), OR
Osprey Pandion haliaetus uncommon, widespread riparian
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus common
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus mainly Wenas valley, WA
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus Fern Hill ponds, OR
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii uncommon but widespread, including Sisters area
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis uncommon
American Kestrel Falco sparverius uncommon riparian-agricultural
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus one in western Cascades, OR
California Quail Callipepla californica riparian-agricultural in Wenas valley and Prineville
American Coot Fulica americana Prineville OR
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus a few riparian areas
Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani Cape Flattery WA
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia a few montane riparian areas (OR)
South Polar Skua Catharacta maccormicki Westport Pelagic, WA
Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus Westport Pelagic, WA
Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni Westport harbor
California Gull Larus californicus interior Columbia River, one at Cannon Beach OR
Western Gull Larus occidentalis mainly Cannon Beach, OR but also the more Western-ish of the hybrids at Westport
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens northern WA seemd to predominantly be this "species", but hybrids obviously abound
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia coastal
Common Murre Uria aalge Cape Flattery WA, Cannon Beach OR, pelagic
Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba widespread inshore coastal
Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus Point No Point WA, Salt Creek CP WA
Cassin's Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus Westport Pelagic, WA
Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata Point No Point, Salt Creek CP, Cape Flattery, Westport Pelagic WA
Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata Cape Flattery, Westport Pelagic in WA, Cannon Beach in OR
Rock Pigeon Columba livia widespread
Band-tailed Pigeon Columba fasciata widespread uncommon in forests
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto widespread uncommon in agricultural
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura uncommon
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus Wenas Valley in sagebrush
Vaux's Swift Chaetura vauxi Oregon City, OR and Lost Lake, OR
Calliope Hummingbird Stellula calliope Calliope Crossing, OR and probable at Wenas Valley, WA
Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus uncommon but widespread montane, best views Capitol Forest, WA
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon coastal
Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis Sisters area OR, Wenas valley WA
Red-naped Sapsucker Sphyrapicus nuchalis Sisters area OR, Wenas valley WA
Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber Sisters area OR, Tacoma WA
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens Sisters area OR
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus widespread montane
White-headed Woodpecker Picoides albolarvatus Sisters area OR
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus widespread montane/riparian
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus one fly-by at Port Angeles WA
Olive-sided Flycatcher Contopus cooperi Hurricane Ridge/Olympics WA, others heard in montane
Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus widespread - by far the most numerous flycatcher in drier habitats
Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii uncommon in scrubby montane, montane riparian
Hammond's Flycatcher Empidonax hammondii Reeher's Camp, OR (seen singing)
Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii Calliope Crossing, OR (seen singing) - heard in Wenas Valley WA
Dusky Flycatcher Empidonax oberholseri widespread in denser Ponderosa forests
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Empidonax difficilis widespread in dark and dense wetter forests
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis Prineville OR
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus various eastern Cascade riparian
Cassin's Vireo Vireo cassinii Metolius River, other Sisters OR areas, heard in Wenas Valley WA
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Montane riparian
Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis uncommon high montane
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri widespread
Western (California) Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica widespread but uncommon in Willamette valley, also seen in Bend OR
Clark's Nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana
Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia eastern Cascade riparian, agricultural
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos OR, plus presumed American X Northwestern hybrids in Puget Trough
Northwestern Crow Corvus caurinus Olympics WA - claimed in La Push WA but probably also Neah Bay etc
Common Raven Corvus corax widespread sage brush and montane
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris sage brush and alpine Olympic
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor widespread
Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina widespread
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis a few
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota surprisingly widespread
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica widespread
Mountain Chickadee Poecile gambeli eastern Cascades
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus Portland and Oregon City, OR
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis montane
Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea Sisters, OR
Brown Creeper Certhia americana montane
House Wren Troglodytes aedon montane riparian
Pacific Wren Troglodytes pacificus widespread in western Cascades and Olympics
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus montane riparian
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa only one seen (!), coastal montane
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana riparian
Mountain Bluebird Sialia currucoides Wenas Valley WA
Townsend's Solitaire Myadestes townsendi montane Ponderosa forest
Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus widespread western Cascades, Olympics, mainly heard
(Hermit Thrush) Catharus guttatus one or two heard in high Cascades OR
American Robin Turdus migratorius very widespread
Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius western Cascades, Olympics, roadside at Hoh Rainforest WA, Cascadia SP WA, Lost Lake OR
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata one each in montane WA, OR
(Nashville Warbler) Oreothlypis ruficapilla heard in Wenas Valley
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia widespread montane riparian
Townsend's X Hermit Warbler Dendroica sp male resembling hybrid seen at Columbia Gorge in OR
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata uncommon montane
MacGillivray's Warbler Oporornis tolmiei uncommon scrubby montane (mainly heard)
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas riparian
Wilson's Warbler Wilsonia pusilla common in scubby montane or wet forest edges
Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana uncommon drier pine forests
Green-tailed Towhee Pipilo chlorurus Sisters area, OR
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus widespread
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina montane
Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus sage brush in Wenas Valley OR
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis Deer Park valley WA
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus uncommon drier pine forests
Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena Wenas Valley OR
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus widespread
Tricolored Blackbird Agelaius tricolor colony at Prineville OR
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta mainly Wenas Valley WA
Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus Prineville WA
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus widespread in agricultural, riparian
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii riparian
Cassin's Finch Carpodacus cassinii Wenas Valley
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra one at Calliope Crossing, OR
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus montane
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis widespread
Probables: American Pipit, Parasitic Jaeger. Misses were in particular: grouse, owls and any sort of freshwater waterbird (simply no time in the correct habitat in the last case).

Trip Narrative

Sunrise ~5:15am Sunset ~9:00pm PST at Seattle in mid-June 2011

In what follows, bold species are life birds, (parenthetical species) are heard only. Life birds are only marked the first time I saw them. Year birds were too numerous to denote. This trip was strong on pelagic and alcid lifers, and the land birds made up a smaller proportion of targets. The weather was predictable by geography - mostly cloudy/overcast on the western side of the Cascade range, and mostly sunny on the eastern side of the Cascade range.

Birding in the dark and dense coastal and western Cascade rainforests proved to be difficult and frustrating at times, with the darkness compounded by overcast conditions making for bad lighting. This and the fact that some of the passerines only fed at the tops of trees made me decide not to spend too much time on really bad looks at warblers, instead concentrating on the birds I could see well. In particular the drier Ponderosa Pine forests of the eastern Cascades make for much more rewarding birding - they are open with less understory and you can actually get decent looks. Of course the species don't really overlap all that much, so if you want good looks at Hermit or Townsend's Warbler you're going to have to suffer, or catch them on migration (AZ) or as vagrants (NY). Thankfully Pacific Wrens, despite being split from the Winter Wren, are as pugnacious as their close relatives and more than happy to express their displeasure at you getting to close too them, often while perched up on some prominent limb. In the wet forests they were only outnumbered by Wilson's Warblers, with Swainson's Trush coming in third place.