Venture to Washington State

August 13 – 21, 2021

Narrative and Photos* by Kevin Burke

*Some great photos by Martine Stolk too!

August is a great time to visit the diverse state of Washington.   Our annual Venture this year was amazing!  The weather in Washington is August is beautiful.  An average of only 4.5 days of rain in the month make it the perfect time to visit.  The resident birds are all still there and the migrants are just starting to show up.  Beautiful mountains, Rocky Coastlines, high deserts, and Island Fjords are just a few of the habitats that we visited this year.  There are so many target species on this trip.  Mountain Quail, Black-footed Albatross, Sage Thrasher, White-headed Woodpecker, American Dipper are just a few of the birds we hoped to see.

Everyone arrived in Seattle the night before the tour so we could get an early start the next morning.  We all had a nice introductory dinner on the waterfront in the small community of Burien.  I always recommend bringing binoculars to dinner as the harbor in Burien can be quite birdy.  We had a Merlin fly in and perch on top of an adjacent building to the restaurant, a great way to start the tour!  A nice dinner of fresh Northwest seafood followed and helped set us up for our first full day of birding the next morning. 

The next morning, we all packed our luggage in the van and headed out to the Kitsap Peninsula.  The first major target of the trip was Mountain Quail.  This species has a small stronghold in Washington tucked away in the foothills of the Olympics.  We pulled up to the first spot and started to walk on the trails within a clear-cut field.  A hundred yards in I heard some rustling from the underbrush.  I directed everyone to stay on the trail and I took off through the dense brush and flushed three Mountain Quail.  They flew towards everyone for great looks.  So, there we were with a major target for the trip already seen in the first five minutes of the trip! 

We continued onto the Capital State Forest for some more birding.  We had Canada Jay, Western Wood-Pewee, Steller’s Jay, and Band-tailed Pigeon

Our destination for the evening was Westport so we headed out toward the coast.  We stopped off at Gray’s Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. 

The spectacle of migrating shorebirds here is amazing.  There are thousands of shorebirds all foraging on the mudflats.  Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and many more can be seen in huge numbers.  We headed over to Westport for another delicious seafood dinner.  The next morning, we would be headed out on our pelagic trip. 

The morning came early as we arose in Westport.  The Monte Carlo awaited us in the harbor.  Westport Seabirding has a decades long reputation for delivering excellent pelagic trips.  The hotel was just a short walk from the boat.  We set sail early in the morning headed to our destination.  Brandt’s, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants could be seen early on the way out. 

The first pelagic species that we started to see were Sooty Shearwaters.  The stunning Heerman’s Gulls could be seen flying close to the boat.  As the boat moved further out Pink-footed Shearwater’s, Short-tailed Shearwater’s, and Black-footed Albatross’s started to show up. 

We spotted some shrimp trawlers and motored over to check those out.  Many Sabine’s Gulls flew by the boat along with a South Polar Skua and Cassin’s Auklets. 

Honestly there were so many highlights to this trip it is hard to list them all.  The deep water produced a fair number of Leach’s and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels.  The trip back to the harbor always includes a slow motor by the sea wall in Westport.  There were good numbers of Black Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers, and Surfbirds that gave everyone good looks.  The last highlight was picking two Bar-tailed Godwits out of the massive Marbled Godwit flock in the harbor.  This was truly a great day!

The next morning started toward our destination of Port Angeles.  The first stop was the famous Bottle Beach we caught it at just the right moment with a rising tide.  There were quite a few Black-bellied Plovers, both Dowitcher Species, and a very cooperative Wilson’s Warbler

We drove up the Olympic Peninsula to one of my favorite places, Ruby Beach. 

The sea stacks are tremendously beautiful here.  We Had Pacific Loon, White-winged, and Surf Scoters here.  Lunch was just up the road at the Hoh Oxbow campground.  We were treated to great looks at Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Pacific-slope Flycatcher.  A quick stop at Crescent Lake Lodge netted the trip our first Red-Crossbills, Brown Creepers, and Vaux’s Swifts. Today was filled with great scenery and birds. 

On day four of our venture, we started out from Port Angeles and climbed to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.  On the climb we spotted some very cooperative Canada Jays, perched Band-tailed Pigeons, and the ever-present Common Ravens. 

Our main target of the trip was the Sooty Grouse.  Hurricane Ridge is perhaps one of the best spots in the country to see them.  We got to the visitor center early and started toward the Cirque Rim trail and a male Sooty Grouse crossed the trail before we could make it out of the parking lot!  It proved to be somewhat elusive after that so we decided to check another area for grouse.  We hiked the Hurricane Hill trail for roughly a mile until we found another Sooty Grouse, this time a female foraging on the side of the trail.  She gave us fantastic looks for roughly ten minutes. 

Just before our grouse encounter, we have an adult Golden Eagle pass overhead.  It was nine thirty in the morning and we had already a full days’ worth of birds!  That afternoon we headed down to Dungeness Spit to see what water birds we could find.  Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Surf Scoter’s were all foraging near shore.  

We rounded out the day at Ediz Hook for great looks at Harlequin Ducks on the log booms in the water.

Today we transitioned away from the Olympic Peninsula over to the Cascade Mountains.  On our way we visited one of my favorite refuges, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  This place is a great mix of tidal river, sound, upland forest, and salt marsh.  We were able to locate a juvenile Peregrine Falcon resting atop a dead snag.  Willow Flycatchers, Wilson’s Warblers, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee’s all flitted around in the mixed scrub.  This place never disappoints! 

It was time to head up into the mountains, so we made the drive over to Packwood for the evening.  On our way to dinner the local Roosevelt Elk could be seen foraging in the front yards of the residents’ houses. 

We visited Mount Rainier National Park today.   The weather was gorgeous, and the mountain was on full display. 

We passed two more Sooty Grouse on the way up to paradise lodge.  Our challenging hike up to Panorama Point was fruitful in that we encountered American Pipit, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Townsend’s Warbler.

  Hoary Marmots were another highlight of the walk. 

This was a fairly long walk, so we were all happy to have lunch at the picnic area in Paradise.  Steller’s and Canada Jays were circling our picnic table waiting for scraps to be dropped. 

We set our sights to White Pass for a little birding after lunch.  We were able to pick up Western Tanager and Red Crossbills here.  Yakima was our destination for the evening. 

On the way down we were able to spy several Lewis’s Woodpeckers hawking insects from dead snags along the road.  It was a good end to a long day.

One of my favorite days on our Washington trip is our day in the desert.  So far, every year my friends from my time there have joined us for the day, and it truly is an amazing day.  We drove from Yakima to meet my friends in Prosser, where we would head up to some of the largest intact sage brush habitat left in Eastern Washington. 

Our targets were the sage obligate species Sagebrush Sparrow and Sage Thrasher which we did get to see. 

Gray Partridge scurried across the road in front of the van.  Another bonus bird was Brewer’s Sparrow.  We took lunch at a friend’s house and watched her hummingbird feeders as Rufous, Anna’s and Black-chinned all came into feed.  California Quail drank at the water feature. 

A visit to McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters produced Black-necked Stilt, Cinnamon Teal, and Long-billed Dowitcher.  It was a long hot day of birding so we headed back to Yakima for the evening. 

Cascade birding was on the menu today.  We were leaving the desert of Eastern Washington and spending most of the day in the Cascade Mountains to look for several target birds.  Very early we made a quick stop in Yakima Canyon and were rewarded with Chukar, Canyon Wren, and Rock Wren.  Our next stop was the Wenas area, where we found a tremendous flock of birds with some highly sought-after targets.  One flock had Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red Crossbill, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Cassin’s Finch, White-headed Woodpecker, and many more! 

We had to pry ourselves away from this spot.  A little further up the road we came across quite a few Mountain Bluebirds.  The morning was going by fast, so we made tracks up to Leavenworth for lunch at a Bavarian Sausage place. 

The fish hatchery was our dessert and we had great looks at Cassin’s Vireo, American Dipper, and Black-headed Grosbeak

By this time, we needed to hit the road again and drive up to Burlington for the evening so we could catch the early ferry to San Juan Island.

Our final day of the trip started early with a six o’clock ferry ride out to San Juan Island. 

We were birding the whole way out looking for any remaining seabirds we had missed.  Once on the Island we visited several of the parks and had great looks at Olive-sided Flycatcher, Black Oystercatcher, and lots of the Red Fox

The fog was thick on the island this day, but somehow managed to add to the rugged beauty of the island.  We stood on the West side looking seven miles across the Haro Strait at Vancouver Island.  It is one of my favorite places in the world.  The ferry ride back netted us our main target, a pair of Marbled Murrelets.  We headed back down towards Seattle for morning departures. 

There are so many highlights on the Washington Venture it is hard to talk about them all in a trip report.  It is truly a place you must experience.  I counted one hundred and ninety-two species of birds for the trip.  We also had a ton of great mammal sightings too.  It has to be on every birders bucket list of trips.  Please join us next year on our Venture to Washington!

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