Wednesday 10 June 2015

Washington State - Logistics and Itinerary

  • A seven day trip in early June (1st – 7th) booked many months in advance in order to secure a very nice seat using air miles. Timed to coincide with the arrival on territory of most of the region’s migratory breeders.
  • British Airways flight to Vancouver departed 1715h on Sunday evening, arriving at 1855h Pacific time. In an ideal world I would have flown to Seattle, but couldn’t find the tickets I wanted. Rather than setting off for Washington that same evening, I elected instead to stay in a hotel overnight and start early on Monday morning, birding my way down the coast. This also had the advantage of a daytime Fort Casey – Port Townsend ferry crossing, a channel thick with Auks. The return on Sunday evening arrived mid-morning London time on Monday, so I was able to do half a day at work. Lucky me.
  • Car hire via Avis was a brand new GMC Terrain, billed in North America as a small SUV, but actually is absolutely massive. It ended up being a great choice as I spent a lot of time on unmetalled roads that I would not have been confident on in a small saloon. My only complaint was luggage could not be hidden, so presumably I had no insurance on my trip.
  • I booked all hotels in advance, partly to recoup a portion of the massive amount of air miles I spent. In retrospect it may have worked better to book nothing and simply go with the weather, which was poor for the first couple of days and had I not had pre-paid bookings I may have moved east earlier. On the other hand the weather only really impacted photography, and my fixed itinerary, including a pre-booked boat trip, meant that I birded all the varied habitats that I wanted to hit, rather than getting bogged down in one place.
  • One of the major draws of this area, for me at least, was the possibility of Whale watching and deep sea pelagic trips. The latter are irregular this early in the season and the timings didn’t work out, however the Orca trips were in full swing and you get a bit of seabird action as a bonus. It’s essential to pre-book, but also to have a reserve day in case you don’t see the whales the first time. Many of the boat operators offer you a free place the next day if you fail to see them, so if you want to do this build it into your schedule with a birding alternative should it not be necessary.
  • The USA is wifi’d to the max. I simply loaded up my tablet with maps of the area I was visiting on the following day and off I went using just GPS.
  • Research was monumental as always. My main sources of information were the excellent trip reports on the Pacific NW and the Cascades published by VENT and uploaded onto the Cloudbirders website. They run regular tours at this time of year, and the reports go back a number of years. I’m not a tour birder, but I essentially copied their itineraries, squeezing two week-long trips into one week, spending the first three days on the Olympic Peninsula, and the final three days in the Cascades Range and the drier habitat to its east. I’m also grateful to Rich B for info on some of the places he visited on a similar trip.
  • Not having birded the west coast before, the Audubon Pro app was a critical companion to the Sibley guide, particularly the vocalisations, all of which were unfamiliar to me. Birding in a new location without a local guide is both exciting and frustrating, but being able to tentatively try out calls or songs of species that I thought I might be hearing proved very valuable indeed. Note that this requires internet access to function, but a great many of the calls and songs seem to be able to be stored in phone memory, so simply play the ones you’re likely to want in your hotel room the previous evening and they will be there for you the following day. I only really used this for more secretive species or those that stayed high up in trees, as “pishing” in the US works an absolute treat on many bird families – I found it particularly effective on Warblers and Vireos, all of which popped out at point blank range for easy IDs and in some instances, photos.
  • If general birding doesn’t turn up what you’re looking for, Ebird is a pretty great resource. You can easily find recent local sightings by species, and this gave me new locations to try which ended up with new birds a couple of times.

Slumming it across the Atlantic


Day 0: Flight arrived at 1855h, and I was all tucked up in the airport Westin by 8pm ready for an early start on Monday.
Day 1: Picked up car at 6am, and drove south on Highway 99 into Washington, USA, where the road becomes the I-5. No queue at the US border crossing at this time, but be aware that at peak times this can take up to four hours, which would easily ruin a birding day. Birded Deception Pass and the wetland area at Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island, before taking the short ferry to from Fort Casey to Port Townsend on the Olympic peninsula. Birded Dungeness and other coastal areas until dark. Hotel in Port Angeles.
Day 2: Early morning at Diamond Point where weather poor, followed by Whale Watching from Port Townsend until 3.30pm. Whale success in Canadian waters having passed right through the San Juan Islands. Late afternoon inland at Crocker Lake and West Uncas Road, with evening drive up Hurricane Ridge in poor weather. Overnight in Port Angeles again, booked in case of repeat Whale watching but also close to Hurricane Ridge.
Day 3: Dawn drive up Hurricane Ridge in deteriorating weather, but it held for long enough to see some decent birds. Ediz Hook disappointed briefly before the long drive anti-clockwise around the Olympic peninsula to Aberdeen via La Push and Ocean Shores. Motel in Tacoma.
Day 4: I-90 east, with birding stops at Lake Sammanish, Denny Creek, Roslyn and Cle Elum. Afternoon birding south of Ellensburg into Sagebrush habitat, then I-97 north to Leavenworth via Bettas Prairie. Evening birding up Icicle Canyon, hotel in Leavenworth.
Day 5: Another early start, birding Swakane Canyon east (bottom) to west (top) until 1pm. Afternoon birding along Camas Creek and Peshastin Creek, with an evening drive back up Swakane Canyon. Motel in Wenatchee.
Day 6: Swakane Canyon again (it was very good!) before driving to Quincy Lakes. Afternoon at Potholes Reservoir and Moses Lake area, before heading west on I-90 back to Ellensburg. Diversion up Umtanum canyon before long drive back west over the pass on the I-90 to Seattle, and then north on the I-5 to Vancouver, crossing the border just after midnight (again, no queue) and arriving at 1.30am!
Day 7: A bit of a lie in, and then mid-morning birding at Lighthouse Park in north west Vancouver, followed by quick stops at Tsawwassen and Reifel Reserve south of the city. Then back to the airport at 4.35pm for a 6pm flight back to London.

Map of the area visited, with the main birding spots highlighted.


  1. breakfast looked a little light? No hash browns?