Trip report: Washington Birding with a Camera® (July 2020)

Guided by Ben Knoot This was a set-departure tour

Washington was our first COVID-19 tour of the year and if I could sum it up in one word? It would be “successful”. There were several adaptive measures that needed to be taken but in the end, the tour was smooth and we were able to see a lot of our target species and get a lot of great photos, especially some of the specialty breeding species found in the PNW. This wonderful 9-day tour is split between the lush, green and vibrant western half and the dry, hot, breeding bird-filled east. We take care to move slowly through each habitat, seeing as much as we can.

We began the tour with a trip west to the Olympic Peninsula. Our first job was to cross the water via two ferry crossings. We then spent several days exploring this truly amazing place. The peninsula is home to Olympic National Park which contains some of the last 7% of old growth forest in the U.S. We visited the stunning Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park and all of the birding hotspots the peninsula had to offer. Highlights from this portion of the tour included: Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Belted Kingfisher, Barred Owl, Harlequin Duck, Sooty Grouse and mesmerizing waterfalls wild flower meadows.

After a few days on the peninsula we left for the east. This day long excursion across the beautiful cascades had us stopping at some key stops along our route. Highlights along our route included; Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pacific Wren, American Pika, Hoary Marmot, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Red-eyed Vireo and the stunning Diablo Lake.

Now in the east, our target birds have completely altered. We are now targeting perfectly plumaged breeding song birds and waterfowl. The dry hills are broken by areas of perfect riparian habitat that host a slew of breeders from woodpeckers to ducks and even down to small Calliope Hummingbirds. Our time in the northeast then moved into the dry Okanogan for yet more breeders. Here, the small lakes and stunning forests captivated our binoculars and our
cameras. Highlights of the northeast were; Common Loon, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Blackbacked Woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Prairie Falcon, Spotted Towhee, Mountain Chickadee, Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Tanager.

The last portion of the tour traveled south and then west. The southwest portion of the state is even drier and hotter than the rest. This of course means different birds and different habitats. Dry ponderosa pine, isolated lakes and oak woodlands hosted a ton of new species for us. Our highlights for our last portion of the tour included; White-headed Woodpecker, Western Grebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Pygmy Nuthatch, Gray Flycatcher, Long-eared Owl, Burrowing Owl, Sage Thrasher, Western Bluebird, Wilson’s Phalarope, Brewers, Vesper, Lark and Grasshopper Sparrow. We then traveled back to Seattle for our last dinner, final checklist and goodbyes.

Top Five Birds
1. Marbled Murrelet
2. Varied Thrush
3. Black-backed Woodpecker
4. Lazuli Bunting
5. White-headed Woodpecker

Top Three Photographic Opportunities
1. Pigeon Guillemots Nesting
2. Bubbling Ruddy Duck Display
3. Lazuli Bunting/Spotted Towhee Photo Shoot

Top Three Other Animals
1. American Pika
2. Hoary Marmot
3. American Black Bear

Full Tropical Birding Washington Birding with a Camera® (BwC) trip report July 2020 (8.7 MB, PDF format)