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Washington Photo Tour: Breeding Passerines of the West

Tour Overview:

Washington, the “Evergreen state” is rightly famed for its dramatic scenery, but is often overlooked as a premier destination for bird photography. This photo tour combines the Olympic Peninsula, with its yawning miles of coastlines and forests bordering this, with a trip into the east of Washington, where forested highlands, mountain lakes, riparian patches and rolling hills will be on the agenda. Thus, the tour will visit a bounty of excellent bird habitats, including dramatic jagged mountains, glacial valleys, and ancient old growth forests, as well as the seemingly endless western coastlines. When many people think of Washington, they think of the waterbirds. This indeed applies to this tour with birds like Barrow's goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon and if we're lucky on timing, Red-necked Grebe. However, an abundance of songbirds breed in the state, particularly in forests and steppes in the east. We will be visiting areas of the scenically-stunning cascades to seek out photographs of species like Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Western Tanager. We will also take advantage of the several 'chicken-like' birds that breed in Washington, chiefly the Sooty and Dusky Grouse, both will hopefully strut their stuff in front of our lenses. It cannot be overstated quite how oddly underrated this region is for the bird photographer; this tour will provide an abundance of proof of this. On many days we have multiple options on where to photograph birds in a vast region with plentiful habitats and breeding birds all around, and so the detailed day plan will often evolve based on what species we are still looking to photograph at that point. Please note, this tour does not visit any feeding sites and is ENTIRELY field photography. There is a little bit of walking required but no strenuous hiking.

Tour Details:


13 - 25 May

$7250; single supplement: $990

Length: 13 Days

Starting City: Seattle

Ending City: Seattle

Pace: Moderate

Physical Difficulty: Moderate

Focus: Photography

Group size: 5 + 1 leader

Ready to Book?

Day 1: Arrival in Seattle

Following your arrival and airport transfer to the hotel, we will meet typically around 4pm (subject to slight change) for our first afternoon outing. Typically this will involve going to a local park in Seattle. Typical targets will include; Audubon's Warbler, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Wood Duck, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, and whatever else we can get our cameras on. A single night will be spent near the airport in Seattle.


Day 2: Seattle to Olympic Peninsula

We will make our way to the peninsula on this day. There are several ways to reach the peninsula. We are going to take the northern route towards the ferry crossing first in Mukilteo and then in Coupeville. We do this because we have a chance to photograph Pigeon Guillemots nesting in the rocks at the ferry terminal in Coupeville. Some years they nest and some years they don't so it isn't a guarantee but for the extra 20min for the northern route, it is worth the check. We also need to be on the northern side of the Olympic Peninsula for access to our shooting locations. The afternoon will be spent on the peninsula where depending on weather we may hit the coast for Harlequin Duck, Bald Eagle, Red-breasted Merganser or we may check the forests for Pacific Wren, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Brown Creeper and the stunning Varied Thrush. We will spend the next three (3) nights in Port Angeles.

Day 3: Olympic National Park

Today will be spent wandering around this absolutely stunning forest. This is some of the oldest forest in the United Sates and it shows. Lime green moss and massive trunked trees will have your attention upwards while we look for Sooty Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Townsend's Warbler and more below. Every time I visit this ancient forest it truly takes my breathe away.

Day 4: Puffin and Alcid Cruise OR Olympic National Park

This is a bit tricky. It isn't always guaranteed to get a cruise out of Sequim to try for puffins and other Alcides like Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet and Marbled Murrelet. While we hope to always make this a possibility, severe weather, boat cancelations or a lack of boat space may see us roaming around the peninsula looking for land birds rather than those that prefer the sea. 


Day 5: Clean-up day on the Olympic Peninsula to Cle Elum

No we will not be picking up trash. Rather this is a term the guide is fond of when we use the day as a free day to capture species we have missed or would like to do better on. We can hit the coast or the forests again to add to our growing collection of excellent photographs. Only for the morning however as we want to get into Cle Elum with enough time to try some afternoon photography. We will start to get into some drier forests so birds like; White-headed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Williamson's Sapsucker, Western Bluebird and Pacific Slope Flycatcher will start to present themselves. A single night will be spent in Cle Elum to break up our long journey east.


Days 6: Cle Elum to Omak

The early morning will be spent in the dry forests before we continue our drive towards Omak. Depending on time, our journey may have us stopping off at some locations for targets if they haven't been photographed already. The afternoon will see us traveling through the stunning wilderness of Sanlahekin. Here, Lewis's Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, American Kestrel, Mountain and Western Bluebird, Yellow Warbler, Audubon's Warbler, and one of our main target water birds, the stunning Common Loon should prove to keep us entertained until the sun sets. The next two nights will be spent in Omak.

Day 7: Omak Area

Today we play. Based on how the afternoon went, we can target more dry forest birds like Northern Flicker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller's Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Osprey and Clark's Nutcracker. We can also photograph a few more of the water dependent birds like; Bald Eagles, Red-necked Grebe, Barrow's Golden-eye, Common Merganser and one of the dozens of nesting Osprey in the area.

Days 8-11: Omak to Winthrop

A final morning will be spent in Omak picking up species we might've missed. We will travel towards Winthrop which is one of my favorite locations in Washington State. This tiny little western style town has several amazing places for photography. We will aim to get our lenses on the following (just to name a few!!!); Dusky Grouse, Red-naped and Williamson's Sapsucker, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbird, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Red Crossbill, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Barrow's Golden-eye, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Meadowlark, Hairy, Downy, Black-backed, Lewis's, White-headed Woodpeckers, Western Tanager, Pacific Slope Flycatcher....and I think that's enough for now! Winthrop is an amazing spot, no doubt about it! The next four nights will be spent here to really comb the area and take advantage of the mosaic of species that choose to breed in this amazing corner of the world.

Day 12: Winthrop to Seattle

After some final photography in the morning, we will take the mountain pass back towards Seattle. This is a bit of a run-around but it is worth it (if time allows). There is a trail in the mountains where we have a good (not great if I am honest) chance for some mammal photography. The targets would be; Hoary Marmot and American Pika...very cute and this route (or alternate) will be chosen at the discretion of the guide based on the guests desires. A final night will be spent in Seattle near the airport.

Day 13: Departures from Seattle

There are no planned activities for the day. Guests may depart at their leisure.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. The mornings are early to get the best light possible. As stated above, the photograph on this tour is all field photography, which means no feeders. Be ready for some fast paced but incredibly fun photography. You must be okay with walking. There are no strenuous hikes on this tour. Walks are generally flat with some very small inclines besides the trail on the alternate route back to Seattle. That hike is about a 5/10 difficulty. It should be considered semi-strenuous. Most of the days will involve a mid-afternoon break to recharge your camera batteries as well as your own. This may change however if the day is overcast and everyone is willing and able to continue.


PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy – Moderate. Most of our birding/photography is going to be close to the vehicle, but some will be done on trails. All of the water photography is safe. Some time will be devoted to trying to get some great photos of ducks where we may spend a half hour or so with a single species so please keep that in mind. Elevation on this tour is not a concern. The highest we will travel is in the car when we pass through the cascades. This will be around 7000ft. or so. Again, the trail for the mammals is semi-strenuous but not overly long (just under 1.25miles)


CLIMATE: Days will be warm to hot (especially in the east) and nights will be cool. At this time of year daytime highs can reach in the 80’s Fahrenheit (mid 20’s Celsius), and nighttime temperatures in the low 60’s Fahrenheit (16 Celsius) are expected. This tour is timed during the end of the rainy and cold season when the birds start becoming very active but we may still run into some rain, so a raincoat is definitely recommended. 


ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout, with full-time electricity, hot water and en-suite facilities at the standard motels used everywhere. All places used have Wi-Fi Internet.


WHEN TO GO: This is an excellent time to visit Washington State. The birds are in full breeding plumage and looking to attract mates, defend territory and sing their hearts out. This means (hopefully) our chances of photographing almost all of the species we come across.


PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a PHOTO tour. We will spend the majority of our time trying to capture high quality images of key species as well as guest desired species. Just get ready...this trip has some seriously cool birds. Just check out the gallery and the trip reports.


GEAR: Bring your biggest glass, a mid range zoom lens and a wide angle (some of the landscapes are jaw dropping). If you want to bring a tripod you may but if you need the extra stability, I would recommend a monopod over a tripod as again, there are no feeders on this tour so speed in the shooting situation is vital. No real need for a flash but you are always welcome to bring them.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued. 


WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 12; meals from dinner on day 1 to dinner on day 12; spare drinking water in the vehicle when required; Tropical Birding tour leader (who is also the tour driver) with audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 12; all entrance and park fees


WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader (who is also the driver on this tour); tips for any luggage porters used; any flights; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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Tour Reviews

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