The state is divided by the Cascade Mountains, with the western third (Western Washington) being the wet side and the eastern two-thirds (Eastern Washington) being the dry side.
Sol Duc Valley ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Western Washington is dominated by wet coniferous forests, and by coastal areas and inland marine habitats. There are an abundance of wetlands as well. The, Olympic Mountains, separated from the rest of Western Washington by Puget Sound, reach to nearly eight thousand feet (2400 meters).
The Cascade Range is even more impressive with a ridge running north to south across the state, ranging from about 3000 feet high to over 8000 feet (900 – 2400 meters); and with four huge volcanoes (Adams, Baker, St. Helens, and Rainier) towering above. Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet (4392 meters) is the fifth tallest peak in the 48 contiguous states.
American dipper Cinclus mexicanus ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Eastern Washington, while generally drier (and much less populated) than Western Washington, has perhaps even more habitat diversity. The eastern slopes of the Cascades feature dry coniferous forest, which fades into sagebrush hills. The mighty Columbia River cuts across the state, providing water to orchards and fields. In the northeast, higher elevation dry forest changes to wet forest again, as the Rocky Mountains just touch the northeast corner of the state. In the centre and southeast of Eastern Washington, huge wheat fields dominate.
Californian Quail Callipepla californica ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Because of the wide range of elevations, habitats, and climatic zones, there is no simple list of best birding spots. Luckily, despite its large size, any point in Washington can be reached in a single day’s drive from Seattle, as long as you don’t stop to bird too much on the way!
On the coast, the area around Grays Harbor is recommended, as is the less accessible Cape Flattery area. Some of the best birding is at Ocean Shores. Pelagic trips are periodically run out of Westport Along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates the Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver Island, there is an abundance of good birding, especially around Port Angeles and Sequim.
In the Puget Sound area, Whidbey Island is a good bet, but there are an abundance of good locations in and around the cities as well, including Discovery Park (Seattle); Spencer Island (Everett) and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (south of Tacoma).
Birding the Cascade crest is more difficult, but can yield White-tailed Ptarmigan and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch (both only at highest elevations).
In Eastern Washington, the dry coniferous forests can be outstanding, especially spring in the Wenas valley, between Ellensburg and Yakima. The Okanogan region, with its higher latitudes and higher elevations, is the best place for boreal species. To the south, the Walla Walla river delta is great, especially for fall shorebird migration. The potholes area and the Columbia NWR, in the centre of the state, has countless lakes and ponds in a desert environment, providing oases for birds.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
The best existing site guide for Washington State is A Guide to Bird Finding in Washington, by Terence R. Wahl and Dennis R. Paulson.
Major Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: © Naturalist Journeys