Pacific Northwest Coast Ecoregion and Birding Sites

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Click to see a detailed map with birding sites.

Location

This ecoregion includes most of the Olympic Peninsula (but not its northern and eastern coastal plain), the lowlands of the Chehalis River drainage and around Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, the Willapa Hills, and coastal waters out to three miles offshore on the outer coast and out to the international boundary on the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of the mouth of the Twin Rivers. It is bordered on the east by the Puget Trough lowlands, and on the south by the Columbia River. The ecoregion itself extends north to Vancouver Island and south through much of the Coast Ranges of Oregon.

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Physiography

Elevated areas vary from the highly dissected peaks and valleys of the Olympics, pushed up well above 7,500 feet by colliding tectonic plates, to the much lower, rounded, and more recent Willapa Hills, also uplifted from volcanic activity in the sea-a process that continues today. Extensive coastal lowlands with sedimentary marine and glacial deposits border both sets of uplands and are more extensive in the Chehalis River basin. Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay are two of the most important estuaries on the Pacific Coast. Pleistocene glaciation carved valleys and cirques in the Olympics and extended south to the Chehalis River. The coast north of Grays Harbor is rugged, with cliffs and jagged islands, while from Grays Harbor south flatness and sand dunes prevail. The Lower Columbia River is a prominent landscape feature important for birds.

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Climate

Cold, wet winters and cool, moist summers characterize the ecoregion, and the west side of the Olympics is the wettest part of the state, large areas receiving more than 150 inches of rain in an average year, locally over 200 inches. Coastal lowlands receive much less precipitation (e.g., 84 inches at Aberdeen) but are still very wet. Snow blankets the Olympics with accumulations up to 10 feet or more and persists at higher elevations into mid-summer (although only episodic in the lowland winters), and the higher peaks have permanent glaciers. The southern end of the ecoregion is distinctly warmer than the northern end, spring arriving perceptibly earlier. With prevailing southwesterly winds dropping most of their moisture on west slopes, the northeastern corner of the region is in a distinct rain shadow, the annual precipitation declining dramatically toward the coastal lowlands.

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Habitats

The original vegetation was heavy conifer forest from coast to treeline, dominated in the lowlands by western hemlock, western red cedar, and Douglas-fir, with Sitka spruce locally dominant on the coast and up lowland river valleys. Common broadleaf trees, again mostly associated with river valleys, are red alder, black cottonwood, and bigleaf maple. Vine maple and other small trees and numerous evergreen shrubs, especially in the heather family, are common in the forest understory. The wettest west-side forests have been rightfully called temperate rain forests. Higher elevations feature smaller trees of different species, for example Pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, and Alaska yellow cedar, and highest elevations have ever-diminishing tree height and subalpine meadows until open alpine parkland gives way to snow and ice. On the drier east side of the Olympics, a drier, more open conifer forest occurs but with mostly the same species. Coastal dunes and salt marshes support large stands of herbaceous vegetation containing strictly coastal plant species. Freshwater wetlands consist largely of stream and river systems draining the uplands all along the coast, but there are marshes, ponds, and lakes scattered around the flat lowlands and numerous alpine lakes in the Olympic Mountains. Sphagnum bogs are of local significance. Coastal waters are underlain by rock and sand, depending on coastal topography, and support dense communities of marine algae and invertebrates. Because of ongoing logging, stands in all stages of forest succession are scattered through most of the ecoregion.

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Human Impact

Elevated areas are lightly settled by humans, river valleys much more so, but only parts of Grays Harbor and the sand dunes of the southern coast have been substantially affected by development. Agriculture has a minor impact, but logging, which has occurred over a very large proportion of the ecoregion, has had a major effect on the original vegetation cover. The major stronghold of old-growth forest is Olympic National Park, covering much of the center of the Olympic Peninsula, but the majority of old growth in the ecoregion has been logged at least once. Commercial fishing, as well as dams up the Columbia River, have had an impact on fish faunas, which in turn affect seabirds.

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Abundance Code DefinitionsBird Checklist

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
BirdJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Greater White-fronted GooseUUUFF UUUUU
Snow GooseRRRR RRR
BrantCFFFU UFCC
Cackling GooseFFFFF FFFF
Canada GooseCCCCCCCCCCCC
Trumpeter SwanUUUR RUU
Tundra SwanUUURR RUU
Wood DuckRRRFFFFFURRR
GadwallFFCCCUUUCCCC
Eurasian WigeonUUUR RUUU
American WigeonCCCCCRRUCCCC
MallardCCCCCCCCCCCC
Blue-winged Teal RUUUUUR
Cinnamon TealRRUUFFFFURRR
Northern ShovelerFFFCURRUUFFF
Northern PintailCCCCCRRUCCCC
Green-winged TealCCCCFRRUCCCC
CanvasbackUUUUU RUUU
RedheadRRRRR RRRR
Ring-necked DuckUUUUURRRUUUU
Greater ScaupCCCCFRRUFCCC
Lesser ScaupUUUUURRRUUUU
Harlequin DuckFFFUUUUUFFFF
Surf ScoterCCCCCUUFCCCC
White-winged ScoterCCCCCUUFCCCC
Black ScoterUUUUU RUUUU
Long-tailed DuckUUUUU RUU
BuffleheadCCCCFRRRRCCC
Common GoldeneyeCCFFURRRRFCC
Barrow's GoldeneyeUUUUU RFUU
Hooded MerganserUUUUURRUUUUU
Common MerganserCCCCCCCCCCCC
Red-breasted MerganserCCCCCRRRUCCC
Ruddy DuckUUUUURRRUUUU
Ring-necked PheasantUUUUUUUUUUUU
Ruffed GrouseFFFFFFFFFFFF
Sooty GrouseFFFFFFFFFFFF
Wild TurkeyRRRRRRRRRRRR
Mountain QuailRRRRRRRRRRRR
California QuailRRRRRRRRRRRR
Red-throated LoonFFFCCUUUCCFF
Pacific LoonFFFCCUUUCCFF
Common LoonCCCCCUUFCCCC
Pied-billed GrebeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Horned GrebeCCCCF UFCCC
Red-necked GrebeUUUUR RUUUU
Eared GrebeRRRRR RRRRR
Western GrebeCCCCCUUFCCCC
Black-footed Albatross U
Northern FulmarRRRRRRRRRRRR
Sooty Shearwater RUCCCCCCRR
Short-tailed ShearwaterRRRR RRRR
Manx Shearwater RRRRRRR
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel RRRRRRR
Brown Pelican UCCCCFUR
Brandt's CormorantUUUCCCCCCCUU
Double-crested CormorantCCCCCCCCCCCC
Pelagic CormorantCCCCCCCCCCCC
American BitternRRRUUUUUUURR
Great Blue HeronCCCCCCCCCCCC
Great EgretRRRRRUUUUURR
Green HeronRRRUUUUUUURR
Turkey Vulture UFFFFFCUR
Osprey RFFFFFFU
White-tailed KiteUUUURRUUUUUU
Bald EagleCCCCCCCFFFCC
Northern HarrierCCCCCUUUFCCC
Sharp-shinned HawkUUUFUUUUFFUU
Cooper's HawkUUUUUUUFFFUU
Northern GoshawkRRRRRRRRRRRR
Red-tailed HawkFFFFFFFFFFFF
Rough-legged HawkUUUR RUU
Golden EagleRRRRRRRRRRRR
American KestrelUUUUUUUUUUUU
MerlinUUUURRRUUUUU
GyrfalconRRR RRR
Peregrine FalconUUUUUUUUUUUU
Virginia RailUUUFFFFFUUUU
SoraRRRUUUUUURRR
American CootUUUUURRRUUUU
Sandhill Crane RR R
Black-bellied PloverCCCCCRUCCCCC
American Golden-Plover UUU
Pacific Golden-Plover RR RUUUR
Snowy PloverUUUUUUUUUUUU
Semipalmated PloverRRRCCRCCFURR
KilldeerCCCCCCCCCCCC
Black OystercatcherUUUUUUUUUUUU
Spotted SandpiperRRRUFFFFUURR
Solitary Sandpiper RR RR
Wandering Tattler FF FFFR
Greater YellowlegsUUFFFRFFFUUU
WilletUUUR RUUUUU
Lesser Yellowlegs RR UUUR
WhimbrelRRRFCUUFFURR
Long-billed CurlewUUURR UUUUUU
Bar-tailed GodwitR RRRRR
Marbled GodwitCCCCURUCCCCC
Ruddy TurnstoneRRUUF UUURRR
Black TurnstoneCCCCU UCCCCC
SurfbirdCCCCR UCCCCC
Red KnotRRRFCRUFFURR
SanderlingCCCCCUFCCCCC
Semipalmated Sandpiper RRR
Western SandpiperUUUCCUFCCFUU
Least SandpiperUUUCC CCCFUU
Baird's Sandpiper RUUR
Pectoral Sandpiper R RRFFR
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper RRR
Rock SandpiperUUUUR UUU
DunlinCCCCCRRRUCCC
Stilt Sandpiper RR
Buff-breasted Sandpiper RR
Ruff RRR
Short-billed Dowitcher CCRCCCU
Long-billed DowitcherUUUFF UFFFUU
Wilson's SnipeUUUFFUUFFFUU
Red-necked Phalarope UFRUFF
Red PhalaropeRRRUURRUUURR
Franklin's Gull RR
Bonaparte's Gull FF RUUUU
Heermann's Gull RUCCCFR
Mew GullCCCCU UCCCC
Ring-billed GullUUUFUUUCCUUU
California GullRRRFFUCCCCRR
Herring GullUUCUU RUUUU
Thayer's GullUUUU RUUU
Western GullCCCCCCCCCCCC
Glaucous-winged GullCCCCCCCCCCCC
Glaucous GullRRRR RRRRR
Black-legged KittiwakeFFFFFUUUUUFF
Caspian Tern RCCCCCFUR
Common Tern UC RFFU
Elegant Tern II
Pomarine Jaeger R RRRR
Parasitic Jaeger UU UUU
Common MurreCCCCCCCCCCCC
Pigeon GuillemotUUUCCCCCCUUU
Marbled MurreletUUUUUUUUUUUU
Cassin's AukletFFFFFFFFFFFF
Rhinoceros AukletRRRFCCCCFURR
Tufted Puffin UUUUUU
Rock PigeonCCCCCCCCCCCC
Band-tailed PigeonUUUCCCCCUUUU
Mourning DoveUUUUUUUUUUUU
Barn OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Western Screech-OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Great Horned OwlFFFFFFFFFFFF
Snowy OwlIII II
Northern Pygmy-OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Spotted OwlRRRRRRRRRRRR
Barred OwlRRRRRRRRRRRR
Short-eared OwlUUUUR RUUU
Northern Saw-whet OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Common Nighthawk RUUU
Black Swift RRRRR
Vaux's Swift RFFFCU
Anna's HummingbirdRRRRRRRRRRRR
Rufous Hummingbird FCCCCFU
Belted KingfisherFFFFFFFFFFFF
Red-breasted SapsuckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Downy WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Hairy WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Northern FlickerCCCCCCCCCCCC
Pileated WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Olive-sided Flycatcher RFFFFU
Western Wood-Pewee UUUUU
Willow Flycatcher UUUUU
Hammond's Flycatcher RFFFF
Pacific-slope Flycatcher UFFFUR
Tropical Kingbird RR
Northern ShrikeUUUR RUUU
Cassin's Vireo UUUUUU
Hutton's VireoFFFFFFFFFFFF
Warbling Vireo RFFFUU
Red-eyed Vireo RRRR
Gray JayFFFFFFFFFFFF
Steller's JayCCCCCCCCCCCC
Western Scrub-JayUUUUUUUUUUUU
Clark's NutcrackerRRRRRRRRRRRR
American CrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Northwestern CrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Common RavenFFFFFFFFFFFF
Horned LarkUUUUUUUUUUUU
Purple Martin RRRRR
Tree Swallow RCCCCCR
Violet-green Swallow FCCCCFU
Northern Rough-winged Swallow UFFFUR
Cliff Swallow RFFFFU
Barn Swallow RCCCCCFU
Black-capped ChickadeeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Chestnut-backed ChickadeeCCCCCCCCCCCC
BushtitFFFFFFFFFFFF
Red-breasted NuthatchCCCCCCCCCCCC
Brown CreeperFFFFFFFFFFFF
Bewick's WrenCCCCCCCCCCCC
House Wren RRRR
Pacific WrenCCCCCCCCCCC
Marsh WrenFFFCCCCCCCFF
American DipperUUUUUUUUUUUU
Golden-crowned KingletCCCCCCCCCCCC
Ruby-crowned KingletCCCCFRRRFCCC
Western BluebirdRRRRRRRRRRRR
Townsend's Solitaire UUUUUUU
Swainson's Thrush RCCCUR
Hermit ThrushUUUFFFFFFUUU
American RobinCCCCCCCCCCCC
Varied ThrushCCCCCCCCCCCC
European StarlingCCCCCCCCCCCC
American PipitRRRCCFFFCFUR
Cedar WaxwingRRRUCCCCCFRR
Orange-crowned WarblerRRUCCCCFUURR
Yellow Warbler CCCCFR
Yellow-rumped WarblerFFFCCFFFCCFF
Black-throated Gray Warbler FCCCCU
Townsend's WarblerRRRCCCCCFURR
Hermit Warbler UUUU
Palm WarblerRRRR RRRR
MacGillivray's Warbler UCCCCU
Common Yellowthroat RCCCCCCU
Wilson's Warbler FCCCCF
Western Tanager RCCCCU
Spotted TowheeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Chipping Sparrow RUUUR
Savannah SparrowRRUCCCCCCFRR
Fox SparrowCCCCFUUUUCCC
Song SparrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Lincoln's SparrowUUUFR RFFUU
Swamp SparrowRR RR
White-throated SparrowRRRR RRRR
White-crowned SparrowUUFCCCCCCFUU
Golden-crowned SparrowCCCCU UCCC
Dark-eyed JuncoCCCCCCCCCCCC
Lapland LongspurRRRUU UURR
Snow BuntingRR RRR
Black-headed Grosbeak RUUURR
Lazuli Bunting RRR
Red-winged BlackbirdCCCCCCCCCCCC
Western MeadowlarkUUUUR UUUU
Yellow-headed Blackbird R R
Brewer's BlackbirdFFFFFFFFFFFF
Brown-headed CowbirdRRUCCCCCFURR
Bullock's Oriole RRR
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch RRRRR
Pine GrosbeakRRRRRRRRRRRR
Purple FinchFFFFFFFFFFFF
House FinchCCCCCCCCCCCC
Red CrossbillFFFFFFFFFFFF
Pine SiskinCCCCCCCCCCCC
American GoldfinchUUUFCCCCCCUU
Evening GrosbeakFFFFFFFFFFFF
House SparrowCCCCCCCCCCCC

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