West Cascades Ecoregion and Birding Sites

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Click to see a detailed map with birding sites.

Location

This ecoregion occupies the western slopes of the Cascade Range from Tinkham Peak-a few miles south of Snoqualmie Pass-to the Columbia River. The northern boundary follows the divide between the Cedar River and Snoqualmie River drainages; the southern boundary is the Columbia Gorge from Cape Horn to Dog Mountain. The western edge lies roughly at the 1,000-foot contour, a few miles east of the Puget Trough communities of Issaquah, Enumclaw, Eatonville, Longview, and Battle Ground. Outside Washington, the ecoregion continues south through Oregon nearly to the California border.

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Physiography

The West Cascades are volcanic in origin, with older oceanic crust exposed in a few places. Heavily eroded old volcanoes, long extinct, are dominated by the peaks of the Cascades volcanoes, active into geologically recent times. These include Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, Washington's two highest peaks, and Mount Saint Helens, the state's most active volcano, which blew its top in a violent explosion in 1980. Decomposed lavas, volcanic ash, and mudflows are the source of the region's soils. Many small, swift mountain streams merge into larger rivers that flow north from Mount Rainier to Puget Sound or west and south to the Columbia River system. Dams retain several large reservoirs at lower elevations, while numerous lakes occupy basins carved by mountain glaciers. The Columbia, tidal to Bonneville Dam, follows a near-sea-level cut through the Cascades.

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Climate

Prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean endow these slopes with a mild climate and plenty of moisture. Temperatures are similar to those in the adjacent Puget Trough, although much colder at high elevations. Precipitation, coming mostly in late fall and winter, ranges from an annual average of as little as 60 inches at low elevations to 140 inches or more in the mountains, where it falls mostly as snow (50 feet in an average year at Paradise on Mount Rainier). Snow stays on the ground well into summer at higher elevations; Mounts Adams and Rainier have permanent snowfields and glaciers. A significant rain-shadow effect creates a drier microclimate on the eastern side of Mount Rainier (Sunrise).

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Habitats

Over 90 percent of the ecoregion is covered by conifer forest, ranging in age from recent burns and clear-cuts to old growth. Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar characterize the lower forest zone, with salal, sword fern, red huckleberry, Cascade Oregon grape, and vine maple in the understory. Pacific silver fir and western hemlock are the dominant species in the wetter zone above 3,000 feet. Devil's club, lady fern, and skunk cabbage are common wet-understory plants. Typical trees of the subalpine zone above 5,000 feet include subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, and Alaska yellow cedar, along with common beargrass and various huckleberries in the understory. Also found at these higher elevations are sedge meadows, sphagnum bogs, and willow swamps. Above treeline is a parkland zone of subalpine and alpine meadows with isolated stands of montane conifers and a ground cover of dense, often mat-forming plants such as heathers, sedges, and huckleberries, along with false hellebore, lupine, and other herbs. Red alder, bigleaf maple, and black cottonwood are the ecoregion's usual deciduous woodland trees, found mostly along lower-elevation stream corridors. Garry oak, madrone, and poison oak occur commonly in the rocky, exposed terrain of the Columbia Gorge.

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Human Impact

With the exception of a few small towns along highways in the major river valleys, and campers and seasonal staff in parks, the ecoregion is uninhabited. Nearly all forest tracts at low to middle elevations are managed for timber production, harvested and replanted in rotation. The less accessible higher-elevation forests are relatively little disturbed. Large sections are permanently protected in Mount Rainier National Park, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, and several wilderness areas. North of Mount Rainier, however, commercial logging has been the rule right up to the crest, but the City of Seattle has recently stopped timber sales in its Cedar River Watershed and will maintain the area as an ecological reserve.

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Abundance Code DefinitionsBird Checklist

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
BirdJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Greater White-fronted GooseUUUU UUUUU
Snow GooseRRR RR
Cackling GooseFFFF FFF
Canada GooseCCCCCCCCCCCC
Tundra SwanCCCU FCC
Wood DuckUUUFCCCFUUUU
GadwallCCCCCCCCCCCC
Eurasian WigeonUUUR UUU
American WigeonCCCF UFCCC
MallardCCCCCCCCCCCC
Blue-winged Teal UUUUUU
Cinnamon Teal FFFFU
Northern ShovelerCCCCUUUUFCCC
Northern PintailCCCCFRRRFCCC
Green-winged TealCCCCURRRCCCC
CanvasbackRRRR RRR
RedheadRRRR RRR
Ring-necked DuckCCCFURRUFCCC
Greater ScaupFFFURRRRUFFF
Lesser ScaupCCCCFRRRRUCC
Harlequin Duck RUUUUURR
Surf ScoterRR RRR
BuffleheadCCCCF RFCC
Common GoldeneyeCCCFU UFCC
Barrow's GoldeneyeCCFFFFFFFFCC
Hooded MerganserFFFFFFFFFFFF
Common MerganserCCCCCCCCCCCC
Red-breasted MerganserRRR RR
Ruddy DuckFFF FFF
Ring-necked PheasantUUUUUUUUUUUU
Ruffed GrouseFFFFFFFFFFFF
White-tailed PtarmiganUUUUUUUUUUUU
Sooty GrouseFFFFFFFFFFFF
Wild TurkeyRRRRRRRRRRRR
California QuailFFFFFFFFFFFF
Red-throated LoonRRR RRR
Pacific LoonRRR RRR
Common LoonUUUURRRRRUUU
Pied-billed GrebeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Horned GrebeFFFU UFFF
Red-necked GrebeRRR RRR
Eared GrebeRRR RRR
Western GrebeUUUU RUUU
Clark's GrebeRRR RRR
Double-crested CormorantCCCCCCCCCCCC
American BitternRRRUUUUUUURR
Great Blue HeronCCCCCCCCCCCC
Great EgretRRR UUURR
Green HeronRRRUUUUUURRR
Turkey Vulture UFFFFFFR
Osprey RFFFFFUR
Bald EagleFFFFFFFFFFFF
Northern HarrierFFFFUUUUFFFF
Sharp-shinned HawkUUUFUUUUFFUU
Cooper's HawkUUUUUUUUFFUU
Northern GoshawkRRRRRRRRRRRR
Red-tailed HawkFFFFFFFFFFFF
Rough-legged HawkUUU RUU
Golden EagleUUUUUUUUUUUU
American KestrelFFFFUUUUFFFF
MerlinUUUURRRRUUUU
Peregrine FalconUUUUUUUUUUUU
Prairie Falcon RRRRRR
Virginia RailRRRUFFFFFURR
SoraRRRUUUUUUURR
American CootCCCFFFFFCCCC
Sandhill CraneRRR RRR
KilldeerFFCCCCCCCCFF
Spotted Sandpiper UFFFFUR
Solitary Sandpiper R RR
Greater Yellowlegs UFU UFUR
Lesser Yellowlegs RR UFUR
Western Sandpiper RFU FFFUR
Least Sandpiper UR FFUU
Baird's Sandpiper UU
Long-billed Dowitcher FFU
Wilson's SnipeRRUFFFFFURRR
Wilson's Phalarope RRRR
Red-necked Phalarope U RU
Bonaparte's GullRUUFR FFFFR
Mew GullUUUUR RUUU
Ring-billed GullCCCCCCCCCCCC
California GullUUFCCCCCCFUU
Herring GullUFFU RUUU
Thayer's GullRR RR
Western GullRR RR
Glaucous-winged GullFFFFRRRRUFFF
Glaucous GullRRR R
Caspian Tern RFFFFFU
Common Tern UUR
Rock PigeonCCCCCCCCCCCC
Band-tailed PigeonRUFFFFFFFURR
Mourning DoveRRRUUUUUUURR
Barn OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Western Screech-OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Great Horned OwlFFFFFFFFFFFF
Northern Pygmy-OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Spotted OwlRRRRRRRRRRRR
Barred OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Long-eared OwlRRRRRRRRRRRR
Boreal OwlRRRRRRRRRRRR
Northern Saw-whet OwlUUUUUUUUUUUU
Common Nighthawk UUUR
Black Swift UUUUU
Vaux's Swift UFFFFFU
Black-chinned Hummingbird UUUU
Anna's HummingbirdUUUUUUUUUUUU
Calliope Hummingbird UUUUUR
Rufous Hummingbird RUCCCCUR
Belted KingfisherFFFFFFFFFFFF
Lewis's Woodpecker RRRRR
Red-naped Sapsucker RRRRR
Red-breasted SapsuckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Downy WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Hairy WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
American Three-toed WoodpeckerUUUUUUUUUUUU
Black-backed WoodpeckerRRRRRRRRRRRR
Northern FlickerCCCCCCCCCCCC
Pileated WoodpeckerFFFFFFFFFFFF
Olive-sided Flycatcher UFFFR
Western Wood-Pewee FCCFR
Willow Flycatcher RCCCF
Hammond's Flycatcher RFFFFU
Dusky Flycatcher UUUU
Pacific-slope Flycatcher UCCCFU
Western Kingbird RRR
Northern ShrikeRRR RR
Cassin's Vireo RUUUUU
Hutton's VireoFFFFFFFFFFFF
Warbling Vireo RCCCCFR
Red-eyed Vireo UFFUU
Gray JayFFFFFFFFFFFF
Steller's JayCCCCCCCCCCCC
Western Scrub-JayFFFFFFFFFFFF
Clark's NutcrackerFFFFFFFFFFFF
American CrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Common RavenCCCCCCCCCCCC
Horned LarkRRRRUUUURRRR
Purple Martin RUFFFU
Tree Swallow RFCCCFU
Violet-green Swallow RFCCCCCU
Northern Rough-winged Swallow FFFFUR
Bank Swallow RUUUUR
Cliff Swallow RUCCCFR
Barn Swallow FCCCCUR
Black-capped ChickadeeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Mountain ChickadeeFFFFFFFFFFFF
Chestnut-backed ChickadeeFFFFFFFFFFFF
BushtitUUUUUUUUUUUU
Red-breasted NuthatchCCCCCCCCCCCC
Brown CreeperFFFFFFFFFFFF
Rock Wren RRRR
Bewick's WrenCCCCCCCCCCCC
House Wren UUUU
Pacific WrenCCCCCCCCCCCC
Marsh WrenRRRUUUUUURRR
American DipperUUUUUUUUUUUU
Golden-crowned KingletCCCCCCCCCCCC
Ruby-crowned KingletCCCCFFFFFCCC
Western BluebirdRRUUUUUUURRR
Mountain Bluebird UFFFFFFUR
Townsend's Solitaire RFFFFFFRR
Swainson's Thrush FCCCU
Hermit ThrushRRRFCCCFURRR
American RobinFFFCCCCCCFFF
Varied ThrushCCCCCCCCCCCC
European StarlingCCCCCCCCCCCC
American Pipit UUFFFFFFFU
Cedar Waxwing FCCCCFU
Orange-crowned Warbler RFCCCCFR
Nashville Warbler UFFFFUR
Yellow Warbler RFCCFU
Yellow-rumped WarblerUUUCCCCCCFUU
Black-throated Gray Warbler UFFFFUR
Townsend's Warbler FCCCCFU
Hermit Warbler RFFFUU
MacGillivray's Warbler FFFFU
Common Yellowthroat CCCCCCF
Wilson's Warbler UCCCCU
Yellow-breasted Chat RRR
Western Tanager RCCCCFR
Spotted TowheeCCCCCCCCCCCC
Chipping Sparrow FFFFU
Savannah Sparrow UFFFFFFU
Fox SparrowCCCFFFFFFCCC
Song SparrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Lincoln's SparrowFFFFFFFFFFFF
White-throated SparrowRRRR RRR
White-crowned SparrowCCCCCCCCCCCC
Golden-crowned SparrowCCCCU UCCC
Dark-eyed JuncoCCCCCCCCCCCC
Black-headed Grosbeak UCCCFU
Lazuli Bunting FFFU
Red-winged BlackbirdCCCCCCCCCCCC
Western MeadowlarkRRUUUUUUUURR
Brewer's BlackbirdCCCCCCCCCCCC
Brown-headed CowbirdRRRUCCCCFURR
Bullock's Oriole RFFFU
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch UUUUUU
Pine GrosbeakRRRRRRRRRRRR
Purple FinchFFFFFFFFFFFF
Cassin's Finch UUUUUU
House FinchCCCCCCCCCCCC
Red CrossbillFFFFFFFFFFFF
White-winged CrossbillIII IIII
Pine SiskinCCCCCCCCCCCC
American GoldfinchRRUFCCCCFFUR
Evening GrosbeakFFFFFFFFFFFF
House SparrowCCCCCCCCCCCC

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