Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge

Tree swallow, Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge

If you are looking to travel a little farther out, Toppenish is a great destination, especially is you are search for American Avocets and Black-neck Stilts. These are really strange looking birds that are often found together. The Avocets have bills that curve up and, except for Flamingos, the Stilts have the longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any other bird. Whenever we have gone there the trail has been muddy and sometimes flooded. So a good pair of marsh boots is useful.


In my video you can see some of the birds I found there and especially the Yellow-headed Blackbird. This bird comes up from Mexico for the summer. Some people think it is one of the worse sounding birds around. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it as a “a screeching buzz, rather like a heavy door swinging on a very rusty metal hinge” It is definitely nothing like a Meadowlark, but I think the criticism is a bit harsh and when you get enough of them together the sound is amazing.


If you are heading there from just about anywhere, keep in mind that there is going to be a lot of interesting birds along the way, such as Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-billed Magpie, Western Meadowlarks, Sage Sparrows, and if you’re lucky, Chukar and the Greater Sage-Grouse (haven’t seen any yet). Click here for a more complete bird list.

Okay, getting there is a bit harder to explain. First, there is a place called “Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge” that shows up on maps between I-82 and HWY 22. This is a great place and easy to find. But the place we have been visiting is a place that hasn’t yet shown up on the maps. Toppenish is a “mosaic of refuge wetlands” and not all of it appears in green on a map. The place we have been going to is open to the public, has a trail, and even a very nicely constructed wildlife viewing building. We found it while looking at exact locations for specific bird sitings using ebird.

Here’s how to get there: From Seattle, take I-90 east to Ellensburg, then head south in I-82 past Yakima to Exit 50. Turn South on HWY 22, the Evergreen HWY, and drive through the city of Toppenish. Stay on the Evergreen HWY which becomes HWY 97. This will take you to the Pumphouse Road Exit. This exit is just before the road starts heading up a hill. While you’re there it is worth driving down Pumphouse Road to a place called Mud Lake. Along the way, you’ll likely find Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Bullock’s Orioles, Black-necked Stilts, and more.








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