Snoqualmie Valley (Carnation Farm Road)
The Snoqualmie River valley is soggy in the winter, resulting in ideal habitat for wintering or migrating waterfowl. In recent years a huge flock of geese has wintered in the valley; Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are regular.
Contributed by John Tubbs
Various places in this area have the typical Northwest berry and brush patches bordering the road. Wintering flocks of sparrows like and use these areas. White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song, and Lincoln's Sparrows are all found regularly. If you look hard and are lucky, you may find a rare sparrow mixed in: Harris's, White-throated, and Swamp have all been found in the valley.
How to bird it: From Carnation, drive north on Highway 203 and turn west onto the bucolic Carnation Farm Road. After crossing the Snoqualmie River, turn right into a parking area for the Chinook Bend Natural Area. Ducks love the marshy pond here; herons and grebes are possible.
Drive on and, at the top of a slight hill, stop on the right at a gravel pulloff overlooking the Carnation Farm. This is an excellent vantage point to check out where the geese are feeding. Recent flocks have included Canada Geese, several subspecies of Cackling Geese, a few Greater White-fronted Geese, and one year an apparently confused Snow Goose. Also scan the tops of the trees along the river: Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and various hawk species have been seen from this location.
Proceed, pulling off the road (where you can do so safely) to scan the hayfields and to look overhead for geese and hawks. After passing through Camp Korey, turn right on 284th Avenue NE. Stop just past the Sikes Lake bridge and look for ducks, grebes, and geese. Then backtrack to Carnation Farm Road (it becomes Ames Lake-Carnation Road NE) and turn right onto NE 80th Street, where several years ago a rare wintering Harris's Sparrow spent the whole season in the brush and berry patches. Or, instead of backtracking, you can continue on 284th past a horse ranch and follow the road as it curves to become NE 100th Street and joins West Snoqualmie Road near a large, red barn.
If you're lucky: You may spot Redhead among the ducks and, mixed with a flock of American Wigeon, an occasional Eurasian. If you look hard at the sparrows in brushy patches, you may pick out a rarity such as White-throated or Swamp. Rough-legged Hawk has been regular and Northern Harrier often seen. Raptors like the fertile valley: Peregrine Falcon and Merlin are not uncommon, and an American Kestrel pair seems to be in residence. Barn Owls regularly hunt the valley floor at nighttime hours.
Practicalities: Carnation Farm Road can be busy: Pull off safely and park legally. Boots or mudder shoes are highly recommended. Restrooms are available at Tolt-McDonald Park in Carnation and at the main parking area for Chinook Bend Natural Area.
Photo: Hopelessly confused Snow Goose amid the Canadas in Snoqualmie Valley by John Tubbs
Master birder John Tubbs is a landscape and bird artist (www.jtubbs.com), photographer (www.tubbsphoto.com), and bluegrass/acoustic roots musician (www.downtheroadband.com). He lives in Snoqualmie and leads field trips for Eastside Audubon.