The Snoqualmie Valley Trail has Many Hotspots for Birders
By Andy McCormick
The Snoqualmie Valley Regional Trail occupies a 29-mile strip of land that stretches from Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend to McCormick Park in Duvall. It was once owned and operated as a rail line by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, often called the “Milwaukee Road,” until it was acquired by King County in the 1980s. It has been designated as a National Recreation Trail and is part of a national project to convert unused railroad tracks into trails spawned by the “Rails to Trails” movement. The trail is used by walkers, cyclists, horseback riders, and birders. You can learn more about the history of the trail at the NRT Database.
The trail begins where the John Wayne Pioneer Trails ends at the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area in North Bend. Birders can take a lakeside trail to observe waterfowl, Bald Eagle, and Osprey, and Warbling Vireo and Rufous Hummingbird can be found along the lakeshore. The trail to the Rattlesnake Ledge takes time and can be difficult to bird, but Canada Jays and other forest birds have been reported at the higher elevation. There is quite a productive trail from the parking area to Christmas Lake where Pacific-slope and Olive-sided Flycatchers, Pacific Wren, and MacGillivray’s Warblers can be seen. Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers frequent the snags along the trail and at Christmas Lake.
From Rattlesnake Lake the rail runs through North Bend to the Reinig Road bridge, which is close to the Three Forks Park, formerly the Three Forks Natural Area, named for its proximity to the confluence of the three forks of the Snoqualmie River above Snoqualmie Falls. There are two locations within Three Forks Park. The west entrance is opposite Centennial Park in Snoqualmie where the dog park is located. Birders can pass through the dog park and cross the trail to walk along the river. Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Spotted Sandpiper are regular in summer, and several years ago an Indigo Bunting nested here. Common and Hooded Mergansers are often in the ponds. The east entrance to the park is at the intersection of SE Reinig Road and 428 Ave SE where Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Common Merganser, Swainson’s Thrush, and Western Tanager can be found.
As the trail passes Snoqualmie Falls it approaches Tokul Creek. Off the trail toward the river a small park at the beginning of Fish Hatchery Road has consistently been a good location to find American Dipper. There is a break in the trail here, but access farther on can be gained by following Fish Hatchery Road into Fall City. Be sure to bird the wetlands and look for Common Yellowthroat and Northern Rough-winged Swallow a bit farther up the road.
North of Fall City the trail parallels Fall City Road to Carnation and Tolt-MacDonald Park, officially named Tolt River-John MacDonald Park. The suspension bridge is an excellent spot to find Cliff Swallows, and dippers nest under the bridge a quarter of a mile upstream. A walk through the park will produce woodland birds and in spring migrating Wilson’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock’s Oriole, and a variety of sparrows can be seen in the shrubbery in fall.
The trail continues northward through Carnation to the Stillwater Unit of the Snoqualmie Wildlife Area. This is a very good location for American Bittern, Hairy Woodpecker, a variety of swallows including Purple Martin, flycatchers in spring and summer, and a nesting pair of American Redstarts deep in the woods by the river. You will need high boots and patience to locate the redstart.
The final stop on the trail is McCormick Park (no relation to the author) in Duvall. Access to the river is nearby and a walk on this section of the trail in fall and winter will turn up a variety of ducks, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Song, and Savannah Sparrows and Spotted Towhees. Migrating Black-throated Gray, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers can be found in spring. Other birds of riparian habitat are resident year-round.
Check the map of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail at Savor Snoqualmie Valley and take an opportunity to get out and explore the birds of the Snoqualmie River valley.