This watch site in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is where to see northwestern specialties like Black Merlin and Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk.
By Jerry Liguori | Published: 8/18/2015
Chelan Ridge is one of my favorite places to watch hawks. The mountainous vista combined with close-up views of passing birds makes it a special place. The chance to see northwestern specialties, such as the Black Merlin, dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, and Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, separates the ridge from other hawk-watching sites.
During my last visit, I was rewarded with a picture-perfect view of a Black Merlin as it made several passes at a plastic owl decoy. My target bird at the ridge is Harlan’s Red-tail. The Harlan’s race is widespread and easily seen in winter in much of the West, but it’s more difficult to see on migration, so spotting it is an exciting treat.
HawkWatch International and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest count about 1,400 migrants of up to 17 species each year from late August to late October, weather depending. Raptor banding also takes place, and HawkWatch has outfitted Red-tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles at the site with satellite transmitters to provide information about migration patterns and wintering grounds. The forest along Black Canyon Rd. that leads to the lookout offers great birding; watch for grouse, Varied Thrush, Northern Goshawk, and other woodland species. — Jerry Liguori
Jerry Liguori is an educator for HawkWatch International and the author or co-author of three books about raptors. He also wrote about Yaki and Lipan Points in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 196.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Evergreen forest, mountains, and grassy, brushy hillsides.
Relatively flat along the ridge. Trail from parking lot to hawk watch is a moderate grade but not wheelchair-accessible.
17 raptor species, including Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Osprey, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Swainson’s, and Broad-winged Hawks, Northern Harrier, and American Kestrel. Pine Siskin, Oregon Dark-eyed Junco, sapsuckers and woodpeckers, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, warblers, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting. Accidental: Red-shouldered and Ferruginous Hawks, American Pipit, Long-tailed Jaeger, Northern Hawk Owl.
When to go
Autumn. Best from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Accipiters may fly at first light, and falcons, Northern Harrier, and Osprey can be seen near dusk.
Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival held in Pateros each year in mid-September; this year it’s on September 12. Tally board for hawk count at parking lot. HawkWatch International educator on site daily from August 23 to mid-October. Portable toilet in parking lot.
National forest. No fees. Open to the public. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is best, but cars and vans OK. Camping near parking lot. Hike to the hawk watch takes about 20 minutes.
Bring sunscreen, water, food, binoculars (spotting scope not necessary), camera, and visor or baseball hat. Winter hat, gloves, and jacket may be necessary in October.
For more info
About two hours north of Chelan Ridge along Hart’s Pass. The highest place in Washington accessible by car. Peak offers topside views of birds that fly below eye-level.
Lake Chelan and Columbia River
South of Chelan Ridge off Hwy. 97. Nesting Osprey, and lots of open areas for shoreline birding.