Featured eBird Northwest Hotspot: Slavin Ranch (Spokane, Washington)

By John Alexander April 23, 2015
Slavin Conservation Area

Slavin Conservation Area

This is the first posting in what will be a continuing series that focuses on eBird Northwest Hotspots. We intend to feature several hotspots a year, with a focus on lesser-known areas that promise great birding.

The James T. Slavin Conservation Area, aka “Slavin Ranch,” is a 628-acre Spokane County Conservation Futures property and arguably the finest eBird Northwest Hotpot within 20 minutes of downtown Spokane. Publicly acquired in 2004, Spokane County undertook a Wetland Restoration Program through the National Resource Conservation Service to restore the property’s historic wetlands. Those efforts brought birds and more: the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has designated Slavin Ranch as an elk calving area and moose are often seen here along the trail or in the wetlands.

There are currently 182 species in eBird checklists for the Slavin Ranch Hotspot — click here to view the hotspot checklist. It has the potential to be among the handful of Eastern Washington Hotspots boasting 200+ species. 211 eBird checklists have been posted (as of April 23) representing birding trips from all seasons of the year. While temporal coverage of this hotspot is quite good, illustrating the power of eBird, some enterprising birder needs to fill in the one missing week in late June.

Slavin Ranch is a fantastic hotspot in migration as well as during the breeding season and has become a magnet for local and regional rarities including Ross’s Goose, Ruddy Turnstone, Bonaparte’s Gull, Least Flycatcher, Tennessee Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, and Common Redpoll. Spring migration brings up to 1,000 waterfowl, including five goose species and other notables like Eurasian Wigeon in addition to all of the expected Eastern Washington migrant waterfowl.

Slavin Ranch hosts one of the largest diversities of breeding waterfowl in Eastern Washington with approximately a dozen nesting species including periodically large numbers of Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal. This is also one of the best places in the region to view Black Terns and Bank Swallows, which come in huge numbers to feed from their breeding areas in nearby Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and Latah Creek, respectively. On good days in May, up to 5,000 swallows of all six species and up to 50 Black Terns create a brilliant spectacle.

While Slavin Ranch is not a classic migrant trap it is still an excellent place to bird during fall migration. Search the Ponderosa pines, aspen stands and especially mulberry bushes along the trails for mixed passerine flocks, which can include all of the typical Eastern Washington flycatcher, vireo, and warbler species. During dry years in late summer a good portion of the permanent lake forms shorebird-attracting mudflats: 22 species have been observed, including Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderling, Stilt Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher. Slavin is an especially good spot for lingering shorebirds in October and November, long after shorebird migration has shut down elsewhere in Eastern Washington.

To get there take US-195 South from Spokane 9.4 miles and exit right onto Washington Road. Follow Washington Road for about one mile to a “T” intersection with Keeney Road. The parking area is located across and just right of the intersection. Click here to see a Google Map of Slavin Ranch.

Slavin has a 3.3-mile trail loop circling the main lake and wetlands with spur trails adding another mile or so to the Eastern portion of the property. The main trail forms multiple spurs through mixed grass prairie and woodland all of which re-converge at the lake overlook about ¾ of a mile from the parking area. Full coverage of the area can take up to a half day, or the main wetland and lake can be covered in 60 to 90 minutes. Click here to check out other parks and conservation lands in the area — Spokane County Parks and Trails Map.

Article by Jon Isacoff