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Hotspots Near You

8. Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle, Washington

View warblers, sandpipers, wigeons, and other birds on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

Metamorphosis is change of form. This location in Seattle is a prime example: from deep lake water to immense cattail marsh, to garbage dump, and, finally, to seeding and restoration.

Over cattail marsh and lake waters, 14,410-foot Mount Rainier is the backdrop while I check out waterfowl, grebes, a passing Bald Eagle, and, at the right time, thousands of crows returning to their night roost across the lake.

If I make a quarter-turn, I can look over a prairie-type landscape with Killdeer, a variety of nesting birds in the spring and summer, geese, ducks, herons, raptors, and pheasants. After another quarter-turn I face a wooded area where warblers arrive in the spring, and where native Washington chickadees, nuthatches, Steller’s Jays, and other birds spend the year. Turn again and I see ponds, native plants, a hunting Northern Harrier, and in the background, Husky Stadium of the University of Washington, where Barn Owls once nested.

I love the wonderful diversity of plants and wildlife plus the wide walking trails. Here in the midst of a large, bustling city is a 55-acre oasis, an outstanding escape for me. It’s a true urban wonderland. — Diann MacRae

Diann MacRae is editor of the Washington Ornithological Society newsletter and coordinator of the Olympic Vulture Study. She also wrote about Discovery Park in Seattle, Washington, Hotspot Near You No. 58.


8. Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle, Washington


Union Bay Natural Area sits on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, on the western edge of Lake Washington. From I-5, exit at N.E. 45th St. and drive east about a mile. Pass the University Village shopping area. Then turn right on Mary Gates Memorial Dr., right on Clark Rd., and left on Douglas Rd. to Parking Lot E-5.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates to view location: 47°39’17.99N 122°17’35.52W

Union Bay Natural Area
University of Washington Botanic Gardens
Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195-4115
(206) 543-8616


Lake, ponds, woodland, shrub/grassland, wetlands, managed wildlife area, and trails.


Flat. Gravel paths are wide but not good for wheelchairs. No roads lead into area.


Nearly 200 species. Common: Cackling Goose, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, both wigeons, Long- and Short-billed Dowitchers, and Least and Western Sandpipers. Peregrine Falcon, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Stilt, Semipalmated, Pectoral, Baird’s, and Solitary Sandpipers also seen. Rarities include Cattle Egret, Black-headed Gull, Black Tern, Barn Owl, Sage Thrasher, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Chestnut-collared and Lapland Longspurs.

When to go

All year, but stay away Saturdays in fall when the Huskies play football.


Adjacent Center for Urban Horticulture has excellent library, restrooms, parking, and classrooms, and restaurants, lodging, and stores are within walking distance.


Part of the University of Washington. No permits, hours of closure, or fees. Park on street, at the Center for Urban Horticulture, or either in lot E-1 (fee $5/day, payable in five $1 bills, one $5 bill, or 20 quarters) or in E-5 (fee $2.50). UW Parking Services, (206) 685-1543. UW Visitors Information Center, (206) 543-9198.


Wear a windbreaker in summer and a parka, hat, and gloves from fall to spring. A scope will help you see water birds on Union Bay.

For more info

Seattle Audubon Society
(206) 523-4483
Washington Ornithological Society
WOS BirdBox, (206) 281-9172.

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