Monday, April 6, 2009

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, April 5, 2009


This was the second hike of the sunny weekend, this time we left snow behind and soaked up sun in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Though my boots were still damp from wet snow the day before, nothing could dampen the simple joy of sun, the non-stop piccolo of bird-song, the sights, sounds and scents of a winter world slowly awakening.

The parking lot was crowded. Lola and I figured it was not only the sun that lured so many visitors but also because parts of the 5-mile dike trail will soon close as the Nisqually NWR restores 762 acres of the estuary. The restoration will return the diked areas back to influences of the tides. The project will also restore over 30 acres of riparian surge plain forest (critical for juvenile salmon and songbirds); freshwater wetlands will also be enhanced. The wetlands will be managed intensively to control invasive plants – this will benefit wildlife and migratory birds. The project began in 2008 and work will occur over a 3-4 year period.

We walked the 5-1/2 mile loop for closer views of the estuary; perhaps stroll is a better word. We are not birders (we both have poor eyesight!) but we marveled the airy waltz of various flocks twisting and turning in the sky above, marveling at their synchronicity. We can however attest to plenty of Canada geese and mallards. The bird-song was constant and a delight; occasionally we’d recognize the poignant call of a red wing blackbird.

The remaining dikes are in places bordered by willows just leafing out in reddish or golden hues, Indian plum now at it’s best and in other places, ragged cattails lined the boardwalk. We stopped to sit on benches, allowing the sun to drench our winter-wan skin.

At various points along our walk we spotted turtles sunning themselves on logs in the channels; we spotted a river otter heading toward the sea but the otter was swimming too fast for a good photo. We also spotted a grumpy-looking raccoon perched in a tree, out of reach. He truly looked annoyed at the sight of so many people out and about!

As we headed back away from the estuary we stopped at several overlooks where skunk cabbage is blooming near the Nisqually River making the whole forest glow; we watched a robin hop on the bank of a tributary, almost hidden by skunk cabbage. Speaking of birds, this is a birder’s “hotspot”; many folks we met carried binoculars.

Visitors will find changes when they visit the Nisqually NWR but they are all to the good. For example, there will be a new boardwalk trail built upon the base of the old dike. The Visitor Center includes a bookstore – call for hours and schedule. Bicycles and pets are not allowed – jogging is prohibited. Cost: $3 per family – also accepted: Golden Eagle passes, Golden Age, Golden Access Passports or an Annual Refuge Pass.

Before heading back we visited the nearby Nisqually Reach Nature Center on 4949 D’Milluhr Road NE – it’s not easy to find (try Mapquest) if you haven’t been there before. There we found interesting displays and also a superb view of Mount Rainier. The center provides estuarine environmental education on the Nisqually River delta. The center overlooks Puget Sound at the mouth of McAllister Creek. They offer hands-on experience for school children, research opportunities for college students and more. For additional information see

Call the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at 360-753-9467 for additional information. For detailed information on the restoration project visit the website at .

Getting to the trailhead (Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge): From Seattle take I-5 south to Exit 114 and follow signs to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (south of Tacoma, north of Olympia).

For additional information on the Nisqually Reach Nature Center visit their website at . They are open to the public on Wednesday and weekends from 12 to 4 pm.


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