Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Nisqually River Delta forms one of the largest remaining estuaries in Washington. While most estuaries have been filled, dredged or developed, Nisqually River's has been set aside for wildlife, receiving official protection in 1974 as the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Here the freshwater of the Nisqually meets with the saltwater of the Puget Sound, supporting a web of sea life. In fact, the refuge hosts more than 200 bird species, from song birds to waterfowl to raptors. River otters, seals and sea lions are also common to see.

The refuge offers over 7 miles of trails to walk, including the 5.5 mile Brown Farm Dike Trail. This loop trail is a must!

I visited this refuge for the first time last weekend, having no idea what to expect. I had a strange emotional sense about it as it would offer completion for me; the final piece to the puzzle if you will. You see, I have hiked and backpacked along this river. In fact, I have stood on top of the 14,111' summit of its source on several occasions (even by the glacier of its name). Experiencing this river from its icy beginnings down to flower-filled alpine and sub-alpine meadows thru rich forests of old-growth and now to the end of its journey at the Nisqually Delta just seemed like one of life's special moments. To experience it in all its splendor is something I don't think a lot of people are privileged to do. That's unfortunate.

I would like to tell you how glorious the weather was on this day, with the warmth of the sun's rays being cast down upon me and reflected off the still waters nearby. Ah, but that wasn't to be. If you can imagine cloudy skies somewhere above the thickly entrenched fog and temperatures just above freezing, your imagination might paint a little more accurate picture for you!

The boardwalk leading out to the barns was quite iced up and dangerous to walk on. Each step was precarious. I exited first chance I got, retreating to solid ground and trusted footing. I visited the two eagles nested by the barn, then worked my way over to the Brown Farm Dike Trail. Now this was nice walking! It was also peaceful and offered more solitude than expected. It was along this section I watched a couple of Great Blue Herons across the water and laughed at a river otter who seemed to be trying to get my attention!

Just past the Nisqually Overlook, I ran into the fellow you see to the left. I have many more pictures of him. MANY more. He was only 30' above the trail and was oblivious to all walking under him. Ok, I saw three people walk under him...

I continued on to McAllister Creek where I met a group from the Audabon Society. They were quite tickled, having watched two Pine Grosbeaks shortly before my arrival. I was fortunate to see these beautiful birds as well; an uncommon visitor to these parts.

I wrapped up my visit with a venture to the visitor center to chat with some of the staff and pick up a new sweatshirt - hey, it was cold out!

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