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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue Day

Saturday morning I awoke very late to the roar of a wind storm. I knew that winds were due but they usually stay further east in the foothills. It sounded like a small jet passing back and forth outside.

I had decided to pay a visit to Olympia this day. My journey would be a two-fer. Visit Nisqually NWR if the weather was remotely humane and then stop at the excellent Olympia Farmers Market.

Knowing full well that weather here is never the same across the state, let alone across the street, I set off for Olympia, about 60 miles south. I was happy to see all sorts of cloud formations overhead, none of which said "rain " to me.

I arrived at Nisqually to a mixed sky. This refuge at the foot of Puget Sound is the delta of the Nisqually River. I have told you a lot about the lands upriver of this place, but I do not pay enough visits to the NWR. I wrote about my last visit in February 2010. Over the last several years this refuge has undergone a change. It has been long desired to return the delta to its natural state. The land had been diked off and made into farm land in the late 1800's. The Nisqually earthquake of 2001 collapsed one of the dikes and in 2008 the rest of the job was done. This precious land is rapidly returning to the salt water tidal marsh that nature intended.

When I lived further south than I do now, this refuge was one of the places I honed my birdwatching skills. Back then the loop trail was well over 6 miles. Now the hike out and back is only about 3 miles.

In winter it is a bleak and quiet place. The woodlands are leaf free and the migrant bird population long gone. The boardwalk in the riparian woods was slippery with greenstuf and there were little pebbles and sand everywhere. Clearly the recent rains and runoff had flooded the area. I had a sneaky quiet encounter of my first Great Blue Heron of the day. It made a pretty picture for me.

The original Brown Dike Ring Trail ends abruptly where it has been breached right at the edge of the Nisqually river. From here you can look down river. Today there was a Sea Lion noisily searching for salmon. It would come up for air and POOOFTH its breath out and quickly dive. If you missed seeing its head, you could have convinced yourself you were in the presence of a tiny whale. I never saw the Sea Lion eating a fish, so pickings might have been slim. A little Harbor Seal also politely worked the area seeking any swimming thing it could find.

Along with plenty of Great Blue Herons there are Bald Eagles galore. Full adults are easy to spot with their bold white heads and tails. Here there were many young birds at varied stages of plumage maturation. It was exciting to spot a bird that was just coming into its Four year, adult feathers. It was still a little blotchy. Most likely this year it will not nest but next year it will start Winter by courting and fighting for a nesting territory. Here at Nisqually there are several nesting eagles along the river valley

I spotted a heron frozen in the grass along the path ahead of me. I waited and was rewarded with seeing the bird capture a small rodent in the grass. The hapless critter was struggling as the heron walked to the waters edge and gave it a quick swish in the water and down the hatch it went

still wriggling.

Seems pretty risky to me and I have heard of birds being killed by a well placed bite or scratch in the crop. Here the bird is, post swallow with a rather bunchy neck.

It was wonderful simply being out. Even though there were a few sprinkles they were quickly followed by a wonderful sky of broken clouds. Sunlight came and went making photography and binocular work a challenge.

The Cross Dike trail is a great vantage point to seeing the duck ponds. Eagles like to fly over the ponds hoping to pinpoint a sick or injured bird. Sometimes you might spot a mink or river otter. Eagles and gulls fought over a dead fish. I noticed in the distance a structure I had not seen the last time I was here. A viewing platform and leading from it a long meandering boardwalk all the way out to the mouth of the river.

I read last night that this is a new feature. We will now have the ability to walk out into the tidal marsh and see it during high and low tide. What an exciting prospect. It holds great potential for wonderful views of the Sound and possibly Mt Rainier.

You can see a video about the project here.


This was the sky as I was leaving the NWR. There had been every flavor of sky this morning, none of it particularly rainy and even better out here on the flats, it was not windy. Around here, in Winter, such an event deserves a photographic record.

In time for lunch I paid a visit to the Olympia Farmers Market. This is the second largest Farmers Market in the state and they have a wonderful covered building for their main market.

A lot of local food producers including several vendors providing organic beef, pork and poultry. Cheeses, spices and herbs, vegetables and wonderful , wonderful apples. Many of the apples are types you are not going to see at your local store. I bought Mutsu apples to make a cake for work.

I really wanted to buy the oysters, bu know I have zero skill in getting them open. The Olympia Oyster has become so rare. They are no bigger than a 50 cent piece.

Several secondary buildings house vendors who provide yummy food for lunch. I could not resist a Polish sausage with onions and sauerkraut. It was just the thing since the weather had taken a sharp turn and you could feel the temperature falling just waiting in line. I used it as a hand warmer while I scurried back to the car before the long drive home.


  1. You were very lucky. There is something very special in being in a place like that by yourself. You have time to notice the small things, and to just stand and watch for a while. The beauty of not perfect days shines in this entry.

    Now, I have polish sausage, and I have onions. No sauerkraut but it still sounds like a wonderful lunch to me.

  2. First thank you for your research on my clouds a while back. Then, I refuse to believe that there is something you can't do. Open oysters, I'm sure you can do that. Finally, thank you for this wonderful nature walk and the fabulous pictures. Your blog posts are such treasures to me and something I always look forward to reading.--Inger

  3. Great shot of the geese on the dike, Marti. Those little oysters look pretty good, too.