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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Long Walk on a Long Pier

I grabbed the advantage of a rain free day to visit the new pier at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, near Olympia. The walkway has been open only a few weeks and based on the number of cars in the parking lot, many had the same idea.

This NWR is at the mouth of the Nisqually River, which my blog followers will know from my many volunteer work parties with the Land Trust. The NWR is actually bound by two flowing waters, the Nisqually on the east and McAllister Creek on the west. On its north face, the foot of Puget Sound.

Ten years ago, February 28, 2001, a 32 mile deep, 6.8 earthquake had its epicenter right across from the mouth of these rivers. Damage to the ring dike, created long ago to drain the intertidal marsh for farm land, allowed salt water to return to the former intertidal marsh. The rest of the dikes were breached on all sides, up to the Twin Barns. This was the beginning of returning the artificial fresh water ponds to the true intertidal estuary so vital to the ecology of the rivers. It is here that young salmon make their transition to salt water life and adults transition to the upriver spawning habitat. Unique life forms will inhabit these areas creating better food ecology for the plants and animals.

Now a boardwalk pier takes you out over the intertidal area allowing you to get close to the different habitats like never before. It is 2.8 miles from parking lot to the end of the pier. Today the tide was well out when I arrived. The wind was pretty brisk, something I was not fully prepared for. Everyone seemed in a happy mood, finding rain free skies and plenty of new things to see.

This is a bird watching Mecca and almost everyone had binoculars or cameras, or both. It is always easy to find something interesting, just watch for this sign.

The object of their interest was a young great Blue Heron. The bird was "hunting and striking" and appeared to be only getting grass reeds.
Birds are pairing up and there are many courtship and territory displays to watch.

This Robin has partial albinism. Many patches of white make him easily identifiable. His condition might be the result of illness or genetics. It will be interesting so see, if he nests, if there with be more splotched birds here.

The pier is beautiful with many places to stop undercover and scope. Soon there will be benches to encourage folks to sit and observe and to give rest to the weary. The whole complex is wheelchair or scooter friendly. There is a photography and viewing blind ideally situated to allow views up McAllister Creek. Bald Eagles nest along this creek and today it was possible to see both adults flying along the ridge and to their nest.
There are several outflows to McAllister Creek where the water that gets impounded from high tide is cutting drainage tracks. I noted today that many ducks and and gulls were attracted to this area where the water was rushing. The Bufflehead ducks were diving and feeding very vigorously.

Looking back, Twin Barns really let you know how far out you were.

Over time this intertidal area should develop a new plant system. Today you could see holes in the mud that represent clam or worm burrows. Mud is everywhere and the smell is that particular scent of saltwater beach at low tide. I love it!

The clouds rolled in as I walked and I was so pleased that I was able to get a few shots of the Olympics before they lost their sparkle.

This Great Blue Heron is in beautiful breeding plumage. The long wispy filoplumes shows you which way the wind was blowing.

Gold Crown Sparrows and Song Sparrows were actively feeding in the edges. These edges were filled with vegetation and reeds. They must have been filled with bugs and seeds.

Returning to the parking lot the trail takes you through a river forest. It is in these trees and shrubs I developed many of my early bird watching skills. It is here I saw my first Yellow Warbler and learned the spring song of Gold-crowned Kinglet. Today a Song Sparrow gave me a great photo-op. It was finding many tasty things in the moss and lichen.

I was thrilled to see Tree Swallows have returned. This complex will host all of our regional swallows by the end of Spring.

Finally, here is my new traveling companion, Pearly Mae. She is nimble and raring to go.


  1. It is so good to hear when habitat is restored, whether intended or not. We did a prairie burn today - one more bit of land reverting back to normal conditions. :)

  2. Ellen that sounds interesting. I look forward to finding out more when I see you later in the season.

  3. This is where we had planned to go last Saturday but the weather was so bad my normal companions bailed on me! :) It's on for next weekend now. Glad to see so many birds! I can't wait!

  4. It is always like 'watching ' a documentary when I follow your posts. This was very interesting and full of good facts about this area. And the photos, great shots. The mountains look magnificent!

  5. Pearly Mae is beautiful. And, as always, your walk was wonderful, full of beautiful views and creatures. I particularly liked your last picture of the song sparrow. It really shows the character of the bird.

  6. Is that a new car? Very cool. And this place seems to be a birdwatcher's paradise. Thanks for confirming my ID of that little black-headed bird. I may become a bird watcher yet.--Inger