Last weekend, during a lite rain in Seattle, Susan and I decided to drive south to one of my favorite places in all of Washington, The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Founded in 1974 as a refuge to protect the delta and the animals and plants that make it home, the Nisqually Refuge is part of the Nisqually River Delta. In the Delta, the freshwater of the Nisqually River mixes with the saltwater of the Puget Sound. Because of this, a rich diversity of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians can be found here and if you visit, you will see them!
Susan and I have been before, a couple times if memory serves. Each time we have seen Bald Eagles, hawks, falcons, cranes and a wide assortment of birds including ducks, Northern Shrikes, Kinglets, Warblers, Sparrows, Dunlins and Thrushes.
As you can imagine, it’s a good idea to bring binoculars. If you give to your ID to one of the staff inside the Visitor Center, they will loan you a pair of binoculars to use. It makes the experience much better.
The Visitor Center also has a store and a museum filled with information on the delta and the animals that live there, literally, hanging on the walls.
After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we continued out to the main path that heads past the wetlands and then down past some beautiful old barns towards one of the main dikes that separate two of the larger wetlands. We walked the distance of the dike which concludes at an elevated boardwalk that then extends way out over the water. From any point of this walk you have a 360 degree view of the area. The boardwalk allows you to walk above the water and view bird and fish life.
Different seasons bring different animals to the area and major changes to both plant life and bird life, especially those birds and fish who migrate into the delta once a year. A great example of this is the month of March, when Bald Eagles come to nest and the salmonberry and Indian-plum start to flower and provide nectar to the returning Rufus Hummingbird. Fall months bring the endangered Peregrine Falcon to the delta, whereas if you visit during the month of December, you can see between four to six thousand wintering geese. In January, chum salmon will begin to enter the Nisqually River. So, essentially, regardless of when you visit, you will have plenty to see and in fact, you should visit throughout the year to experience all the delta has to offer.
Susan and I walked the entire loop and ended up taking the interior boardwalk back towards the visitor center. On our walk back we encountered an American Bittern, which is similar to a crane but far more rare, which had skewered and was attempting to swallow a Northern Red-legged Frog.
Though it took many attempts to get the frog (that was alive and not wanting to be swallowed whole) down his long neck, it eventually happened. Though was amazing to see nature in action, it was also a reminder of how raw nature can be.
The walk from the Visitor Center to the end of the boardwalk and back is easily two miles. So, beyond affording you an opportunity to be outdoors, taking in a wide assortment of animals, it’s great exercise. Afterwards, you can drive into Olympia for lunch!
Important Travel Notes:
Directions To The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge: From Seattle, drive south on I-5 and take exit 114 to Brown Farm Rd NE. Follow signs to the parking lot.
Required Credentials: Daily fee is $3.00 per four adults. An Interagency Annual Pass (old Golden Eagle), Senior Pass (old Golden Age), or Access Passport, Federal Duck Stamp, or an Annual Refuge Pass will admit the pass holder and 3 additional adults (over age 16). Children 16 and under enter free. Each of these passes is available for purchase at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Administration Office and Visitor Center. All proceeds from entrance fees and passes go back into Nisqually NWR programs.