Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 03/21/09

Nicole and I rolled out of bed Saturday morning and drove down near Olympia to visit Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (hereafter, NNWR). I hesitate to call this a hike, as we passed several baby strollers along the 5.5 miles that make up the large loop of the main trail, but at the very least it was a nice long walk. We arrived around 10:45, after about an hour on I-5, dropped $3 in the registration receptacle, and headed off counter-clockwise on the Brown Farm Dike Trail.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

The first quarter-mile is somewhat slick boardwalk that comprises a portion of a smaller 1-mile loop. Almost immediately, there are bird sounds around you. Plenty of geese, cranes at the side of the trail, etc. The weather was cool, but comfortable, and the sky was lined with low clouds.

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Unfortunately, ever since the ill-fated Fourth of July Pass hike last summer, I’ve been without a telephoto lens of any sort, so for this whole hike, I walked around with an old 35mm manual focus lens on my D40. Not exactly the best lens for wildlife photography. To make matters worse, I saw several photographers hauling around 70-200mm and even 300 or 400mm lenses. Envy! I selected a hike that rubbed salt in an open wound, but early on, we decided we’d be coming back in the future, with a new lens in hand.

Along the Twin Barns Loop.

Along the Twin Barns Loop.

Not ten minutes down the trail, there’s a fork in the boardwalk to the left that takes one over to the Twin Barns, and back to the Visitor Center, should one want to take a shorter walk. It was at this fork that we saw several photographers shooting up into the trees at lumps we eventually determined were owls. Two or three, in fact. This was exciting, but we couldn’t really make much out. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, I highly recommend bringing binoculars. In fact, I thought that they could be rented or borrowed from the Visitor Center, but I’m not certain of it. In any case, we craned our neck (pun intended) for a while and then walked down to the Twin Barns before deciding to head back to the main trail and continue on.

Nicole on the raised trail North along the Nisqually.

Nicole on the raised trail North along the Nisqually.

We walked along at a slow pace, stopping for photos, looking into trees or out into the marshes and ponds. The trail comes alongside the Nisqually River briefly, and there’s a destroyed building with a view of I-5 in the distance. The refuge is right off the freeway, and very near a railroad, so from time to time the sounds intrude on your meditations. The birds don’t seem to mind.

No telephoto = all landscapes, no wildlife.

No telephoto = all landscapes, no wildlife.

After ~two miles, the trail turns away from the Nisqually River and the larger trees of the NNWR. At this point, Puget Sound is to your right and many ponds and a lot of marshland is to your left. It has a different feel than the first portion of the trail. There were often big birds in the distance that we wished we could identify–hawks or eagles, perhaps. And a weasel bounded across the trail in front of us and down into the water where it swam into the brush and out of sight. Benches are placed along the trail every so often, and we stopped and sat down on one three or four miles in, along the western waterway of the refuge: McAllister Creek.

The view out to Puget Sound.

The view out to Puget Sound.

By 13:30 we were back in our car, eating cheese sandwiches, yogurt, and fruit. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a great way to spend several hours walking, observing wildlife, and conversing with family or friends. An hour there, an hour back, and ~2:30 on the trail at a very leisurely pace. ~6 miles including small spurs and backtracking. 0’ elevation gain. Only the geese let me get close enough for a decent photograph, and geese are both common and mean.

Cattails.

Cattails.

It was a good day-trip, and we mean to go back. As always, a few more photos at Flickr.

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One Response to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 03/21/09

  1. Pingback: The Year in Review, 2009 Edition « Don’t Look Down

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