The last weekend of January found me in the frosty Pacific Northwest, meeting some long over due work and family obligations. This is not to say that there wasn’t a little birding time snuck in here and there. I did manage to spend a chilly Saturday morning at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. This wonderful piece of birding real estate can be found 8 miles east of Olympia, and an hour’s drive south of Seattle Washington, right along the I-5 corridor.

Unfortunately, while I was still living in the Seattle area, I had discovered the Nisqually Refuge to late, just weeks prior to setting sail south. This was my first opportunity to return again, despite the bitter cold that I was certainly not used to. After leaving the sunny weather of Mexico, setting out for a short hike with morning temperature of 28 degrees was a shock to my system, to say the least. The cold was quickly forgotten once I was away from the car, and started seeing the number of birds all around me.

Established in 1974 to protect the delta, which is formed where the fresh water of the Nisqually River meets to nutrient rich, tidal salt water of the Puget Sound. Nearly 800 acres of wetlands and tidal flats provide diverse habitat for the local birds, as well as large numbers of migratory species, including thousands of ducks and geese. The refuge features several sets of trails, consisting of boardwalks above the standing water areas, and gravel trails on top of the dike system that help control the spring flood waters. Several observation platforms and rest areas are set aside with benches and information plaques. There is a minimal entry fee, $3.00 which covers a total of four adults, and a beautiful visitors center which is open from 7:30 until 4:00, every day except Sunday.

We ran out of time before I could make it out to the tidal flats, but I am told that there are some very impressive numbers of Dunlin and other shorebirds.

The well maintained boardwalks allow virtually anybody to have access to the refuge.


The views of the Olympic Mountain range makes for a scenic walk throughout the entire facility. Sit, relax and enjoy the surrounding areas full of birds and wonderful bird sounds.


The first part of the trail lops around the fresh water ponds, where I found Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, as well as grebes and several different puddle ducks.




I was really hoping to find at least one Bittern, as this was the only place I had ever seen them up to this point, but no such luck. The Great Blue Herons did put on a very nice show for me though.


Out on the flooded fields, there were large concentrations of Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwalls, American Wigeon, and much to my surprise, a few Green-winged Teal were still around.


Birds of prey took center stage out on the edge of the tidal flats. At one point, standing in the middle of one of the first dikes, I was able to spot 17 Bald Eagles, a Peregrine Falcon, two American Kestrels, and  Northern Harrier.

In the dense brush around the waters edge, I found both Black-capped Chickadee and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.


There were Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, American Robins, and of course the ever popular Yellow-rumped Warbler.


I can not tell you how excited I was to see, and photograph a Brown Creeper! Thru the years I have seen several, but they never have allowed me to get a couple of pictures.

I felt bad for this poor little Anna’s Hummingbird. I know how cold I was, so it had to be just freezing!



I had a nice visit with the local biologist, who gave me a heads up on where to find some owls, but try as I might, I never was able to locate them. All I found were several Red-breasted Sapsuckers high up in the trees.. I did however, make every possible effort to turn this bit of moss and leaves in to an owl, but not much luck there either.


It is a very rare occasion that I am found on the other end of the camera lens, but my lovely wife got this shot of me down on the board walk! Dang it was cold, I gotta get back to Mexico!



Written by Tom Brown
Tom Brown grew up in the high desert area of central Oregon. His love for birds and photography started at a young age. Thru the course of time, travel, and a lot of different occupations, he ended up living in Seattle, and met a girl with a sailboat. When he is not scouring whatever area they are in, looking for the next great bird photo, he can be found trying to earn enough money for the next adventure, and of course, a new lens or camera body! Having been nick-named “The Bird Nerd” by his last remaining friends and family, Tom continues search for that next lifer, and the accompanying photo that goes with it. Find his continuing adventures, photographs, and guiding opportunities at Focus on Feathers.