The end of this rather long road trip finds us here in Puyallup, Washington which is just south of Seattle. It seems like the farther the north we go, the colder, and wetter, and a whole lot snowier it gets! We pulled into the RV park next to the Washington State Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, and it promptly started snowing! Given the number of countries we will be visiting in the next few months, there are still quite a few logistics that need to be attended to before we can just jump on an airplane, so snow covered roads will not be helpful. Despite all this red tape stuff, I am still making some time for birding. This location is great as it is close to Jeanne’s Family, as well as a very short drive to the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually NWR. This refuge came up as #4 on a recent list of the top 25 National Wildlife Refuges that were featured in a great story here by 10000 Birds own Jason Crotty. While most major estuaries in Washington state have been filled, dredged, or developed, Nisqually River’s has been set aside for wildlife. In 1974, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the delta and its diversity of fish and wildlife habitats. The Nisqually estuary was restored in 2009 by removing dikes and reconnecting 762 acres with the tides of Puget Sound. A beautiful series of raised boardwalks have been constructed, allowing year round access to the area, thru the marsh area, all the way out nearly a half mile into the tidal flats. Over 200 species of birds can be found on the refuge, depending on the time of year. Here are a few scenics from my last few days on the refuge.

Here is a shot of the boardwalk, as it just begins to snow.


This is the extension of the boardwalk that goes out into the tidal flats.

Here are a couple of shots from around the refuge.



My recent visit coincides with some of the coldest weather of the year, with lows every morning in the lower half of the 20’s and snow 3 of the last 5 days. One morning there was snow when I got there, and two days later there was no snow at daybreak, but 2 inches on the ground by the time I left at 12:30. This cold weather and snow does not seem to have much effect on the huge number of ducks and geese, but the smaller song birds, all seem to wake up much later in the days, and only after it has warmed up a bit. Canada Geese, Cackling Geese, Mallards, Pintails, Green-wing Teal, Northern Shovelers, Wigeon, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, and American Coots were all over the refuge. Mew Gulls, Glaucous-wing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, as well as a few Greater Yellowlegs patrolled the edge of the tidal flats. On the river running along the east edge of the refuge, there were Common Mergansers as well Red-breasted Mergansers.

This Hooded Merganser did not seem to worried about the falling snow.


The Male Hooded Merganser gets all the credit for it colors, but the female is just lovely as well.

Once it began to warm up a bit, Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Gold-crowned Sparrows, Fox (sooty) Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Brown Creepers, Marsh Wrens, and House Wrens all can be seen easily from different parts of the boardwalk. There was a quartet of Barn Swallows that had obviously show up way too early for their liking. Poor things looked like they were freezing to death. I am still looking for that elusive Hairy Woodpecker, but I did get to add a Red-breasted Sapsucker to the list.


I got to see several Brown Creepers in the area.


These were my first Fox Sparrows of the year.

Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, and a fair number of Bald Eagles all can be found on the refuge year round.

I was pleased to see such a large number of Northern Harriers in the area.


I ran into a birder on the board walk who asked if I had gotten to see the Northern Saw-whet Owl, back on the road into the refuge. With his very precise directions, I made a mad dash for that area, not wanting to miss on this super rare bird. It was roosting in a young cedar tree, and was quite well hidden by the foliage of the tree, but I was able to find enough to confirm the identification.

The little Northern Saw-whet Owl, not really giving up a great photo!


There will be an odd little trip or two in the next few days, but unless I track down something amazing, my next posting will be from the South Island of New Zealand. I better run, I have a little more gear to track down and a whole bunch of new birds to study up on!

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.