Category Archives: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

February Visit to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

I love to take photographs at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (recently renamed the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge).  It’s a popular attraction for birders and nature lovers.  On any nice weather day, you’ll find lots of visitors with binoculars, fancy cameras, and scopes.  Visitors come from miles around for a chance at seeing a rare bird or just to enjoy a nice walk in the woods and along the estuary!

Here’s what I saw this time!

Immature Bald Eagles – Up close!

Immature Bald Eagle near Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

Immature Bald Eagle near Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

Bald eagles are a very common sight at Nisqually.  You often see them soaring high, or sometimes sitting in tree tops near the visitor center, or just about anywhere.  However, it’s not every day that you see them near the boardwalk!  I really lucked out at getting these close-up photos.  I watched this one for awhile, hoping he would do some hunting (I’d love to get a photo of him with a fish or something), but he was just relaxing.  There were actually two of them near the Estuary Boardwalk, and here’s a photo I got of the other one as he was flying away:

Immature Bald Eagle Flying

Immature Bald Eagle Flying

Canada Geese Pairing off… Fighting.. Honking

Canada Goose in a Tree!

Canada Goose in a Tree!

Canada Geese are busy this time of the year, trying to win over a mate and defend their territory.  Canada Geese are numerous at Nisqually NWR year round.  During this time of the year (and probably through the next couple of months, as Spring starts), you see them flying high up in the trees!  I’m used to seeing them on the ground, so when I first saw them in a tree, I was quite surprised!  But if you visit Nisqually often, you will get used to this behavior!  One visitor said that one of the geese landed on the Great Horned Owl nest and got quite a surprise from the mother owl!

Canada Geese Honking

Canada Geese Honking

The Owl is Still on the Nest

Great Horned Owl in Nest

Great Horned Owl in Nest

We are all waiting anxiously for owlets to appear!  Sorry that I don’t have a better photo… Other way more patient photographers probably got better photos.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers in the Nisqually Visitor Center Pond

Hooded Mergansers in the Nisqually Visitor Center Pond

These are beautiful, small ducks!  A common sight at the Nisqually visitor center pond!

American Coot – It’s NOT a duck!

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These funny looking birds are also a common sight!  They have a funny white beak, a red eye, and are otherwise mostly black or gray.  Most of the time you see them in the water, eating grass like vegetation, but this one got out of the water (mostly) and started grooming:

American Coot Grooming

American Coot Grooming

Pied-billed Grebe – Cute Little Duck Like Bird!

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

These shorebirds were near the beginning of the Estuary Boardwalk.

Greater Yellowlegs Pair

Greater Yellowlegs Pair

Common Goldeneye (Female)

Common Goldeneye (Female)

Common Goldeneye (Female)

This little lady was foraging in the calm waters along the eastern segment of the Twin Barns Loop trail.  She was quite the diver and often swam for 3 feet or so underwater… She swam away fast when two Canada Geese started to approach!

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Well, that’s it for this time!

September Visit to Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

Last week I visited Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve.  It was my first visit after about a 3 month hiatus.  It was sunny and in the high 50s.  It wasn’t too windy and I was warm enough in my usual jeans and hoodie attire.  (I think I need to get some leggings to wear under my jeans for the colder months.  And a hoodie with ear flaps.)

The high tide was around 11 feet at mid-day.  I saw 4 blue herons close enough for photographs.  There were also a few other herons in the distance.

Great Blue Heron Hunting at Nisqually

Great Blue Heron Hunting at Nisqually

The first two blue herons were along the Nisqually Estuary Trail (before you get to the boardwalk).  One of them was hunting in the shallow waters on the Puget Sound side of the trail.  He found a little crab.

Great Blue Heron Catches a Crab at Nisqually

Great Blue Heron Catches a Crab at Nisqually

The other one was in the tall grass on the side of the trail closest to Interstate 5 highway.  It looked like the grass had been mowed, which I was surprised about.

Blue Heron at Nisqually NWR

Blue Heron at Nisqually NWR

While I was taking these blue heron photos, I also captured this photo of a large flock of birds.  I think they are juvenile Red-Winged blackbirds but I could be wrong.  (Please comment below if I’m wrong… thanks!  My first guess was Starlings because of the spots but the beak color is dark and they’re smaller).

Juvenile Red-Wing Blackbirds (?)

Flock of Juvenile Red-Wing Blackbirds (?)

I also saw a unique Blue Heron with white wing tips off the boardwalk.  (I think it was by the McAllister Creek Viewing Platform.)   Other birders told me that he was part albino and has been there for a couple of years.  He didn’t mind us watching and spent a lot of time grooming.

Great Blue Heron - Part Albino - Nisqually

Great Blue Heron – Part Albino – Nisqually

Sometimes he would stand on one foot and scratch his ear.

Funny Photo of Blue Heron Scratching

Funny Photo of Blue Heron Scratching

There were Harbor Seals sunbathing in the distance (really far away, you would need binoculars to verify that they were Seals.)  There was also this seagull trying to eat a flounder.

Seagull with a Flounder that's Too Big to Swallow

Seagull with a Flounder that’s Too Big to Swallow

It took him a long time to swallow that fish!  He kept dropping it and picking it up again.  I captured over two minutes of this funny dilemma on video:

At high tide, there were still some exposed mud flats that were like a little resort for small shorebirds.  I had a hard time identifying these guys, but I think they are Western Sandpipers.  If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments below.

Seagull and Western Sandpipers on mud flats along Nisqually Boardwarlk

Seagull and Western Sandpipers on mud flats along Nisqually Boardwalk

I also checked out the Nisqually River overlook and saw a Spotted Towhee foraging in the brush by the water:

Spotted Towhee at Nisqually NWR

Spotted Towhee at Nisqually NWR

The water levels were very low in the marshy area along the Twin Barns Trail.  We’ve had a drought this summer so I guess that’s no surprise.  The trees were still almost fully clothes with leaves.  There were maple seed pods on the trails.  I saw one snake on the wooden path part of the trail.  This is a common occurrence, as I think I’ve seen a snake about 25% of the time I’ve been there.  (I think it was a Garter Snake.)

I think I saw a Peregrine Falcon on one of the dead trees.   I got a photo but it’s blurry.  I’m really bad at estimating distances (anyone know the distance from the Nisqually Estuary Trail to the dead trees?) but the bird of prey was far enough away that it was hard to focus on, even with my Sigma 500mm lens.  It looks like I should have switched to manual focus.  Next time I will have to try.  That and use a tripod.  (I have a tripod by carrying it is a difficult task for me.  Yes, my lens is heavy but not as awkward as a tripod.  For me, personally.  Maybe something will change my opinion on that someday.)

Maybe a Peregrine Falcon?

I guess this photo goes to show you that I take bad photos too.

 

Northern Shovelers Courtship Ritual (Video)

On my last trip to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, I took this video of Northern Shovelers doing a courtship ritual.  I wouldn’t call it a dance.. It was more like a ritual feeding where they swam in circles with their beaks underwater.  Northern Shovelers are dabbling ducks with wide bills.  Their coloration reminds me of Mallards, but their spoon shaped bills is a big difference.

I just did some research and watched a few other videos, and apparently this really is part of their dance.  These birds are common all across the United States.  Here’s a video that someone took of them in Central Park, New York:

And this video from Whalon Lake has really good footage of the male’s display with wing flaps:

Twin Barns at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

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Here is the trail that leads from the parking lot and goes out to the Twin Barns.  There is a wooden boardwalk (part of the Twin Barns Loop Trail) that parallels this.  The geese here are so friendly!   I got really close to one and got a photo of its feet:

Canada Geese Feet

Canada Geese Feet

I saw a couple of Great Blue Herons.  There was a child who was so excited to tell me that there was one along the path.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There were also a bunch of American Coots in the waterland next to the path:

IMG_2169-american-coots

American Coots

There were lots of Tree Swallows flying around the barns.   Usually they are hard to photograph because they fly so fast, but they were landing on the barn.  I got this photo:

IMG_2204-tree-swallow

Tree Swallows

 

Aren’t they beautiful?  I love their violet and green colors.  I wonder if they are going to make nests on the barn.  I will be going back to see!

 

 

Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

This is amazing!   There is a mile long boardwalk at Nisqually Refuge that goes over the Estuary.  Last week was my first time walking on it. I should have checked this place out years ago.  I went during high tide, so there was water under most of the board walk.  I guess when the tide goes out, it’s all mud flats underneath.  I am curious about the different birds that come by with the changing tide… So expect many more photos in coming months!

Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

 

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Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail

 

Greater White-fronted Goose at Nisqually Refuge

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I took these photos at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Thurston County, Washington.   It’s the first time I’ve seen the Greater White Fronted Goose, but I have a feeling that it won’t be the last time!  Depending on the range map, they either stay here all Winter, or are just moving through on their migratory journey far north.  They spend their summers in Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and the Nunavut.

I actually didn’t realize that they were geese when I saw them.  I just thought they were some large duck.  But my husband knew they were geese right away.  The only geese I am familiar with are the Canada and Cackling Geese.

There were at least 4 of these White Fronted Geese right next to the Nisqually Estuary Trail.  They were doing all sorts of lovely poses for me.  Aren’t they funny looking?  At least I can remember their name by their funny white face.  I love it when names actually describe a bird’s appearance.

IMG_2223-greater-white-fronted-goose

Is this a Red-Shouldered Hawk? The Answer: No.

IMG_2241-hawk

 

edit:  This is a Northern Harrier, either a female, or a juvenile, as explained by the kind people below!    I was mistaken in thinking it was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

I took lots of bird photos today at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.   I captured this hawk flying above the estuary.  I think it looks like a Red-Shouldered hawk, but I’m not sure. Red-Shouldered Hawks are rare in Washington State.  It looks like their range is mostly in Oregon and southward.  I am new to identifying raptors, so would love any expert opinions!