This morning a friend joined me on the hour-long drive down to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a brackish wetlands habitat on the southern end of Puget Sound, just a few minutes north of Olympia on I-5. This federally-maintained wetlands is a major nesting site for birds of all kinds as well as a migration stop-off. Seeing as we’ve had a rather early-onset spring here on the West Coast, early March is seeing quite a few early arrivals. First-of-the-year rufous hummingbirds been being reported around northwest Washington for the past week and I saw one this morning at Nisqually (see later in this post for the photo proof!). We were joined not long after we started by a wonderful retired high-school teacher (44 years of teaching!) who we spent the entire hike conversing with.
The variety of birds we saw was impressive, and my pictures only reflect a small portion of them. It was also a very foggy morning: we arrived at just before 7:30am and didn’t start seeing direct sunshine until around 9:15! The fog unfortunately meant that photos were difficult. The fog was so thick that anything beyond about 10 meters was shrouded in fog, with the colors and sharpness of any picture muted toward gray and blurry.
Still, I managed to get some pictures I liked, and saw some really cool birds along the way.
These pretty dabbling ducks were out in small numbers today, mixing among larger flocks of American wigeons. I’m lucky this shot turned out so well considering the fog.
As good a picture as I could get in such low light and fog, unfortunately, it’s a pair of downy woodpeckers! I’ve never seen two together before, and it wasn’t by chance as they were following each other around, so it seems it’s a mated pair, with the female on the right.
I’m not kidding when I say it was foggy.
A small flock of greater white-fronted geese were unafraid of people, browsing on each side of the path in close proximity to all the birders walking past.
As the fog began to lift, it not only got easier to take pictures of birds, but easier to spot them as well. The great blue herons however, who hunt at close range, didn’t mind the fog.
Gulls and ducks dotted the marshland, some foraging for food, others, like this two-winter-old glaucous-winged gull, enjoying the emerging sunshine.
There was still fog, but it was lifting and was no longer hindering mid-range photography. It was still rather nice for landscapes, though.
We saw a few pairs of northern shovelers doing this paddle-dance in the water, consisting of swimming in tight circles with their heads nearly touching. I can only assume it’s a sort of pair-bonding or mating dance. As those things go, it was rather cute.
This is often about as good a view as we’ll get of a marsh wren. You can hear them all around you, but spotting them is a bit more difficult. Not only do they usually stay low in dense reeds, they’re constantly on the move.
Off in the distance, a northern shrike that we thought was a scrub jay until I looked at the photos closely at home. It was a long ways away and there was still light fog, so I’m lucky to be able to make an ID at all, much less have a halfway-decent photo! One of my goals for this year was to see a shrike. Specifically to find its butcher-post, but seeing one at all so early in the year is exciting, and it wasn’t something I expected to see today!
There have been reports of a great horned owl with two fledgling chicks in the past several days, and there she is, asleep in the hollow of a large tree. We actually saw her near the start of the morning, but she hadn’t moved (and there was slightly better light to see her) by the time we were heading back to the car.
Another happy surprise, a male rufous hummingbird! A few quick frames and he flew into the blackberry bramble, but there he is. Another bird I’m wanting to get more pictures of this coming year.
Tree swallows were in full nesting mode in and around the old barns. As these pictures show, they’re using the nest boxes too, and it can get rather busy.
On our way out we had a few fleeting views of a red-bellied sapsucker as it flitted tree-to-tree, tapping away occasionally.
By the time we left, the fog was gone and the parking lot was full, with people streaming in. It was great seeing so many people bring their kids, in particular how many of the kids were carrying binoculars or cameras with telephoto lenses! We stopped and talked to a few of them, either pointing out birds or discussing telephoto lenses (the lens I carry around is large enough that it attracts bit of attention from all but the most avid bird photographers and is inevitably asked about!).