Located just 10 miles from Olympia, or 50 miles south of Seattle, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge boasts over 3000 acres of wetlands, making this a fantastic birding hangout. Recently expanded to include a boardwalk, you can easily walk over 4 miles of restored wetlands with fantastic views. With numerous bird species migrating to the area, as well as many local and regional birds calling it home, this is the best place to come watch birds year round. The refuge is broken up into three sections, which are the Pond/River Walk, the Raised Dike and the New Boardwalk. Each section is unique, giving you a different set of nature in each area.
POND AND RIVER WALK
The first section you will enter is just past the visitor’s center and is the Pond/River walk area. This section is best taken along the old board walk, giving you views of the ponds where ducks, turtles and the occasional Nutria can be spotted. During the spring, Great Horned Owls can be spotted near the barns, on the section of the wooden walkway between the river and the barns. During salmon runs, eagles and seals can be spotted in large number along the river. This place is great to take young kids, as it is a short, easy walk. At the end of the trail, you reach the barn area where there are Port-a-potties and picnic tables. A word of caution: If you decide to picnic here, the squirrels in the area are somewhat aggressive.
RAISED DIKE AREA
The second area of Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is the raised gravel dike just past the barns. In good weather this area offers amazing views of the Olympic Mountains. It also shows off the mud flats on the right side and a pond, which is usually full of ducks and geese, on the left. This is also a great place to see Herons, Bitterns and many other species of waterfowl. In bad weather this place can be a bit cold, and with no trees to cover you, you might get a bit wet. However, in good weather, this area is amazing. With dead tree trunks littering the mud flats, this is an ideal place to watch hawks and eagles groom, eat and pose for pictures.
The last section is newest, most popular area. This boardwalk, complete with covered shelters, lookouts with spotting scopes and information displays gives you the opportunity to walk over a flood plain. Make sure you check the tides, as low tide and high tide both have limited bird activity. Also, make sure you read all signs, as the boardwalk is occasionally closed due to hunting. In good weather, the boardwalk offers amazing views of Mt. Rainier, the Puget Sound, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
All along the boardwalk one can see Great Blue Herons, Eagles and numbers of different type of ducks. At the end of the boardwalk there is a lookout, allowing a panorama view of the area, as well as a place that is covered to watch eagles, herons and the occasional King Fisher. This section is a fantastic destination in good weather and even on a misty day, though if it is a super wet day, I may avoid it.
The Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic place to go birding for all levels of birders. If you are a beginner or an expert, this area gives you plenty to see in the air, off in the distance or along the waterways. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a great day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city, giving you a few places to see how nature was before humans interacted too much. If migratory birds can visit this place once a year, you should be able to make it at least twice; after all, this place has gone to the birds. For more information, check out the quick facts below!
Location: South Puget Sound, exit 114, North of Olympia
Trails: Well-groomed gravel /boardwalk
Distance of Trails: Over 4 Miles
Cost: $3 permit per family (pay outside of visitor center)
What you might want to bring: Binoculars, bird book, good shoes, rain gear, sun screen and water
Sights: Eagles, Geese, Owls, Hawks, Ducks, Herons, numerous waterfowl and other birds, Seals, Salmon, Deer, Raccoons, Foxes, Mt Rainier, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Mt. Constance, The Olympic Mountains, and Wetlands…just to name a few!
Best time to visit: Fall and Winter because of salmon runs and migratory birds.
WHERE TO SEE BIRDS
Eagles: Pond/ River Walk, Raised Dike, Boardwalk
Ducks: Pond/ River Walk, Raised Dike
Blue Herons: Raised Dike, Boardwalk
Hawks: Raised Dike, Boardwalk
Geese: Pond/ River Walk, Raised Dike
Owls: Pond/River Walk