January 20th, 2019: A quick visit to an awesome NWR in southern Washington
Heading back from Portland, OR, I was excited to have time to stop in at a great birding spot: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually NWR. The NWR was named for Billy Frank Jr.–a Native American environmental leader–and sits at the Nisqually River estuary.
It’s a really wonderful place with marsh, mudflat, some tidal grassland, and woodland habitats. As recent as 2009 some outer dykes were removed, allowing the tide access to 762 additional acres of estuary. It also sports a mile-long(!) pier-like boardwalk out over the tidal flats.
This had to be a quick trip because we needed to make it back to Vancouver before it got late and the sun was already heading rapidly to the horizon. Nevertheless, I observed 32 species in the hour and a bit we had (eBird list). There were plenty of waterfowl around (13 species), including well over 200 Cackling Goose cackling up a storm from the air and the swampy grasses. Highlights were a flyover Great Egret, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Greater Yellowlegs, and 35 Least Sandpiper.
I was particularly pleased to see the Least Sandpipers balancing their 23 grams on tiny grass fronds that stuck only a few inches out of the high tidal waters. (I regret not having my camera with me.) Least Sandpipers typically forage just out of the water on the flats. But seeing them balanced on an inch of skinny grass seemed as unlikely as a bumblebee generating lift. In Vancouver, I often see them mixing with Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlin, but rarely see them at all in January.
Regardless of what you see, the refuge is a stunning place at sunset, especially if you have time to walk the boardwalk. I hope to be back there soon!