Wednesday was a day trip to the Nisqually NWR. The refuge is a freshwater marsh encompassing the delta of the Nisqually River and is about 30 miles from our location in Graham but just about 5 miles west of our previous location on the southern end of American Lake at Joint Base Lewis McChord. The marsh was formed back in the early 1900s when a Seattle lawyer built a dike to enclose 1000 acres of salt marsh which was used for farming up until the 1930s…at that point it was abandoned and the artesian wells formerly used for irrigation flooded the fields and it grew into the freshwater marsh it is today. There are a bunch of trails on the refuge but due to Neil still being in the boot (albeit he continues to improve) we elected to do the 1 mile (which turned into about 1.5 miles by the time we took the side trips to each of the overlooks) boardwalk. On our arrival we went ahead and renewed our Inter Agency pass…this is an $80 pass from the US Park Service that gives you unlimited access to all National Parks, NWRs, National Forests, National Landmarks, and pretty much everything else run by the Park Service…over 450 places in all. It also gets you into places run by other federal government departments. It’s good for a year and it only takes 10 or so visits to save you money…and best of all once you turn 62 you get a permanent pass for $10. Check it out.
Anyway; we loaded up with the cameras and binoculars and headed out. Our first stop was the Riparian Forest overlook; there are three overlooks on Twin Barns boardwalk representing the three types of environment…Riparian (essentially near the river) Forest, the Nisqually River itself, and the grassy freshwater marsh area…each of the overlooks is a short hike off the main boardwalk. There was water in the Riparian Forest area although it was pretty stagnant and completely covered with bright green algae. Here’s a shot of the wetlands from the overlook and then a shot of Connie and the boardwalk as we headed towards our next stop. I am trying a new photo size for the blog; these are 900 instead of 600 pixels wide…let me know if you like it better this way or whether the smaller ones are easier to view. [added later: Uggh; the larger size stomps on top of the right hand sidebar so I’m going to have to either figure out how to fix that or change back to the 600 pixel wide photos.]
The boardwalk was mostly dry but did have a bit of moss on it in places so Neil just had to be careful. About 200 yard past the above shot we ran across a bunch of birders with spotting scopes and binoculars stopped on the boardwalk…long experience tells you that when you see a bunch of people stopped you should stop and look too:-). We did and spotted a really pretty yellow bird…examination of the NWRs posted bird list and Peterson’s later told us it was either a female Yellow Warbler or an immature female Yellow Throated Warbler. We really couldn’t tell for sure; there are a couple of unique identifying characteristics for each; this one has both of them but also has some slight differences from the descriptions of both of the candidates. So I’m going to call this one an either/or…nothing else in the warbler family is both located here in the Pacific Northwest and is even close color-wise. I put in 3 different views of the same bird so all of the detail is visible. It also could be a Prothonotary Warbler based on the grey wings and tail but the yellow on the head and breast appears to bright to be a Prothonotary. Wilson’s Warbler was another close one but we didn’t have a good enough picture to really see it’s distinctive characteristics.
**Late Breaking News: Connie found another web site that better shows the underside of the tails and the colors on the various alternatives and we’re about 90% sure that it’s a female Wilson’s Warbler.
Our next stop was at the Nisqually River overlook…and for some reason Neil didn’t take any photos while we stopped there…the view was sort of restricted by trees and brush but there was enough to have taken at least some photos…don’t know what he was thinking. We did have a nice stop for a few minutes; the overlooks were about evenly spaced around the mile boardwalk so that provided a nice place to rest for a bit for him. We did see a whole bunch of large fish of various species eating flies off the surface or shallow swimming minnows…we never got a clear enough view of them to determine what they were other then several different types. A bunch of them looked like salmon in coloration but those were shorter and fatter/wider than salmon typically look like…and in addition we’re in the early stages of salmon spawning season and Neil doesn’t think they eat while they’re migrating upstream to their final destination. The rest of them looked more like large mouth bass in size, shape, and coloration but didn’t’ look like they had the typical large mouth bass sized mouth. We must have seen 50 of them in a few minutes though…but we eventually headed off for the third and final overlook at the Twin Barns…this one looks out over the freshwater marsh grasslands.
On the way up we spotted this really, really bright green caterpillar…which despite 15 minutes on google we could not readily identify…it’s even hard to decide which end is the head and which is the tail.
Once at the top of the overlook about 30 feet or so above the marsh we sat for awhile to eat our picnic lunch…which was immediately interrupted by several hawks flying nearby. Neil dropped his lunch and grabbed his camera and was able to get several decent shots before they got too far away.
Our first sighting was a female Northern Harrier…this is a raptor similar to a hawk and has distinct gender differences not common in raptors and hawk like birds…the female is brownish and the male grayish. It has larger wings for it’s size then most birds of prey do which allows it to fly at very low speed and altitudes, almost hovering as it hunts. After watching it for a few minutes it appeared to fly away and Neil picked up his lunch again…only to have it fly right in front of us about 30 feet from the overlook edge instead of the 40 or 50 yards away these shots were taken from.
Later, after we were done eating we spotted a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks off in the distance about 500 yards or so…hence the poor detail in these photos even with the long lens. Red Shouldered Hawks are usually solitary hunters that tend to soar and stay higher while hunting than these two are…so it wasn’t clear whether they were just in the same area hunting or whether it was a courtship ritual or even whether they were both staying in the vicinity of the nest. Given that it’s late August it seems a little late for courtship but maybe they nest year round up here as it doesn’t get all that cold during the winter. It is a male and female together…and I don’t know whether the male in a pair has anything to do with protecting the nest anyway so it could even be a mother and it’s now fledged but not fully independent offspring. I guess I should have paid more attention in birding class and I would know (but I never went to birding class so that likely ain’t it).
Once these guys disappeared and we finished up our lunch and rest we headed down from the overlook; stopping to take some photos of the twin barns that the boardwalk is named after…these were built back in I think 1902 by the Seattle lawyer/farmer. I’ve included 4 different edits of the same photo…the first is almost straight out of the camera with only cropping and minor color correction, the second one got a light HDR treatment, and the last two have a stormy day and a slightly less stormy day using another Aperture filter set Neil has (Aperture is the photo library manager, editor, and touch-up-er that Neil uses).
I put in these 4 so you can see how a slightly different set of editing tools allows you to give photos an entirely different look even though they come from the same source. I guess this could lead to some sort of philosophical discussion about whether editing your photos is “right” or “wrong” vs whether one should only output exactly what the camera sees or whether the output should be what the eye saw or whether the photographer is allowed artistic license to make it a “better” photo. I guess it depends on your definition of better; most shots that are submitted for competitions you’re allowed to crop and color correct but not allowed to composite shots together to create something that wasn’t there originally…but you are allowed to alter the mood somewhat. Most photos you see in exhibits or for sale have been processed to make them better looking or evoke more of a particular mood. I like them all.
And finally, right around the corner from the barns (maybe 30 feet from where the barn pictures were taken from Neil grabbed a couple shots of some cat tails growing at the marsh edge.
We continued on around the path and found a small, algae covered pond with a bunch of ducks in it…they were located just 20 feet or so from the boardwalk so we got some really great shots of first a couple of immature Mallards
and then a couple of immature Wood Ducks.
Shortly after this we arrived back at the visitor center and parking lot…good thing as Neil was tired of walking by this point. We headed on home (had to turn on the A/C in the car as it had gotten warmer while we were hiking for a couple of hours) and made the trip home. Once here we had a shower and then Neil cooked some chicken that had been marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and fennel seeds for dinner…we found this recipe in Giada DeLaurentis twitter feed…we had never thought (and didn’t think so even the first time we tried it) that fennel seed would go good with sausage but despite being the principal distinct spice used in most sausages (it’s what gives it that ‘sausage’ flavor) it’s really tasty. We had rice with it…and Neil had a french roll while Connie had some smashed/buttered turnip (rutabaga for us southerners). We kept some leftover raw chicken un-marinated that Neil will do something with tonight…it’s rainy and wet so he’s thinking chicken and noodles.
Next week it’s Labor Day on Monday so we’re staying home and grilling outside unless it rains. Connie has her procedure on Thursday so we’re thinking that Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll head down to Mount St. Helens to the Volcano Memorial and get some more shots there. Neil goes for another checkup on his foot on Sep 12 and it’s really improving almost daily at this point…he is allowed to walk on it without the boot for showers and such and has almost no pain left so hopefully we’ll back to more frequent and longer hike fun stuff pretty soon.
God’s Team…the two time defending and three of the last four National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide…opens their season Saturday against Virginia Tech on ESPN. Roll Tide!!