Birding by Kayak
by Bruce Jacobs – The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is one of the treasures we are fortunate to share. I’ve made thousands of visits there over the years, but recently, I got another view of the Nisqually Reach, this time by kayak through the City of Olympia Department of Parks and Recreation’s annual kayaking trip to the Nisqually Reach. Although it’s not a “birding” trip, I would highly recommend it.
The trip I took was in May; it was cool and threatening rain at 9am when a dozen of us met at Swantown Marina. Staff members loaded up the kayaks and gear and drove us to the boat launch at Luhr Beach, where we were greeted by the Purple Martin colony. Once we launched, we made our way south, just about to the end of the Refuge boardwalk, and spent a while exploring. Although there were only a few birds visible (Eagles, Cormorants, and Gulls), looking at the Refuge from this vantage point was an eye opener (I only wish the weather had been better).
We then made our way north along the shore to Tolmie State Park. In route I saw six Caspian Terns, several Belted Kingfishers, more Cormorants, and at least a dozen Bald Eagles, one of which landed in what appeared to be a nest. About half way, there were three Pigeon Guillemots and an Osprey catching a fish. I heard numerous Song Sparrows, Steller’s Jays and an Olive Sided Flycatcher calling. Of course, there were the ever-present American Crows and American Robins. The water was exceptionally clear enabling us to see the clams, fish and jellyfish; the houses and geology along the shore were also interesting to look at. A number of seals were curious about us, and kept diving around and under the kayaks. We passed the National Fish & Oyster farms, trying not to disturb the oyster crates. We pulled into Tolmie State Park at about 12:30, had our lunch under the trees and then returned to Luhr Beach under steady rain.
Even though the weather wasn’t the best, I truly enjoyed the trip. The Olympia Department of Parks and Recreation staff are first rate, the trip was well planned and suited for anyone with basic kayaking skills. Check it out next summer as an optional way to go birding!