Bonnie Wood’s Guide to Area “ Birdy” Parks
The greater Olympia area boasts several lovely parks and preserves, all good for birding. There are well-known sites, like Priest Point Park, McLane Creek, and Woodard Bay, but there are also smaller park gems, hidden in neighborhoods. One could view these as islands, or “pocket parks,” but many of these can be very “birdy”. If nothing else, they are small, lovely places to visit and explore, and one can enlarge one’s knowledge of Olympia’s neighborhoods.
One doesn’t have to travel far or plan to be with a field trip group. It is no coincidence that most of these places have water to some degree; birds congregate near water sources during the dry season. I encourage you to scout these places when you have a free couple of hours at any season of the year—they will reward your effort.
Often, when I travel through Olympia’s neighborhoods, I’m in a hurry. I’m going somewhere. I don’t have time to stop and smell those proverbial roses. I don’t have time to stop and figure out what bird is singing from the woods or shrubs I’m speeding by – even when I’m on my bicycle!
This, then, is an exhortation to myself as well as to Black Hills Audubon members. Take an hour or so when you can to see what birds and other wildlife might be living among us in Olympia’s smaller, island, pocket parks. I mightily respect these birds’ and critters’ flexibility and adaptability, for we have radically disrupted their historical habitat.
These pocket parks are a great chance to practice one’s birding-by-ear. Come spring, these parks will be noisy with birdsong. You can get to these parks by multiple means: walking, biking—easily accessible by bicycle, on dedicated bike lanes, bus, and auto. For more official information about the parks I discuss, see Olympia’s Parks web pages at http://olympiawa.gov/city-services/parks/parks-and-trails.aspx.
Friendly Grove Park – 2316 Friendly Grove Road N.E. (map)
This park is about ½ mile beyond the Olympia Little Theater. I play tennis here often and always see one or more raptors soaring above this park: Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Red-Tailed Hawks, and Sharp-Shinned Hawks watch from above for the birds and other critters enjoying the bordering trees, shrubs, and wetlands.
Kettle View Park – 1250 Eagle Bend Drive S.E. (map)
This park is on the property of the old Briggs Nursery and new Briggs development. Walking paths, both paved and graveled, border small wetlands and woodland. Songbirds abound.
Pioneer Park -5801 Henderson Boulevard S.E.,Tumwater (webpage)
This park is at the bottom of the hill south from Yelm Highway. Graveled paths and mown grass paths loop and meander through the meadows and along the Deschutes River. There are marshy areas around the park’s sports fields. A walk around the entire park, including around the baseball fields to the north, is worth it. Previous summer sightings include numerous Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers (resident). Cedar Waxwings and three species of swallows have been found feeding near the river. One of Black Hills’ expert birders reported hearing a Lazuli Bunting one summer.
Mission Creek Park – 1700 San Francisco Avenue N.E. (map)
Located three blocks east of Roosevelt Elementary School at the headwaters of Mission Creek, this wooded park has gravel paths wending through it, to and from entrances from the surrounding neighborhood. It is excellent habitat for woodland birds. The neighborhoods around Mission Creek are also interesting and eclectic. There are community gardens, a Buddhist temple, and llamas in a small pasture nearby. There is the Olympia Little Theater and, of course, the San Francisco Street Bakery!
Olympia Woodland Trail (map)
This paved bicycle and walking path connects to the Chehalis Western Trail and bicycle path that runs along Pacific Avenue. It opened in 2007. The main trailhead with parking is at the intersection of Eastside Street and Wheeler Avenue in Olympia, just after the overpass over I-5 if you are heading up the Eastside Street hill from downtown. Look for the shelter with the “living roof” planted with sedums on the left. Water is abundant along this paved path. It is delightfully cool on this path on hot summer days and delightfully woodsy any time of year. At places along the path there are more open, more meadowed areas, appealing to birds who like more open landscape. This is a great stretch of path to wander for warblers, sparrows, swallows, and other songbirds and for woodland birds of all kinds.
Chambers Lake Trailhead – 3725 14th Street SE (map)
This park is owned by Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and a Discovery Pass is required. One can park, bike or walk from the Chambers Lake Trailhead, then wander south on the Chehalis Western Trail. This stretch of trail between 14th Street and Lacey’s 45th Avenue SE is ridiculously rich with songbirds and passerines. One must explore here in the spring during migration or miss out. The warblers and sparrows are thick in the willow thickets on either side of the trail. One spring, for example, at the drainage ponds where 45th Avenue hits the Chehalis Western Trail, I saw a flock of dozens of Yellow-Rumped Warblers feeding over the ponds. I have also seen a Western Bluebird on this stretch of trail. In summer, in the meadow immediately to the south of Herman Road, I’ve seen Red-Tailed Hawks sitting in the meadow crying to each other, making a huge racket – three (or more?) of them were fledglings or juveniles, I assume.