Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reclaimed Estuary

We visited the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge yesterday. I'd been wanting to visit since we first moved up to Washington (June 2001), after crossing the Nisqually River and being mesmerized by endless vista of watery, reclaimed pastures, with it's layer upon layer of color and texture.

The area had been drained and farmed for many, many years. Dairy cattle lived and dined on the rich grasses grown in the silty, nutrient-filled soils.

Since that time, the Nisqually Tribe, together with the Federal Fish & Wildlife program have worked tirelessly to allow the estuary to return.

Today, two, abandoned dairy barns sit picturesquely near ever encroaching bracken, marsh waters. The Canadian Geese mill about in throngs numbering in the thousands - their calls are deafening when they become startled and take to the skies. I was challenged by one gander. He was standing sentry on a shallow hill, protecting his mate from my (unwelcome) presence. I never really came near her, but he let it be clearly known that I was (in fact) far too close and treated me to some very obvious displays of his willingness to take this encounter to another level. As I was in his home (however transient), I moved away. He went back to eating.

The ghostly skeletons of pasture trees still dot the waterscape, providing interesting texture and contrast. I was especially intrigued by a long, leggy structure that the Mallards, Wood Ducks and other waterfowl liked to circle.

As we were finishing up our 3 hour hike (I use the term loosely - there are no inclines, and a good portion of the paths are wooden foot bridges over the marsh ground), we were treated to the sight of, not one, but two American Bitterns. Hidden in the marsh foliage, perfectly camouflaged - only the soft rustling sounds, followed by their odd, characteristic jerky movements brought our attention.

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