Under the Open Sky: Winter Bird Watching at Nisqually

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

After a few weeks of feeling under the weather, I was finally feeling well enough to venture outdoors again this week.

I know it’s December and almost Christmas, but good gravy, it’s COLD out there!

But I just had to get outside.

I thought about heading out into the icy waters of the Cowlitz River, but just couldn’t get past the idea of bumping elbows with the other steelhead bankies at Blue Creek while shivering in my waders.

When I heard about the weekly birding walks at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge from Leah Wegener, of Centralia, I knew I had found my destination and my next story (see today’s feature).

Leah and her son had made the trip last week. She said they’d had a lot of fun and seen a lot of birds.

“We saw a lot of eagles, really close up,” Leah said, “tons of ducks and an egret.”

They’ve also been seeing a Snowy Owl at the refuge, according to Leah, a rare showing for these parts — apparently there is a shortage of lemmings and an abundance of owls in their usual stomping grounds.

Now I was excited to get up there and see one for myself.

I was worried that I’d be the only one taking the walk this close to Christmas and in the freezing cold, but when I arrived there were 20 other birders lined up and willing to brave the icy temperatures.

There were plenty of expert birders in the group, eager to share their enthusiasm for birding, and plenty of novice birders, ready to listen.

Phil Kelley, a volunteer for the Nisqually NWR, is a lively leader. He’s been making the trip around the Nisqually refuge every week for nearly a decade. He knows every bump, bush and tree on the place.

Kelley belongs to the Black Hills Audubon Society (blackhills-audubon.org/) a chapter of the National Audubon Society, representing Lewis, Mason, and Thurston counties in the state of Washington.

“It is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization whose 1,300+ members share interests in birds and other wildlife, their habitats, and natural history,” so says the BHAS website. “Our goals are to promote environmental education and recreation and to maintain and protect our ecosystems for future generations.”

I’m looking forward to getting to know the members of the BHAS and the volunteers at the Nisqually NWR this next year. They seem to be a vibrant group of outdoors enthusiasts, and what a beautiful home base refuge they have to share.

If you find yourself free on a Wednesday morning, I’d encourage you to take the walk with Kelley. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy hunting!

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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar.  Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason – The Chronicle). Contact her at kz@tds.net, text or call 269-5017.