A Visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge


Imagine for a moment, a farm on a floodplain.  Not a foreign concept, as many farms are located where the land is most fertile.  The Brown Farm was no different.  After establishing the 2300 acre farm on the Nisqually flood plain in the early 1900s, the Browns did what was all too popular at the time; they built a dike.

The Brown Farm Dike got rid of that pesky problem of tidal surge and seasonal flooding, but the consequence was loss of critical salt marsh habitat for fish, birds and marine mammals like harbor seals.  Over 700 acres of estuary were eliminated, and the saltwater remained cut off from the freshwater for over 100 years.

The Browns grew crops, raised dairy cows, poultry and hogs, and prided themselves on a farm that was completely self-sustaining.  For a period of time the farm was successful enough to even have its own box factory onsite.  Unfortunately for the Browns, World War I took its toll on their fortune and Alson Brown was forced to sell the farm to pay his creditors.

The farm then changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to the federal government to create the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.  It wasn’t until 2009 that over four miles of dikes were removed to restore a significant portion of the estuary.

The huge, twin barns of the Brown Farm remain, a visible reminder of the land’s history.  There is a peaceful grassy area there and a few picnic tables for visitors.

The barns speak to the refuge’s farming history

The barns speak to the refuge’s farming history

My mother and I visited in mid-July on our way home from an antique show.  Admittedly, it was a terrible time to visit, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the day, on a day when the temperatures were above 90 degrees.  Temperatures that high are rare in Washington, so most of the birds that would normally be there mid-summer were staying hidden in the shade.

Although there wasn’t a lot of action, we did enjoy a walk on the estuary boardwalk, and we found several frogs in the freshwater marsh that were willing to pose for pictures.

The perfect camouflage!

The perfect camouflage!

We also watched a mother duck with her older ducklings foraging for some good eats in the marsh.  They weren’t bothered by the attention.  Plenty of songbirds flitted about, but they were notoriously difficult to capture on camera.

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

We did find a happy colony of wasps making their home within the boardwalk railing, but they weren’t aggressive or flying too near to us.  I took a few pictures, but didn’t want to stick around for too long.

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

I am hoping to return to Nisqually NWR soon; fall is the best time to see migrating waterfowl, and there are several species of birds of prey there in the winter.  Jon and I actually planned a weekend visit in November, but canceled when the forecast called for super-heavy rain.  I hope there is dry weather for Jon’s next weekend off!

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2 thoughts on “A Visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Brave of you to get close enough to the wasps for a photo. I’d need an extra super powerful paparazzi grade long distance lens to be convinced to take one.

    Glad that the natives are coming back to their marshy habitat. I was at a natural history museum recently, that had an exhibit on all the species that have faced extinction because humans didn’t know what some of their land management efforts were doing to them.

    • I don’t know that I would have, but the wasps were pretty mellow, and we had already passed them a couple of times at that point without noticing.

      I do love seeing that some species making a comeback to their natural habitats, and we have become a bit less dense about our impact on animals. I think we still have a long way to go, but… That sounds like a fascinating exhibit!

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