Escape to Nisqually this Winter for a walk with wildlife

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A bald eagle at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Need a break from building lego sets or hours spent on the Xbox or Wii? The perfect place to stretch your legs, put some fresh air in your lungs and burn off a few holiday pounds is closer than you think.

Just off of Interstate 5 at exit 114 lies the peaceful yet very active Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge trails, which range from boardwalks to gravel surfaces and are level in grade, are open everyday from sunrise to sunset. Daily fee is $3.00 per four adults.

Over 200 species of birds visit the refuge throughout the year. This includes song birds, raptors, shorebirds and water fowl. The refuge reported on Dec. 14 that the Snowy Owls have once again returned to Nisqually, and have been visible every day since mid-November. According to refuge biologists, it is extremely unusual for the Snowy Owls to return two years in a row. Last winter, the owls were spotted as far south as Texas, and for the first time ever in Hawaii. This year, refuge officials believe the owls should be visible throughout Northwestern Washington through February. The owls at Nisqually are typically far out on the tidal plain near the mouth of the Nisqually River and are consequently difficult to see from visitor areas.

In addition to Snowy Owls, Bald Eagles, Herons and Peregrine Falcon’s are often spotted and put on a spectacular show at the refuge. Bald Eagles will line the trees along the Nisqually River and hunt the Chum salmon below. The best time to visit the refuge and observe wildlife is early morning, late afternoon, and when the weather clears after a storm. Many visitors have found that it is best to plan a visit to the Refuge according to the tides. Many of the estuary bird species will be most visible within two hours of high tide

You will see more wildlife if you are quiet, which can be a challenge sometimes for children. But if your child is engaged and paying attention, they will be fascinated at what they find. Refuge officials suggest bringing binoculars or spotting scopes to help observe wildlife. The refuge has Discovery Packs, which include activities for children in grade levels 3 through 6, and binoculars are available for check-out from the Visitor Center with a valid photo ID. Also, don’t forget your camera and rain coat.

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