The Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – which is in between Tacoma and Olympia – is working with Ducks Unlimited, a wetland and waterfowl conservation group, and the Nisqually Native Tribe to restore the river delta. The Refuge now looks much different than it did a year ago, with lots of overturned dirt and construction trucks along its 5-mile dike trail. This is a set of pictures I took a year ago.
Birds Flying

Riparian forest area

The complete budget for the project is $12 million and is being funded by the US Department of the Interior. The goal to restore Nisqually is consistent with its Comprehensive Conservation Plan, something that every wildlife refuge is required by law to have. It is essentially a long-term zoning blueprint.


Tall grass.

The goal of restoration here is to reconnect it to the Puget Sound, as it was over a hundred years ago. Ultimately, the idea is to mimic the conditions and landscapes the Nisqually river basin would have seen before the Brown farm family moved in. The Brown family moved into this river basin and farming in the 1800s. They built a dike to separate the land from the Puget Sound, to irrigate their crops. When the Refuge took over in 1974 it kept the Delta the way the Brown family had it.


Brown family twin barn area.

Tidal restoration means the Brown family twin barns would most likely disappear. But I cannot see the Refuge removing the twin barns, which now serve as a feeding and nesting ground for several kinds of swallow and pigeon.


The area in this picture is now under construction.

Overturning mounds of dirt, removing snags and displacing habitat could indeed disturb bird populations. At Nisqually there are nature information signs explaining that specific songbirds (who mostly migrate to Nisqually during the summer) have distinct migration patterns and rigorously obey an infallible internal clock. Some of these birds are rare to the Northwest and find refuge at the river basin because of its rich, lowlying wetland area. Environmental scientists have found that some hummingbirds, not specifically just at Nisqually, return to migratory destinations on the exact same day each year. Any restoration project of this scale probably has some effect on this migration.


Swallows build their own nests, or use the ones provided for them.

Some birdwatchers use checklists. When they see a new or rare bird, they are more interested in checking it off their list than they are watching its behavior.


"Environmental study area"

There should be more “environmental study areas,” or at least the practice should be encouraged. (The idea of having a restricted “environmental study area” where birdwatchers and amateur behavioral scientissts and are not allowed to sit and study is a slap in the face.) But being more conscious of each area – not just in Nisqually but everywhere – as an “environmental study area” puts things in a new light. When you pass through an area on a trail – just to get to the other side – you miss all the excitement that could happen in just a twenty-minute period: all the various animals that are present in one spot, who take turns rearing their heads and exposing themselves; the patterns of falling cones and seeds from trees; the sudden changes in scenery with the addition or subtraction of one bird species; the hundreds of nooks and crannies above and below you that serve as homes; the fungus.


Suspended in mid-air

In real-time this is difficult to see. The swallows are constantly flipping, barreling and somersaulting through the sky in order to “swallow” insects that shift direction more rapidly that most birds. But with the camera taking still shots you can see each maneuver at a time.


Swallow manoeuvrings.

Turning back the clock on Nisqually by a hundred years or more will be difficult. The Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) scientists seem confident they can do this, and have an overall greater outcome, and that they can minimize disturbances in the process. The restorers are only removing some dikes and levees to allow Puget Sound water to filter upstream. They are adding more levees and dikes further inland (presumably for lowland protection and trail use). But a new habitat, and a new environment, has been created since the development of the Brown Farm. The dikes are not natural, but they are now a part of the lanscape.