[Seattle Sights] Wildlife and Wanderlust in Union Bay

All good things are wild, and free.

Thoreau, Walden

Hiding around every corner of Seattle, from the coastline into the heart of the city in all directions are glorious amounts of open, public green space. The Trust for Public Land ranked Seattle as the 11th best city for parks, and fourth on the West Coast – and I wholeheartedly agree. Boasting over 485 natural areas and parks – and growing, city parks come in at around 6,400 acres, with a whopping 96% of Seattle residents able to walk to a local park in ten minutes or less.


Befit with sports fields swimming pools, marshes, rivers and beaches, BBQ pits, boat launches, a plethora of winding paths and a menagerie of wildlife, the local lore at the parks just keeps me coming back for more, and more. With a new sense of childlike wonder and amazement since moving up to Seattle in February, I’ve made it a goal to explore and enjoy as many of the open spaces as possible; and I can’t wait to share my favorites with y’all – of course!

Just a hop, skip and a little run from our home, the University of Washington sits in pristine location – and features multiple parks on site, each with a stellar view of Mt. Rainer and the waterfront. From the North East, you’ll first meet Yesler Swamp which is managed by the Center for Urban Horticulture. Back at the turn of the last century, the area used to be known as the Yesler Sawmill, until it was bought by the University. After the sawmill burnt down in the 1920’s, the area went unchanged for almost seventy years until a graduate student project revitalized the area and turned it back into a nature preserve.

The swamp is full of critters, including plenty of ducks, geese, egrets, blue herons and even beavers!

Winding across the walkways and into the heart of campus, you’ll get dumped out at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soset Garden and Fragrance Garden; and yes, it is indeed a delectable smell!

University of Washington, Center for Urban Horticulture

If you’re willing to take the path less traveled, there are some neat graduate projects standing in the woods – you’ll just have to go out on a limb and find them! My favorite is this little stained glass booth, perfect for meditation or journaling in the midst of the woods.

And now, you’re well on your way into Union Bay on a variety of different foot and bike paths. From there, you’ll get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainer and Bellevue, not to mention the UW Football Stadium and Lake Washington. The paths are lined with native plants, and as Spring keeps making headway – there have been so many more blooms, including these wild roses which are abundant with all sorts of bees.

As I dive deeper into nature and wildlife photography, I’ve been depending more on my telephoto lens, and believe you me – animal are fucking difficult to capture, let alone for a crisp snap.

It’s curated my patience, knowing that I will definitely not get the photo I want in one shot; it’s made me slow down and listen to the sounds of the world, which happen to be an excellent giveaway if you’re tracking down an animals. With the beaver above: if I hadn’t heard branches crash into the water, I would have never known he was around. Lastly, it’s inspired me to grow, mentally, emotionally and physically – to carry around a Canon 6D and four lenses at all times, to know when to use which lens and which settings to find quickly. I have an infinite amount of respect for others in the same field.

Last but certainly not least, for all the ornithophiles out there; these photos are for the birds! How many can you identify for yourselves?

Falcon chased by a smaller bird
Hummingbird
Song Sparrow
Blue Heron + Duck
Red Winged Blackbird

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting stellar nature photography? Is there one centralized location near you that you can literally find all the flora, fauna and furry friends? Let me know in the comments below!

For more on Union Bay and Yesler Swamp, peep these links:

Yesler Swamp | Union Bay Natural Area
University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

[Local Lore] Wild and Free at the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge

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Tucked deep in the heart of Corvallis sits a whimsical wildlife habitat; a home to many seasonal creatures as they make their semi-annual migratory routes. Created back in 1964, the William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge is a preserved natural land area in the Oregon’s greater Willamette Valley and is notorious for the flocks of dusky Canada geese that frequent the landscape. Unlike typical Canadian geese, their dusky cousins nest and mate along the Copper River Delta in Alaska over the Summer and visit the vast acreage of wetlands of the Finley Wildlife Refuge during the colder, Winter months.

One of the last intact wet prairies in the area, the refuge was a reaction to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 which diminished the available natural land for dusky Canadian geese. Fast forward almost forty years and in 2006 the Snag Boat Bend Unit was acquired as a partition of the reserve, adding almost 350 acres of unique, historic habitat to the already sprawling 5,300 acres of wetlands covered by the Finley Reserve.

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Beyond the dusky Canadian goose, the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge also plays homebase for a variety of flora, fauna and fowl throughout the year with a handful of habitat regions on site, ranging from wet prairies on the East End to sprawling wetlands off of Muddy Creek, or to the upland Oregon white oak savannas and forests. On any given day, you could run into a menagerie of birds and waterfowl from migratory raptors like the rough-legged hawk to turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, golden and bald eagles, to great horned owls and geese, great blue herons, wood ducks and swans, woodpecker colonies and meadowlarks; not to mention the herds of Roosevelt Elk, blacktailed deer, coyotes and bobcats, alongside pond turtles, red legged frogs and the endangered yet recently re-introduced Fender’s blue butterfly.

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For a full spectrum of the Refuge, I highly suggest returning throughout the year. Even though Winter is wonderful to observe the migratory patterns of waterfowl, November marks the beginning of ‘Sanctuary Season’ which closes off the interior or the park for resting animals; the season end on April 1st, and all interior trails are opened once again.

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Whether you’re hiking, cycling or simply just observing the world at large, the refuge boasts a menagerie of looping trails and rolling hills throughout the grounds, offering over a handful unique hiking paths that cover over a dozen miles of land. For those looking to stay lazy, fret not – there’s an auto tour route with ample roads for roaming. Posted every now and again, you’ll find neat tidbits and educational facts on the nature and ancient nurture of the area.

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Originally, the land was settled by the Kalapuya tribe – a conglomeration of thirteen related tribal groups speaking three distinct languages among themselves; each tribal group inhabited a specific area along and around the Willamette River. With the volcanic Cascade Mountains nearby, tribes around the river effectively fashioned obsidian  arrowheads and spears; if you look hard enough, you can still find obsidian artifacts and minerals in the area to this day – including in the grounds of the Wildlife Refuge. On the other end of history, is the Willamette Valley segment of the Applegate Trail, first used in the 1840’s – it’s a more southerly trail than the Oregon Trail sauntered through by European Settlers.

For more on the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge, head to their social channels – or simply go pay them a wonderful visit; I promise, it’s worth it!

What are your favorite spots to observe the wistful, wonderous wildlife in your town? Let me know in the comments below!

Website | Friends of the WLF Refuge | Facebook | Twitter

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