Spencer Island State Park (February 1)

This park has been on our list to visit for a couple of years – mainly because it’s called Spencer Island! We’ve passed nearby often, as it’s about half-way between Bellingham and Seattle, but the timing has never been right for a hike. On a day when the rain had let up, we decided to make a day trip out of it. 

We took the scenic path, following Chuckanut Drive along the coast instead of taking I-5, and were treated to many glimpses of the bay through beautiful native Madrone Trees…

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A stop at a Mt. Vernon coffee shop was great for delicious pastries and espresso treats!

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Spencer Island State Park is really quite a small area, nestled in amongst industrial complexes, within easy earshot of the trains and the freeway. You park by the wastewater treatment plant (joy!), and take a short walk down the road and over the bridge, which used to “jack-knife” up to support boat traffic. 

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It doesn’t exactly feel like a natural area, but on the other side of the bridge…

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You enter a little speck of wilderness, a tidal marshland or estuary, where freshwater creeks meander through the lowlands to meet with the bay, and where the tides cause an ebb and flow of saltwater and freshwater that supports an abundant variety of creatures. Surprisingly, even such a small park still creates an expansive landscape!

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The lake shimmers, the grasses ripple, and everywhere you look, gleaming ribbons of reflective water showcase the cloudscape overhead.

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We arrived during high tide, and some of the boardwalks were underwater (oops!)…

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But there was still plenty of trail area to explore!

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Most things here were best seen through binoculars. 

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We made our way along slowly, because a second look at the seemingly-empty grasses always seemed to reveal something wonderful!

Mallards, Canada Geese, and Great Blue Herons were everywhere – the more you looked, the more you saw!

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These Green-Winged Teals, spotted at a distance, were distinctive because of their yellow rumps, haha! No other bird in the bird book has these lemon-yellow tail feathers, and my discovery led to lots of giggling – “Look Mom! More Yellow-Rumps!” 🙂

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And don’t forget to look up! Eagles and hawks dotted the treetops, keeping an eye on the tidal areas, waiting for the best fishing opportunities…

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And from time to time, a Heron would rise from the grasses, with its huge wingspan, to find a new fishing-spot and stand statue-still again…

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So, as we were walking along, past the Herons and underneath the Bald Eagles :), I saw this large bird take flight, soaring low towards the waterline. His wings were very dark, and I thought at first that he was a Great Blue Heron…But then he banked, and he was definitely a raptor, and the sun flashed on a bright white stripe across the base of his tail. I had never seen that before, and I followed him with the binoculars to see if it was some trick of the light.

It was unmistakable, though – some unidentified raptor, all dark except for a single stripe of white at the base of his tail. Of course, we tried to get a photo, but only managed this quick and blurry shot, head-on, showing his yellow beak, before he disappeared into the grassy marshes. 

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I researched while we walked, and found that the only bird of this size with the signature white tail-stripe is…the juvenile Golden Eagle! Holy smokes! We spent the rest of our hike keeping a sharp look out for him on the wing, hoping for some better pictures, hoping for another sighting…

And in the fading light…

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As the last rays turned the Mallards and the Northern Harrier golden…

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We walked past two tall trees beside the road. In one, sat a Bald Eagle. In the other, sat a dark raptor. They were talking to each other, and we assumed they must be an adult and juvenile Bald Eagle, chatting about their day 🙂 The Bald Eagle left, and our dark friend remained in the tree…Until he took to flight, soaring out to display his bright white tail stripe!

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There he was, the juvenile Golden Eagle that we had been looking for all along. I suppose he was actually saying something sassy to the Bald Eagle, like, “Yeah, I’m only 2 years old but I’m already bigger than you!”

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I never expected to see a Golden Eagle here – they seem so very wild, and nest in high cliffs, and I never expected to see them in this highly-developed little neck of the woods. But God’s creatures have a way of integrating very closely into our surroundings, even in the city. Sometimes it seems they were there all along, but you just never quite saw them…

Having figured out what to look for, we saw several more Goldens over the next few days, including this majestic youngster, perched perfectly alongside the road, right across from a pull-out, where we were able to watch him for a long time, up-close through binoculars, and take some beautiful pictures. What a creature! Fierce and fearless, patient and powerful, perfectly designed for his purpose and environment…

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Often unseen, but maybe not far away…Worth the time it takes to look up, and look again!


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