Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Padilla Bay Outing

Annika checks out whale bones and baleen

Up north a ways, out of the city and sprawling suburbia, is a large estuary feeding the Salish Sea. Padilla Bay offers beaches, mud flats, marsh habitat, and other fabulous environments for exploring. We spent a few hours at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which has a free museum with an aquarium and some excellent exhibits about estuaries, ocean life, and the general area.

The kids liked opening and closing all the doors and drawers.

There is an area where kids can touch specimens and play games.

Feeling the fur of different local creatures

An unfortunate hummingbird who hit the side of a house so hard his beak went clear through the plywood. The poor thing died on impact.

My kids enjoyed the whale bones and baleen, the puppets, and the felt board the best. They also liked all the sea creatures and eel grass floating from the ceiling. We were the only ones there last Friday, and it was nice to have the place to ourselves and chat with the friendly staff. The aquaria have been updated since the last time we were there, and we spent a lot of time searching for sea creatures and looking at them up close.

The new rocky shore aquarium

Lots of tube feet!

Colorful creatures

After we explored a bit and had some lunch, we took a walk on the Upland Trail, which starts in the parking lot and makes a 0.8 mile loop through a small forest and meadow. We checked out a backpack with an activity guide and some props for the activities, as well as 2 pairs of binoculars to use on our walk. My kids enjoyed looking for the numbered posts along the trail and genuinely appreciated the information included in the activity guide. It was a bit early in the season for many of the activities, but I think it was worth it anyway, as using the booklet helped to focus our walk.

Stinging nettles are coming up

Indian-plum is blooming - one of our earliest blooming native plants

Some kind of small mammal left these tracks in the grasses.

Piles of stones from homesteading farmers who cleared the fields of glacial debris

When we were beginning our walk, a great blue heron landed at the edge of the parking lot and the meadow. Gabriel and Annika were enthralled. We practiced walking closer up to it, sneaking quietly and stopping to observe with our binoculars. It let us get pretty close before it leapt up and moved farther off.

Gabriel stalking the heron

The Great Blue Heron waits quietly

Woops! We scared it off!

At the same time, 3 bald eagles were flying overhead and chattering in their unique voices. Fabulous!

From the meadows at the interpretive center, you can see across the bay to the oil refineries and the hills of Anacortes.

The highest hill, Mt. Erie, has radio/tv/cell towers on top. There is a road up to the top, too, and the kids liked my idea of driving up to the viewpoints up there.

Looking south from Mt. Erie to Lake Campbell and Whidbey Island

Unfortunately the clouds were thickening and it was getting misty while we were up on top; the best part, though, was crawling on the giant boulders and rock outcroppings.

My little rock climbers

The kids talked about this part for several days afterward. When they get a year or two older, we'll be able to hike from the bottom of the hill to the top on one of the many trails.

The third part of our field trip was to Deception Pass State Park. This park has so many neat sections to explore; this is the first time I took them to Rosario Bay. Gabriel found a covey of California Quail in the black berry bushes. That was his first sighting for these birds. We spent some time on the beach, a clean pebbled slope flanked by large driftwood logs.

Gabriel hiding in the driftwood.

The gentle waves made a swooshing sound as they washed up and down the pebbles.

The kids running on the beach

We threw rocks - oh, the lovely colors and variety of stones on these beaches!

Colorful stones

Some of the tide pools were exposed by the tide, and we poked around a bit, finding a few anemones, snails, and small crabs.

Rosario tidepools

Gabriel gently exploring the tide pools

I had my little binoculars, and saw some new-to-me birds floating and diving out in the water. I thought for sure I'd remember their details until I got back to the car and my bird book, but by the time we made it back, I'd forgotten what I saw. I guess I need to sharpen my observation and memory skills!

By now dusk was beginning to fall, so we reluctantly made our way back to the car and snacks for the drive home. The rain started in earnest, so I felt lucky that we had avoided the worst of it for our little outing. Gabriel had been uninterested and lethargic in the beginning of the day, just wanting to go home and play on the computer. But by the end of the trip he was excited about what we had done and asking to come back soon. Deception Pass truly is a special place, and I love that even the kids can feel that specialness. Next time I think we will explore some of the hiking trails there.