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Let’s talk about the major habitat types you’ll see on the refuge. The number next to them is the code you’ll see on the data sheet.
These are picture of the estuary. Once again, an estuary is a place where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. They are often characterized by mud flats, and the tide comes in and out twice a day. The estuary is a great place to look for raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons) like this red-tailed hawk and interesting salt-tolerant plants, like this pickleweed. Pickleweed deals with being immersed in salt by storing the excess salt in its leaves, then periodically shedding those salt-filled leaves.
Photo credit: USFWS and I. Van Lawick, B. Peterson, Wikipedia
The tidally influenced riparian forest is one of the rarest habitat types in the world. It has a long and a little complicated name, though. Let’s break it down. “Riparian” means “related to, or near, the bank of a river”. So this forest is near the river. “Tidally-influenced” means that the tides have an effect on this forest. So this is a forest, near a river, where the tides of Puget Sound come in and out twice a day. While there, look for the skunk cabbage growing down in the mud. Make sure to take a big whiff, too, it has an interesting smell. You might also see brown creepers scurrying up and down the trunks of trees.
Photo credit: M. Schramm, USFWS, M. O’Malley
This is the Riparian Forest. Much like the Riparian Forest Tidally-Influenced, except that the tides to interact with this section of the forest. Look out for tree frogs (also known as Pacific chorus frogs) and snowberries. The Nisqually people have long believed that snowberries, although poisonous to people, are eaten by ghosts. Snowberries look like another berry, Saskatoon, which is edible and pink, and the native name for snowberries translates to “Saskatoon of the people of the land of the dead”.
Photo credit: USFWS, I. Van Lawick., pixabay.com
You’ll also see lots of wetlands on the refuge. Wetlands, while similar to ponds and lakes, have one distinct difference: they are shallow enough that plants grow throughout the majority of the wetland, creating island-like mats of reeds and grasses. Great blue herons love to hunt for fish and amphibians in wetlands, and keep on the lookout for duckweed: a tiny, bright-green plant (the leaves are 1 cm wide) that covers the surfaces of wetland waters.
Photo credit: USFWS, C. Cole
Rivers are bodies of freshwater that continually flow, and typically end in an ocean, lake or, in this case, the Puget Sound. You may not see them, but 5 of the 7 salmonid species in this area use the Nisqually River: the Chum, Chinook , Coho, Pink and Steelhead. If you are lucky, you might see a harbor seal in the river.
Photo credit: USFWS, USGS, geograph.org, D. Ellison
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge - Habitat types