Union Bay Natural Area (Montlake Fill)

Husband and I had a last minute change of plans today, which worked out nicely for us to explore a new area. This weekend has had beautiful weather, but the wind has shifted on the awful wildfires that are ravaging Eastern Washington, and the air quality on this side of the mountains has taken a noticeable decline. The smoky haze rolled in yesterday morning and it’s the thickest I can ever remember seeing over here during fire season – a sad reminder of how lucky we have it compared to the many families who are evacuating their homes and businesses right now.

Wildfire Sunset

We decided to limit our outdoor activities to a fairly short walk this morning instead of the more strenuous hike or kayak trip I had been planning. It was a nice opportunity to check out one of the smaller walks that has been on my list for a while – the Union Bay Natural Area (or the Montlake Fill).

In the 1960’s the city of Seattle capped off a landfill on the shore of Lake Washington, and gradually the area has begun to recover into a natural marshy landscape. Recently the University of Washington has made an effort to remove the invasive species from the site and establish native plants instead. Currently it still feels like an area in transition, but it is a valuable pocket of scenic beauty in the middle of the city.

We arrived around 8 AM and easily found parking near the UW Botanical Gardens. Heading down the gravel path we opted to take the loop trail around the park. The first thing we noticed is that there were a lot of people around for an early Sunday morning. A lot. In the short walk I counted 10 other people watching birds with their cameras set up on tripods. There were also quite a few bikers and joggers, including a large and loud group of college students. The heavy traffic combined with the noisiness of the gravel path ensured that any sensitive animals had long since dispersed to more secluded areas. Still, the scenery was beautiful, and there were plenty of the less shy birds to spot.

Lake Washington Lily Pads Montlake Fill

American Goldfinch Montlake Fill

Walking along the trail, I could see how this area could attract a lot of different bird species. There were sprawling fields of tall grass and wildflowers, seasonal and permanent ponds, brushy woods and tall trees, and dense reeds along the shore of the lake which was choked with waterlilies. There was also an abundance of fruit on the trees and bushes and literal swarms of bees and grasshoppers. If I were a bird this is where I’d want to live.

Marsh Wren Montlake Fill

As far as destinations go, this isn’t one I’d hit again. But if I lived closer to the University District I could see this being a regular spot for casual walks. This does seem like a great place to spot uncommon birds, but I don’t like to have to fight for a good viewing spot before the crowds arrive. I could, however, see this being a good first stop to check into right at dawn before heading to a longer walk nearby, like the Washington Park Arboretum. Still, I’m pleased to see cities preserving pockets of natural space like this for people to enjoy and animals to find refuge in.

Areas visited: Union Bay Natural Area

Species observed: Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Anna’s Hummingbird, Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren, Marsh Wren, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Douglas’ Squirrel.


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