Let’s take a quick little flashback to a few weeks ago for an outing I forgot to share in the moment! Smith Island and Spencer Island in Everett, WA:
On our last visit to my MIL’s in Marysville I happened to be looking at my GPS as we crossed the Snohomish River, and noticed a photo for the area of a trailhead sign. I pulled up some information about it and realized that this was a spot I had been wanting to explore forever but didn’t know how to access, and surprise(!) there was an easy trail to get to this whole time!
See, if you hadn’t noticed already, I’m a bit of a bird nerd. This spot – the Snohomish River Delta – attracts a gigantic portion of our state’s avian species. Driving along I-5 in Everett you might notice some huge rectangular ponds. Those are the city’s water treatment ponds, and they are a favorite spot of migratory water fowl because of the relative lack of human access to them. Every fall and winter I pull out my binoculars as we drive past, on our way to somewhere else, and spot the silhouettes of some of my favorite ducks, grebes, etc. The areas north and east of the ponds have been reclaimed in recent years, flooded a bit, and replanted as wildlife sanctuaries. This, of course, attracts even more species – those which don’t prefer open water. As a whole, this big marshy island is a jackpot for animal watching. I can’t believe that with all of my interest in this place I didn’t take the time to look up how I could get there before!
But finally, after thousands of trips driving past and wondering, we found a free weeknight to do some exploring.
We started at Langus Waterfront Park, which is very close to where the river meets the Sound, and is therefore a popular boat launch. The river is wide and even here, with clear views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Ranier. This park is on Smith Island, and connects to the protected Spencer Island via a nicely paved 2-mile trail. We strolled up the path in the summer heat, enjoying the juxtaposition over the water of swooping swallows and racing jet-skis. I imagine if we had come closer to twilight we may have seen bats and muskrat, even otters perhaps.
Rounding a bend, we came to Union Slough, which divides the two islands. One side is poplars, brambles, and grass, the other is cattails and old spruce snags. Here we started to spot birds. We saw our first ever Caspian Terns, dwarfing the gulls they flew past, their calls a startling “kowk”. We were also a bit surprised to find a few Eastern Kingbirds among the swallows.
Historic Jackknife Bridge connects the islands. From here there is a choice to go left to an area maintained for hunters in the fall and winter, or right to a loop around the wildlife preserve. I can’t wait to come back around February when the hunting season is over but the grasses are still low and the water high – the best time for observing water birds.
Going back over the bridge we were caught by surprise as a Peregrine Falcon, chasing a smaller bird in flight, swooped through the bracing and nearly hit me in the head! I can still feel the wind of its feathers on my face. I turned just in time to snap a photo of a second falcon, following close behind.
Still in awe, we stood for a while enjoying the summer sounds and fading light. When we were finally ready to turn back we took the dirt road that bisects the treatment pools. Every pond was lined with mallards, all in a row, preening and resting. In just a month or so they’ll have to share their space with flashier birds, but for now all was peaceful.
I’m so happy I stumbled across this trail. Watch this space in the winter, and hopefully I’ll have some photos to share of a different version of these islands!
Areas Visited: Smith & Spencer Islands – Everett, WA | 4 miles
Species observed: Canada Goose, Mallard, Wood Duck, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Caspian Tern, Western Wood Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, American Crow, Violet-green Swallow, Barn Swallow, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Band-winged Grasshoppers.