Smith & Spencer Islands in March

Hey, it’s officially Spring! We’ve even had a few sunny days around here to kick it off. On Sunday I decided it was time to drag the family outdoors with me (pumped up with allergy medicine, sadly, because they’re both terribly allergic to the alder pollen that is turning my car a nice shade of yellow as I type this). As I promised myself last summer I thought it was time to make a winter visit to Smith and Spencer Islands to see what they look like without all of the greenery. Quite a bit different, as it turns out.


With all of the cattails and canary grass matted down we had a stunning view of the brackish marsh that is Spencer Island. Like many of the river deltas around Puget Sound, settlers built dikes along the rivers here to take advantage of the rich soil for farming. After the land had been reclaimed as a wildlife preserve the county broke the dikes and allowed the daily flooding to resume, as the Snohomish river estuary backs up with the incoming tides. We arrived during low tide, and thus got a view of the mud flats. I’d love to revisit at high tide for a bit of better bird watching in the marsh, but I did see plenty of wildlife anyway.

I found it very interesting that during our last visit we walked up to the edge of the marsh and saw nothing but green and blue filling the valley, but now with everything brown and flat, secrets were uncovered that we never would have thought to look for. A small dock with an observation area had been hiding right in front of us before, completely engulfed in reeds. Now we were able to walk out on it, but noticed that it was so caked in mud that it likely becomes submerged when the tide is in. There was also plenty of evidence left behind from the days when this was a farm – wheels and big wooden spools, old horse-drawn equipment, and even a shed of some sort – only the roof remains, the rest has sunken into the muck.


We wandered around the trails for 2 hours, but as the sun began to set we had to head home, even though we had not been able to finish the easy loop around the island. Another time perhaps, when we’re more focused on actually walking, and less on exploring and puddle stomping.

On our way back we took the gravel road past the treatment ponds that attract so many waterbirds. There were literally thousands of scaup on the ponds, mixed with coots, mergansers, and too many ducks to identify at a distance. I was even able to cross a new one off my list – a redhead – rare on this side of the mountains.

The wind picked up a bit and we hurried to get back to our warm car, but as we were driving off we got to say hello to one last animal – a white-tailed deer munching in the meadow by the highway. Like every time I get outside around the city I’m in awe of the amount of nature we have right beside our homes and freeways and office buildings. We can welcome spring without even getting out of the car – but of course it’s always so much more worth it to get out and explore.

Areas visited: Smith & Spencer Islands – 4 miles

Species observed: Bald Eagle, American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Violet-green Swallow, American Coot, Glaucous-winged Gull, Common Merganser, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, European Starling, Canada Goose, Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, White-tailed Deer.

If you go: Wear boots! The paved trail is well-maintained, but once you head over the bridge to Spencer Island you’ll be trekking through quite a bit of mud in places. Be aware of the hunting seasons and use the appropriate path for hikers and not hunters. It would also be courteous to observe leash laws here as this is a sensitive nesting area for many species of birds, as well as a popular spot for dogs being socially rehabilitated.


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