Padilla Bay and Kukutali Preserve

After a long week at work I was going stir crazy this weekend wanting to get out and experience a little bit of spring. Unfortunately spring in Seattle means rain, and that’s just what we got, all weekend long. A rainy hike doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but my daughter somehow lost her rain shell, so I had to figure out somewhere dry to go. I spent hours on Saturday comparing precipitation probability maps with trail conditions and difficulty until I finally settled on a combo that worked. We decided to head north into a corner of the Olympic rain shadow and see what was going on in Skagit Valley this time of year.

First stop, Padilla Bay – a ginormous marine estuary which sits in beautiful contrast to the farmland that rings it. The dikes that keep the saltwater out of the fields also act as an easy, flat trail from the head of a slough to a rocky strip of beach. The whole out and back is a bit over 4 miles.

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The scenery is gorgeous, but what I’m really all about it the wildlife. The bay is a popular stopover on the “Pacific flyway” – a migration pathway for birds along the coast from Alaska to Mexico. We saw plenty of ducks and what was probably the last of the snow geese before they head north. Sadly we missed many of the wintering shorebirds, but the resident bald eagles and great blue herons were plentiful. We also listened to the thundering calls of hundreds of frogs in the farm fields all the way there and back. Another little sign of Spring.

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Once we reached the far end of the trail, we took a break and beach-combed a bit. From a distance, the tide flats look like a barren stretch of muck. But up close you can see that every inch of them is alive. The craziest thing is how many mud snails there are, scooting through the eelgrass and around the shore crabs.

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We poked around for a while, had a snack, and then turned back so we could make time for another stop on our trip. We walked back quickly as one little black cloud started dumping hail. Spring in Seattle indeed. As quickly as it passed overhead the cloud floated away and golden sunlight illuminated everything again.

With the kidlet getting bigger and us having plans for longer hikes this summer I can’t settle for just a 4 mile hike in a day. We added Kukutali preserve on as an easy extension. Kukutali is a new trail; part of the Swinomish tribal reservation and joint managed by the state. It’s not big, but it was absolutely worth the trip. A narrow spit connects to Kiket Island where a few short trails offer a surprising variation in scenery.

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The most beautiful example of a native forest I have seen and views of Deception Pass from the top, beaches so covered in bleached driftwood and crushed shells they look white, kelp covered rocks holding secret tide pools and the blue green ocean crashing on the shore. The forests of madrona and cedar are choked with ferns, lichen and moss and are alive with bird calls. Red-flowering currant and Oregon Grape were blooming all over the tiny island. A couple paused on their walk to tell us how they love the preserve so much they visit every weekend during every time of year and never get tired of it. That’s a lot to say for such a little place, but as I said – it was absolutely worth the short stopover. If you’re already visiting Deception Pass, Bayview, Camano Island, etc. it would certainly be a nice little detour.

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As with any good time spent outdoors, now all I want to do is go back. I’d love to catch Padilla Bay at just the right time in winter to see the migrating shorebirds and maybe an owl or two, and I think Kukutali might be just incredible with the summer foliage. It seems like every place I cross off my list just gets added right back on.

Areas visited: Padilla Bay Trail, Kukutali Preserve (Kiket Island).

Distance walked: About 8 miles total.

Species observed: American Crow, Bald Eagle (3 juveniles and about 6 adults), Great Blue Heron (dozens), Northern Harrier, Red-winged Blackbird, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Red-tailed Hawk, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, a strange sparrow I couldn’t identify, Double-crested Cormorant, Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Snow Goose, Glaucous-winged Gull, Western Gull, Greater Scaup, American Robin, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hairy Woodpecker, Chesnut-backed Chickdee, Common Merganser, Asian Mud Snails.




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