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  • Writer's pictureEdward Leonard

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge - Washington - 29 June 2024

Visiting National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) is something I really enjoy. I have found them great spots to enjoy nature without the crowds of the National Parks. National Parks are great as well, but definitely require more planning especially with the entry systems being introduced to the majority of popular parks. NWRs are rarely crowded and often provide great areas to spot birds.

And seeing a bird was my main purpose for the visit to Turnbull on Saturday. This summer I have an ambitous target of adding 100 new birds to my life list. To kick off this challenge I was chasing the Black Tern. There had been several reports on eBird over the past few days. So I woke up at 4 am and drove the 193 miles from Cle Elum to the NWR. I burned through a lot of podcasts on that drive.

As I approached Turnbull, I went to switch on the GoPro I had attached the dash only to find out the battery wasn't charged. I thought it would have been fun to capture the drive into the park and the journey along the 5.5 mile auto route. I guess it would need to be some other time.

I stopped beside every body of water along that auto route. I was getting discouraged as I knew there wasn't much more route left and I hadn't seen any Terns. Finally, I got to Blackhorse Lake Boardwalk area and there was one flying above the marsh. It is an elegant bird in flight. I quickly parked the van hoping to get a picture. I fumbled with the zoom and couldn't get in focus. The best I got was the following picture before the Black Tern was gone:

Despite not getting a good photo I was delighted. The trip had been successful. Only 99 more for my goal of the Summer.


And now let's hear what ChatGPT says about visiting Turnbull NWR:

Discovering the Natural Splendor of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

Nestled in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington, the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife. This refuge, spanning over 18,000 acres, serves as a sanctuary for over 200 bird species and various mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. A visit to Turnbull is more than a hike; it is an immersion into a landscape shaped by ancient floods, volcanic activity, and centuries of ecological evolution.

As you drive towards the refuge, the transformation from urban sprawl to natural wilderness is gradual yet striking. The surrounding scenery transitions from the rolling farmlands of the Palouse to the rugged basalt formations and wetlands characteristic of the Channeled Scablands. The refuge entrance, marked by a modest sign, invites you into a world where nature reigns supreme, and human impact is minimal.

The Visitor Center is an excellent starting point for any trip to Turnbull. Here, you can gather maps, learn about the refuge’s history and ecology, and get tips on the best trails and viewing spots. The center’s exhibits highlight the geological and ecological significance of the area, providing context that enriches the hiking experience. Knowledgeable staff are available to answer questions and offer guidance on wildlife observation and photography.

Stepping onto one of the many trails that crisscross the refuge, you are immediately enveloped by a sense of tranquility and natural beauty. The Pine Lake Loop Trail, one of the most popular routes, offers a gentle introduction to Turnbull’s diverse habitats. The trail winds through mixed woodlands of ponderosa pine and aspen, alongside shimmering lakes and marshes, and across open grasslands. Each habitat supports its own unique array of wildlife, making every turn of the trail a potential wildlife encounter.

Birdwatching is a highlight at Turnbull, especially during the migratory seasons of spring and fall. The refuge’s wetlands and lakes attract a variety of waterfowl, including mallards, teals, and the strikingly elegant trumpeter swans. The call of red-winged blackbirds and the sight of great blue herons fishing in the shallows add to the sensory experience. For bird enthusiasts, Turnbull is a paradise, offering the chance to spot both common and rare species in their natural habitats.

The refuge’s topography, shaped by ancient volcanic activity and glacial floods, adds a dramatic backdrop to your hike. Basalt outcrops, remnants of massive lava flows, rise above the landscape, creating striking contrasts with the lush vegetation and tranquil waters below. These geological features not only add visual interest but also provide important habitats for various plants and animals. The rugged terrain is a testament to the powerful forces that have shaped this region over millennia.

As you venture deeper into the refuge, the chance to encounter larger mammals increases. Mule deer are a common sight, gracefully navigating the woodlands and meadows. If you are lucky, you might spot a moose wading in the wetlands or catch a glimpse of a coyote trotting through the grasslands. The refuge is also home to more elusive creatures like bobcats and badgers, adding an element of mystery to the exploration.

Turnbull’s commitment to conservation and habitat restoration is evident throughout the refuge. Various projects aim to restore native vegetation, control invasive species, and enhance water quality in the wetlands. These efforts not only benefit the wildlife but also ensure that the refuge remains a vibrant, healthy ecosystem for future generations to enjoy. Educational programs and guided tours further enhance visitors’ understanding of the importance of conservation and the role of national wildlife refuges.

Photographers will find Turnbull to be an endless source of inspiration. The interplay of light and shadow across the landscape, the reflections in the still waters of the lakes, and the vibrant colors of wildflowers in bloom create countless opportunities for capturing stunning images. The changing seasons offer new perspectives and moods, from the lush greens of spring and summer to the golden hues of fall and the stark beauty of winter.

A visit to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a journey into the heart of Washington’s natural heritage. It is a place where the rhythms of nature can be observed and appreciated, where the sights and sounds of wildlife bring joy and wonder, and where the beauty of the landscape inspires a deeper connection to the natural world. Whether you are an avid birder, a casual hiker, a nature photographer, or simply someone seeking peace and solitude, Turnbull offers a unique and enriching experience. It is a sanctuary not just for wildlife, but for the human spirit, reminding us of the enduring power and beauty of the natural world.

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