What a treat! The sky was blue, the sun was out, and pie was in the forecast.
It was a great day to be at Greenbank Farm! Even if I don’t have a dog, I walked with a friend who does! Her border collie-Ausie mix was excited before they picked me up, suspecting we were going to the fields on the hill with 500 acres of room to run.
We parked at the big red barns and put the dog on a leash, temporarily. “If we’re lucky, she’ll poop before we reach the kiosk.” And right on cue... There was a can for such deposits at the kiosk where we paused to take the dog off her leash. From there on up the hill is an off-leash dog park and a favorite gathering place for dogs and their human companions.
As we climbed the hill, we met three big, friendly, golden retrievers and stopped to say hello. When their owner reached into her pocket, they knew something good was coming and sat perfectly erect with eyes glued to that generous hand.
Further along we paused at the colorful interpretive panel of birds we might see there. It’s a popular place for birds and birdwatchers, with such varied habitats all around the field. On the north side is a large forest. On the east is a wetland. To the west is a lake. Not far off are saltwater shorelines to the east and west. And the wide-open fields offer habitat for songbirds in the brambles and hawks on the wing. I’ve become accustomed to glancing at the single cedar that stands near the highway where bare branches at the top provide a resting place for large birds. Early in the morning I have seen coyotes cross the fields.
But by mid-day, dogs rule! It’s like going to a big community event for them. So many dogs meeting and greeting each other. The locals walk their dogs here daily. The people and the dogs all know each other. I met a couple who come from Seattle every couple of weeks with their vezslas. And another couple walked by speaking German with some hefty Labrador retrievers. One group at the top of the hill had three golden retrievers and three dachshunds romping around with a ball they’d found. Big and little, having a great time together.
Hunting season had ended so we took a stroll through the woods following the trail signs in a big loop. We only met a few other people there and only one black lab among them. In spots the trail was muddy. Tree rounds had been placed like stepping stones but they were slick on this frosty morning. There was evidence of recent windstorms that had torn and twisted trees. A trail crew had cleared the way which always makes me so grateful. I was amazed at how much sunlight penetrates a winter wood before the leaves emerge in spring.
As we emerged from the forest into a tree tunnel that borders the field, a man walked by carrying a small plastic bag tied shut which he dropped into a can at the top of the hill. Then he turned back and forth, whistling and calling, whistling and calling. We stood near the bottom of the tree tunnel where a huge bernese mountain dog ran up, sat down, alert and listening, turning it’s head this way and that. “He’s down here!” I called to the man on the hill. He turned and whistled and the dog went bounding up the hill in a great, shaggy gallop.
We walked back into the bright winter sun, meeting and greeting more friends and dogs, huskies and hounds, as we made our way back to the barns. The dog got a treat and a bowl of water at the car. We went inside for pie!
For a trail map click here.
Directions: Take Highway 525 11 miles south of Coupeville or 7.8 miles north of Freeland to 756 Wonn Road just north of the Greenbank Store. Park at the big red barns and enter at the kiosk. Or park just north of Smuggler's Cove Road on Highway 525 and enter through a gate.
Bus and Bike: Island Transit's Route 1 bus stops at a gate on the north end of Smuggler's Cove Road. Be careful crossing the highway. Two bikes fit on a bus or ride the shoulder along the highway, or take Smuggler's Cove Road with less traffic. Wear bright clothes and use a light for visibility.
Mobility: The fields have wide mowed paths that are hilly and mostly dry. The trails through the woods are narrow and can be muddy.
Early Birds Get the...
Fish. That’s why they’re here.
For me, it’s the mist rising off the water as the sun creeps over the horizon, the frosty grasses and seaweed twinkling in the morning light, the enormous logs washed up on a cobbly shore, the whimsical driftwood creatures, the long brown tangles of bull kelp, the old pilings, what’s left of historic structures, and the wide expanse of blue water, flat, calm on this quiet morning.
Oh, and the birds. Of course. This is an Important Bird Area after all. Full of important birds.
The sun was low, burning through the fog when the bus arrived at Keystone Spit. I disembarked and crossed a field of long, frosty grasses toward the water. Approaching the old pier, I expected to see a crowd of cormorants, but there was only one black silhouette, sitting silently atop a post.
Passing a row of picnic tables I stood at the edge. The cobbled shore dropped precariously to a sandy beach. As the tide was out, I had options, cobbles, gravel, or sand. I tried them all making my way along. Stopping intermittently, I spied on glowing gulls, incoming cormorants, and the graceful, red eyed grebes. I used to see Western grebes in great numbers in the winter. What an elegant bird. Their black head looks like an ink pot was poured down the back of their long slender necks. And the red eyes look almost supernatural.
I walked beyond the pier as the sun bloomed brighter and a lonesome loon emerged from the ancient past with a fish in its mouth. It spied me on the shore and hesitated. Then tilting its head back, the fish disappeared into the bird’s wide gullet. The lump in its throat looked awkward and uncomfortable. But loons have been doing this for a very long time. They know a good meal when they catch one. It’s long silver body is built to float, more at home in the water than on land, with feet like a propeller at the back of its body, cruising through the ages in perfect form. Their unearthly calls carry unobscured across the water.
A smaller gray bird popped up in the distance. Could it be a marbled murrelet? It lays it’s eggs on mossy limbs in the rainforest and then flies for miles to spend most of its time on saltwater. It ties these two ecosystems together even as logging cut them apart. They became a representative of old growth forest, a cute little poster bird illustrating the interconnections of all life.
Focusing on the distant birds, I almost missed the giant jellyfish at my feet, rocking back and forth with each gentle wave. The Lion’s Mane is something I’d expect to see in September, but these two are late. Still, they seem healthy and happy here. Our warming oceans bring many surprises. If I were a diver, I could explore the underwater park next to the boat launch. I often see divers going and coming from that undersea aquarium by the jetty as if they'd just hiked in from Port Townsend. But none this morning.
I walked on, looking around me and stumbling over driftwood logs slick with melting frost. One rises up into the air like a horse. Another soars like a dragon. Driftwood huts with creative furnishings loom large near the end of the spit, evidence of a summer day full of ambitious endeavors.
Finally, I reach Driftwood County Park where I climb the bank and find ducks in the little pond just off the beach. Buffleheads and Goldeneyes swim like little rubber toys in a tub. They make me smile, as do the others, and the sun, and the water, and the bus coming as I step to the street to flag it down. An eagle alights from a nearby telephone pole as I board and we are on our way!
To take part in a beach clean-up with other volunteers visit this page.
For more info on winter birding with Whidbey Audubon, click here.
To learn more about Important Bird Areas like this one, click here.
Directions: From Highway 20 near Coupeville, follow the signs to the Coupeville Ferry. Keystone Spit is just east of the ferry landing and runs for 2 miles to Driftwood County Park. In between, there are places where a car can turn off the road onto a rough paved road. You’ll need a Discovery Pass to park there, but not at Driftwood County Park, and not if you take the bus.
Bike and Bus: The Route 6 bus can take you to the ferry landing Monday-Friday. The Route 1 bus will take you on Saturdays. There is no bus service on Sunday. You may put 2 bikes on the bus bike rack. The road has wide shoulders and many people like to ride bikes around Crockett Lake. Please wear something bright and use lights to be visible to motorists.
Mobility: The beach is steep with cobblestone and gravel. There is a lot of driftwood to climb over to get to the beach. However, the rough road down the middle of the spit is accessible for people with mobility challenges. Two driveways link it to the main road. There is an observation deck for bird watching and interpretive signs. A Discover Pass is needed to park there.
Now you see it...
From the water it looks like an ordinary beach with an ordinary bluff rising up behind it. There are ordinary gulls flying about and ordinary trees in the distance. There’s a lighthouse shimmering white by the edge of the bluff. But this is no ordinary place.
This is Fort Casey, a coast artillery fort, hidden from the water, with huge guns that fire 600 pound ammo, tucked secretly behind a wall. It took dozens of men to ready a gun, raise it up, take aim and fire! The thrust would rock the gun back down completely out of sight. Windows rattled in downtown Coupeville on practice days. But though they were ready, the guns never fired on an enemy.
Fort Casey, Fort Worden and Fort Flagler stood guard over the entrance to Puget Sound at the turn of the 20th Century forming a triangle of defense at Admiralty Inlet. When air power exposed the forts from the sky and more modern technology made them obsolete, all three forts became State Parks.
If you’re into military history, this is a great place to explore. It can take an hour to walk from one end of the fort to the other studying the displays, investigating the underground rooms, trying out the speaking tubes, or climbing into the observation towers and plotting rooms.
Or you can visit the lighthouse, built in 1903, with its own fascinating history. Climb the spiral stairs into the tower, see the displays and read about the lighthouse keepers of old.
If you’re interested in natural history, you can walk along the bluff with its population of rare golden paintbrush that blooms in the spring, or stroll the beach for miles. Bring your binoculars to spot shore birds, waterfowl, raptors or marine mammals. Walk through the woods and discover the glacial erratic in the picnic area where you can see Crocket Lake and Mount Baker in the distance. You could even set up your campsite and watch the ferry come and go just beyond the glow of your campfire.
Camp Casey, next door, was the residential part of Fort Casey, but when the Fort was sold to the State Parks in the 1950’s, the residential area was sold to Seattle Pacific University. Together they have preserved this historic site. Camp Casey is used for youth camps and conferences. It’s not open to the public without calling ahead for permission (360-678-5050). But Fort Casey, from the lighthouse to the ferry landing, is a State Park full of attractions, especially this time of year.
Looking for mystery and spooks? How about underground passageways that echo with eerie sounds and heavy doors that squeeek when they open and clang when they shut. Or a century old lighthouse on a windblown bluff. Haunted Fort Casey will invite families to enjoy Halloween on the last two weekends of October from noon to 4pm for $5.
The Lighthouse is open on weekends in October and on Thanksgiving weekend in November. It will be decorated and open on weekends in December (except Dec. 24-25) and on the last week of the year with displays and a unique shopping experience in the gift shop. Sales support the programs at the park and keep the lighthouse open to the public.
While exploring the park you’ll be getting your exercise, walking miles, climbing up and down steps, like at the gym only a lot more interesting. This park of 999 acres entertains the mind while you engage the body. If the kids don’t like hiking, “boring”, bring them here. If you need to walk the dog but get tired of the same neighborhood loop, bring them here. If you have out of town guests, bring them here. If you know someone with mobility challenges, you can easily access the fort and its fascinating history. And you can get here by bus! Because this is no ordinary place. This is Fort Casey!
For details about the Park and upcoming events click here.
Fort Casey is accessible by the Route 6 bus on weekdays and the Route 1 bus on Saturdays. For a schedule click here or call 360-678-7771.
Directions: From the stoplight in Coupeville turn south on Main Street and continue as becomes Engle Road. In 3.5 miles when the speed limit slows to 20mph, look for the park entrance on the right.
By Bus and Bike: Take fare free Island Transit Route 6 on weekdays or Route 1 on Saturdays. There is a bus shelter at the park entrance. Put a bike on the bus bike rack or ride from Coupeville south on Main Street which becomes Engle Road. There is a wide shoulder and mostly level ride. Please wear bright clothes and use lights on your bike for visibility.
Mobility: All Island Transit buses can carry 1-2 wheelchairs and stop at the park entrance. There is a steep hill on a paved road to enter the park. Access to the fort is by the sidewalk on the north end of the parking area. There is no wheelchair access to the inside of the lighthouse.
sunrise, Sunset, Walking Ebey
There’s a buzz around the new Walking Ebey Trail that connects Rhododendron County Park and Admiralty Inlet Preserve. The trail zig-zags between farms and fields, following hedgerows and fence lines, ducking in and out of woods and willow thickets for 3.5 miles across Ebey’s Prairie. This is phase one of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s plan to connect trails and parks throughout Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The sign at the trailhead says it’s like a “European Walking Experience” but I’ve had similar experiences in the British Isles and in Asia. I would guess walking is pretty common in most places… except in America. Don’t get me started.
My niece was visiting. She picked me up after work and we parked at Rhododendron Park. Then we walked the bike path 1.7 miles to Main Street in Coupeville to catch the Route 6 bus to Admiralty Inlet Preserve. I told the driver to let us off at the bright blue house. We crossed Engle Road to the newly expanded parking area and started Walking Ebey.
I was aware that at the fall equinox, our opportunities for a walk after work would quickly diminish, but the day was warm and sunny. I’d studied the map provided online but due to some technical glitch, it seemed unreadable. Still I’d been assured by Taylor at the Land Trust office that the trail was well marked.
We started at the kiosk and followed the trail through a knot of trees that soon opened up to a mowed path by a field. We followed a fence line by bird boxes and brambles, passed a couple of nice houses admiring their backyard gardens, turning at the corners of each field for wide open views first one way and then another. The Olympics shored up the west side. Mount Baker peered over the trees. A few people passed us coming from the opposite direction as we walked. Cows and horses grazed nearby. We ducked through a tunnel of trees between fields passing through a Fat Man’s Squeeze. (I love that term!) Chickadees called from the shrubbery. Sparrows flitted through fences. A hawk circled above. We talked easily as the trail became a farm road wide enough to walk side by side.
A truck sped by reminding us to be careful crossing Fort Casey Road, but there was no other traffic and this was the only road crossing. Stopping to pick blackberries I looked around and thought of the hundreds of times I’d driven these roads but had never seen these houses or barns from the back before. It’s like walking through town through the alleys. You see everyone’s backyard chicken coop, garden or clothesline. It’s a more intimate way to walk the neighborhood.
As the sun slanted westward the colors of the distant water and mountains deepened. We spied apples ripening a few yards away. Red rosehips and white snowberries shone in the setting sun. Entering Rhododendron County Park we followed the Grandpa's Legacy Trail. I thought of a friend who had walked there with me and his grandson months ago. He lives on the prairie and recently gave me some corn.
By the time we got back to the truck it was dinner time. Darkness fell as we ate at a restaurant nearby. My niece caught the ferry with a jug of fresh pressed cider, rhubarb and zucchini bread to take home.
A few days later I had the chance to go Walking Ebey again, this time at sunrise. I started with a loop at Admiralty Inlet Preserve before crossing the road. Walking alone at first light, I noticed more birds, woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, sparrows, chickadees, bushtits, quail, hawks and raven. I saw two tiny green frogs on a bird box, and glimpsed a coyote making a quiet exit from a farm. The morning warmed into another beautiful day as I went Walking Ebey.
Please respect private property, keep dogs on a leash and leave livestock alone. There’s a good map of this trail on the kiosk across from Admiralty Inlet Preserve, and the trail is well marked.
There is another section of trail that links this one to the Prairie Wayside Overlook on Engle Road. You can add miles by hiking the trails at the parks at either end. Or shorten your walk by catching the Route 6 bus on Fort Casey Road.
Directions: From Highway 20 in Coupeville, turn south on Main Street (which turns into Engle Road) and drive 2.5 miles. Park at the gravel lot across from the Admiralty Inlet Preserve. Or take Highway 20 south of Coupeville 1.8 miles to Park Road. Park at Rhododendron County Park and take the Grandpa’s Legacy Trail. Or take Highway 20 south 3.5 miles and turn right on Patmore Road to access Rhododendron County Park on the south side. The Walking Ebey Trail starts at the southwest corner of the park on the Grandpa’s Legacy Trail.
By Bike or Bus: There's a wide shoulder and almost level bike ride from Coupeville south on Main Street (which becomes Engle Road) to the trailhead. Please wear bright clothes and use your bike lights. Or take the Rhododendron bike path from Coupeville east (next to Highway 20) to Rhododendron County Park. Bikes are not allowed on the trail itself. There are bike racks with room for 2 bikes on Island Transit buses. On weekdays the fare free Route 6 bus follows Engle Road south on the way to the Coupeville ferry and takes Fort Casey Road north on the way back to Coupeville. The weekday Route 1 bus takes Highway 20 passing Rhododendron County Park with bus stops at nearby Jacobs Road for the southbound bus and Quail Trail Road for the northbound. Please be very careful crossing the highway. On Saturdays the Route 1 bus goes by the Coupeville ferry using Fort Casey Road both north and southbound but does not go by Rhododendron County Park. See schedule at www.islandtransit.org or call 360-678-7771.
Mobility: This is a mostly level trail that varies from narrow with rocks and roots, to wide farm roads.