Written by Panorama resident, Judy Murphy. April 2014.
The 22-mile trail was built on the bed of the former Chehalis Western Railroad, which was used throughout much of the 20th century to haul logs to mills and ultimately to Henderson Inlet. At its southern end it connects with the 14.5 mile Yelm-Tenino trail, and the northern terminus is at Woodard Bay. That makes for a beautiful bicycle trip in any season.
My interest is usually closer to home, however, on the short section between the Panorama dog park entrance to the trail and Herman Road SE. Halfway in between there is an overlook on Chambers Lake. It’s a great place to sit and observe ducks in winter, Canada geese, the occasional bald eagle, red-tail hawks, and red-winged blackbirds.
Along the trail there is a marshy wetland lined with willows on the lakeside and mostly woods, with some houses, on the other. This habitat attracts a variety of birds as well as other critters. I have seen raccoons and heard a coyote once and bullfrogs. Of course, there are many other more familiar critters–dog walkers, bicyclists (beware, they go fast!), joggers, and parents with strollers. But during the week, and especially at rainy times, the trail is often yours to savor alone.
Perhaps my favorite year-round bird on the trail is the marsh wren that inhabits the cattails by the overlook. If you sit on the bench in the spring you will hear his near constant chatter, and if you are patient you may catch a glimpse as he sits on top of a reed and calls to mark his territory and attract a mate. He has built several nests by the overlook.
Another year-round resident is the yellow-rumped warbler, though I most often see it in the spring.
The red-winged blackbirds whistle and call all year, and other common chatterers include chickadees, spotted towhees, swallows, juncos, song sparrows and robins. I used to see a hummingbird perched atop a particular tree before the leaves appeared in spring. Now and then mallards will waddle across the trail to look for nesting spots.
In spring and summer you might see Western tanagers, black-headed grosbeaks, flickers, bushtits, kinglets, and cedar waxwings. Listen for the witchety-wich of the yellowthroat in the willow thickets (but they are devilishly tough to see from the trail).
Winter is the season for waterfowl. I enjoy looking for wood ducks, which are so beautifully colored. Buffleheads are cute little diving ducks, and the males’ handsome black-and-white heads stand out among the coots, ring-necked ducks, wigeons, and Northern shovelers. I also like to look for nests, easily seen in the bare trees, to admire how their seemingly frail structures can withstand the harsh rain and wind of the winter.
In the fall, the lake can be hidden in the mist of deep fog, and you will wonder that you could be so close to home.
In any season, this small portion of the trail is a birder’s delight, and even if you aren’t keen to go out with binoculars and look for birds, just listening for the cacophony among the trees is good for the soul.
For details about the trail, go to http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/parks/trails-chehalis-western.htm