Birding and Hiking on the Loop Trail

Posted on by Blair Maurer. This entry was posted in Being Active. Bookmark the permalink.

Thoreau had it right. Strolling through your neighborhood under the cover of trees and sky is best. Your thoughts become clearer and your creativity bubbles up.

Everyone knows the Burke-Gilman rings our campus and is a great multi-use trail, but have you ever visited the nature reserve known as the Union Bay Natural Area?

Covering 74 acres along Lake Washington’s shore, it’s literally in our back yard. A loop trail winds through woods and wetlands. There’s much to discover. Locals call it the Montlake Fill because it’s a former garbage dump – completely reclaimed and renewed.

One of those locals is Constance Sidles, a master birder and a true champion of the site. In her book, “In My Nature: A Birder’s Year at the Montlake Fill,” she describes it as a refuge within the city and a critical habitat for more than 200 species of birds. Sandpipers, herons, song sparrows, marsh wrens, red-tailed hawks, and even turtles lined up on a log are just a few of the sights you’ll find. She makes a great case for why this area must remain wild for the migratory birds that rest and feed here and for the many birds that breed here.


“Because the birds get used to people passing by all the time, they soon learn we won’t harm them, and they let us get closer to them than anywhere else I know,” says Sidles. “In a way, they let us into their lives, a wild world of nature right here on our doorstep. It’s magical.”

Take the loop trail and you may see ecology students doing grassland restoration.You may find an artist sketching a scene, or hear a jogger’s steps crunching up the gravel. You’ll likely see a pair of birders with their scopes and sensible hats. You may even spy them crouched amid cattails on one of the ponds that dot the landscape.

Sidles points out that many UW faculty and staff “commute” through the UBNA from nearby neighborhoods. To find the loop trail from campus, take the walkway between the soccer and track fields (north of Husky Stadium). You’ll see a wooden bridge that crosses University Slough (warning: this is not exactly a babbling brook). Take that bridge and voila — you’re in.


When my family visits on the weekend, we start the loop trail from the Center for Urban Horticulture side. We take Mary Gates Memorial Drive NE off of NE 45th Street and park on the street just before we get to the CUH. As we enter the grounds, we take Wahkiakum Lane that leads to the trail. Another parking option is buying a $2.50 day pass in the Merrill Hall lobby and parking in the CUH lot.

Note that Sidles is offering a birding series this year through the UW Botanic Gardens, which manages the UBNA. Go to their calendar and search “Sidles” to find the two sessions that remain. Would you rather dig in as a volunteer? From now until the end of the quarter, Graduate Research Assistant Jon Diemer is a good contact for volunteering.

So now that the clouds have made their own long migration out of our sky and the sun’s actually shining, whether it’s on your lunch hour or after work, grab a friend, walk over, and surround yourself in a living, thriving green space.

We can thank the many students, professors, and volunteers who have toiled in rain and mud (and through purple loosestrife!) to restore native vegetation so that neighbors like me can simply stroll here.

Do you have a favorite urban oasis of your own? Or maybe you’ve caught sight of a rare bird at the UBNA. Please share below!