Killebrew Lake Wildlife Area

Killebrew Lake Road
WA 98245


Every day Dawn - Dusk


If the name of Killebrew Lake were changed to lost lake, it would be no less appropriate. Few first time visitors to Orcas Island see this lake despite its roadside visibility. Of those that do, many pass by concentrating on reaching other destinations and trying to match street signs with map names which so often seem in conflict. Yet, for those who seek natural areas this is a destination worth noting.

Since the last retreat of the great ice age glaciers the shallow depression that forms the lake has been dutifully collecting rainfall and accumulating the debris of countless generations of plants and animals that have called this area home. Surrounded by low hills and minor summits there is no discernable outfall from the lake. The lake level and the corresponding margins of the shoreline fluctuate not only with the short term changes in seasonal rainfall but over the centuries as organic material combined with eroding minerals have slowly, by human standards, been filling in the basin and forming peat deposits. This transition, completely natural, has no doubt been affected to some degree by human activities including road construction, home building, nearby quarry operations, and the occasional introduction of game trout into the lake waters. Despite any of these impacts the lake and surrounding lush riparian habitat provides a wealth of interest for lovers of wild lands.

The many snags and obviously dying trees belie the long term transition taking place. Fluctuations in rainfall over decades allow stands of trees to flourish only to be inundated and drowned in cycles. Eventually the trees will triumph with the entire area becoming a forest but that complete transition will not occur for hundreds of years. In the meantime, the advancing and retreating forest, shrub border, and changing lake levels make this an unusually varied environment not only for the animal life but for plants as well. Among the botanical inhabitants lurk rare and in some cases threatened species. The bog like environment of the surrounding area is itself rare and those species critically dependent on such conditions are seldom found in any other type of location.

When first arriving at the lake you’ll be greeted by an assortment of bird life and evidence of their presence. If you visit in winter, the shrubs and branches of deciduous trees will be decorated by a fascinating collection of bird nests. Most are discarded after one use and new ones must be painstakingly built fresh each year. In spring the mating season and resulting young broods come in waves, predetermined by species and migratory patterns. One of the earliest to arrive and stake its territorial claim is the tree swallow. March when it arrives can be a cool even a cold month and the availability of insects can be slim. Unlike other swallows, this hardy little fellow will temporarily tolerate a diet of left over winter shriveled berries and seeds if it has to.

The wood duck like the tree swallow also specializes in building its nest in tree cavities. The snags and lake side trees provide the ideal habitat for this beloved duck considered by many to be the most beautiful waterfowl of North America. The males are unmistakable even for someone unfamiliar with birding. So vivid, varied, and intricate is the coloring on the male wood duck that at first glance even experienced birdwatchers may wonder if it’s a living bird or an elaborate decoy. This duck was once hunted close to extinction but through diligent conservation efforts we are able to enjoy its beauty today. Your chances of seeing this duck and its young at the lake are enhanced because the wood duck is the only one to routinely brood twice a year. Rarely lucky enough to see but always worth looking for is the moment when the young leave the nest. The newly hatched ducklings appearing like tiny yellow fluffy down balls throw themselves from the safety of their nest and fall to the water or forest floor below. The mother will call to them to immediately follow her into the lake but she will offer no other assistance. While the ducklings at this lake may have to survive a fall of 15 to 30 feet, others have been known to fall nearly 300 feet without apparent harm.

The short brushy path at the lake’s border leads to a small wobbly dock. Paddlers who can hand carry their craft will launch from here to enjoy a water experience. Land bound visitors may try to follow the unmaintained trail that continues. Glimpses of the lake will occur but this walk is for enjoying the forest and its understory as well as the marshy borders around the lake. Depending on your tolerance for brush and mud it may be possible to circle the lake counterclockwise making a loop ending with a short road walk back to the start. Despite being so often overlooked, quiet little Killebrew Lake is a gem worth exploring.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 7/27/2009


From the Orcas Island ferry landing take the first right onto Killebrew Lake Road. Drive about 2 ½ miles; the lake will become visible on the left. Continue a short distance and find limited roadside parking and walk-in dock access on the left.


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