Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thief Valley Reservoir

Sadie the Dalmatian
straggled along the muddy
two-track road above the dam
at the nearly iced-over Thief
Valley Reservoir.
She paused to sniff bush
after bush.
I shuffled on, deep in
thought about the eagles, elk
and antelope I'd photo
graphed earlier. I passed a
sage-dotted and shaded cut
between two hills on my right.
I paid the dark cleft little
attention. Yet, it gave me an
uneasy feeling. Hair on my
neck twitched.
I stopped, turned slowly
and studied the shadows.
Yes! Thirty-three yards
away, peering around a bush!
A coyote sat on its
haunches and watched us. Or
it watched Sadie.
Did it drool? Humm.
Slowly, I lifted the camera.
Drat! The wily critter faded
away. Instantly. Gone.
Darn, I thought. A close
shot of a coyote would have
capped a great day of wildlife
photography.
Not that I didn't have some
good shots already. And, I
crossed my fingers, the scenic
shots should be good, too.
I'd started out to find
eagles, which gather in
Northeast Oregon in the win
ter. They may reach a peak of
about 250 in February and
March.
Of course Northeast Ore
gon covers a space somewhat
larger than a postage stamp.
But people had seen eagles in
Union County. Apparently.
And I once saw three ante
lope beside the road between
Union and Powder River. In
addition, the Oregon Depart
ment of Fish and Wildlife
feeds elk in the winter a few
miles out of Powder River.
So, we had a plan. My wife
Darlene made a lunch for us,
and we left home at 7:28 a.m.
I unlimbered the
70-300-millimeter lens at
Ladd Marsh, appropriately
with a shot of a marsh hawk
(northern harrier) in flight. I
also photographed the old ho
tel (some say it's haunted) at
the hot springs. The wrecked
building is being refurbished.
Next, about 100 antelope
lazed in the sunlight 200
yards from the road about six
miles from North Powder.
Then I took the road from
North Powder toward An
thony Lakes and detoured at a
sign indicating the Elkhorn
Wildlife Viewing area.
It was a Monday, and we
had the place to ourselves.
Well, not counting the 100 elk
that dozed in the sunlight.
Snow covered the ground,
and I measured the altitude at
3,657 feet.
From there we took the An
thony Lakes Highway toward
Haines. Several hawks sat on
fences, in trees or sailed along
looking for mice.
Then darting crows caught
my eye. Three crows flew
after an eagle with its white
head and tail bright in the
sunlight.
``Look, Sadie, an eagle!''
I braked and counted two
eagles on fence posts with
sheep in the foreground, three
in a tree near a farm and two
in a tree near the road.
``That's seven eagles!''
The two ahead of me were
juveniles (or, perhaps, golden
eagles). It takes about four
years for a bald eagle to de
velop a white head.
I parked, let Sadie out, and
we stood by the fence. I took a
photos of eagles with the
70-300-millimeter-zoom lens.
I missed one that flew just 20
yards over us.
Sadie's gaze never left the
sheep. Oh. well.
Finally, looking for more
eagles, we drove on toward
Baker City. I didn't see any
and looped back through
Haines and back to where I'd
seen the eagles.
By golly, a mature one sat
in the tree near the road. I
stopped and photographed it
through the window.
It ignored me. Eagles ap
parently spend most of their
time sitting and watching.
Some people say they're rest
ing. I think they're selecting
from the menu or just ponder
ing the nature of things while
catching some rays.
On the way home, a few
miles out of North Powder, I
took the road to Thief Valley
Reservoir, to see if eagles
were hanging out there.
They weren't. Ice covered
the water. Sadie and I hiked
the mile to the dam, and as we
started back, I saw the coyote.
Finally, at 4:02 p.m., I fed
Sadie and unwrapped my
sandwich. I figured we could
be home for dinner by 6:07.
Unless we spotted more
eagles, elk, antelope or
coyotes. Or a colorful sunset

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