Thursday, August 24, 2006

I love it when a spur-of-the-moment decision brings recognizable rewards. Far too often they leave me feeling like I just missed the last bus to Happyville. Or that I'd sooner be mowing the lawn.
Well, almost.
And, actually, for hours after this most recent one, I sulked along like a cat watching an empty bird feeder.
We didn't decide to go until 9:13 a.m., so we arrived at Othello at 11:38 a.m. on the final day of the 2006 Sandhill Crane Festival.
Then we spent about an hour poking along the usual backroads south of Highway26 looking for Cranes.
And it seemed like yet another fruitless Sunday trip to see cranes. My wife Darlene, Sadie the Dalmatian and I have made the trip several times. We spotted cranes once, mostly out in the fields.
Sadie and I made a planned trip once, on a Friday evening for the crane festival. We camped overnight in the CNWR and attended a couple of festival presentations the next day. Before camping, however, we watched hundreds of cranes fly from their day-time refuge north of Highway 26 (apparently near the Othello sewage treatment plant?) to feed at farmers' fields on the south side of the road.
It's a site worth seeing.
Yet, this most recent trip appeared to be another dud, unless we wanted to hang around for five of six hours until sunset. Well, still playing it by ear, we dined at Burger King before moseying into to the CNWR, west and north of town.
About three miles out oftown, we turned right onto adirt road. We drove slow, looking for critters in the sage or at the lakes. It's possible to see badgers, coyotes and deer from the road, along with egrets and herons at the lakes. Sometimes meadow larks and horned larks flit about along the road. Some people I know have never seen a horned lark, so I wanted to get a photo of one. Not that it's easy. Even ifthey stand still long enough, they seldom have their horns up and clearly visible. Anyway, we didn't see anything for miles along the dusty road, so I felt depressed about the whole deal.
``I can't believe we haven't even seen a horned lark,'' Isaid. And no sooner did the words slip into the ether than a bird landed on a post across the road, above a Don't ShootThe Squirrels They Are A Protected Species By The State sign. ``Look,'' I croaked. ``It's a horned lark.'' The camera with the shoulder mount lay onDarlene's lap. I snapped it up, turned it on and fired off afew shots from the window. ``Turn it off,'' I said toDarlene, meaning the truck's engine, to steady the camera.
She turned the radio off.
``No, the motor,'' I hissed.``Turn off the key.'' Oh.
I fired off another bunch of shots and realized I had the side mirror in half of them. I took a deep breath and clicked off a couple more. The lark wasn't real close, but I could see its horns clearly through the lens. Then the camera's battery died. As I slipped the dead one out and a fresh one in, a pickup rattled past at 50 mph and the lark flew.
I checked the LCD and clearly saw the bird's feathered horns. Well, I felt better. We drove on toward O'Sullivan Dam and turned back toward Othello on another gravel road. When we passed the nature trails at Upper Crab Creek, Sadie and I hiked the MarshTrail and the Frog Lake Trail.
Sad to say we saw no critter sat the marsh, and we found no water, or frogs, at Frog Lake. We did see several deer in the tall grass, however.
At about 4:09 p.m., we reached Macmanamon Road again, five miles from Othello. Less than a mile west of town, we stopped to photograph yellow headed blackbirds on a bunch of cattails. Then, as we drove south ofHighway 26, a flock of about 50 cranes dotted the sky. Then another flock, and another.
We drove back to Highway 26 and stopped at a wide spot beneath the crane's flight path. Flock after flock of the 4-foot tall birds with the 7-foot wingspan flew by.
I craned my neck to aim the camera straight up for photos as they passed. When darkness eliminated photographing the birds inflight, we headed home. I figured I had many photos of recognizable birds, including horned larks, yellow-headed blackbirds and sandhill cranes.
Not so bad.
It was one of those days that justify making spur-of-the-moment decisions. Not that there are any other kinds.

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