Sunday, December 30, 2012

Driving Rural Washington-Oregon Roads for Photos

      Driving Washington-Oregon Rural Roads For Photos

Eleven white swans rested briefly at Bennington Lake on a misty Sunday afternoon (Dec 9).
I thought they were snow geese.
A day later, I did see snow geese, about 5,293,  at the pond behind the McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Burbank.
And those are not December’s only dazzling highlights for Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.

On the way to Burbank, we stopped at the Whitman Mission where Nora and I took a stroll and watched colorful waxwings gobble red berries in a tree.
Bohemian waxwings sometimes eat fermented berries and become tipsy.
So I’ve heard.
Then, after ogling the boggling swarm of snow geese, we motored on down to the nature area ponds below McNary Dam. As we hurried to the one-holers, Darlene spotted a domestic looking goose on one pond. A later Google search revealed it as a Greylag from Europe.
While Nora and I watched the goose and waited for Darlene at the one-holers, four otters crossed from one pond to the other.
Nora saw them but wisely stood her ground.
This stunning excitement came after we drove during the previous week to McKay Creek near Pendleton to look for elk on the canyon sides and to Heller Bar, on the Snake River, and Joseph Creek Canyon to look for Big Horn Sheep.

Alas, we saw no elk at McKay Creek, and the high canyons remained free of snow. We did see several raptors, however, a few song birds and a ton of pheasants along Shaw Road, rear the Ellis Hunting Ranch.
We also saw a few mule deer high on the canyons and caught glimpses of whitetails in thickets along the creek. We counted 53 wild turkey’s along the North Fork McKay Creek Road.
We enjoyed the usual dazzling lower Snake River scenery, of course, but we didn’t see many critters. I slid to a spot once to photograph a heron in the mist by the river, and Nora and I spent almost an hour re-visiting the ancient Native American petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy, about 15 paved-road miles upriver from Asotin.
We saw several boats with steelhead anglers back-trolling the high-water riffles of the Snake and fly fishing on the swollen Grande Ronde.
We passed the bar and I stopped along the Grande Ronde River to snap another heron  standing stoically on a stone.
We continued a few miles up the road and along Joseph Creek, to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. We did not see any wild sheep.
And of course I treated Darlene to daily dinners, one at the Paraiso Vallarta in Clarkston and one at Subway in Mission. I even bought chocolate-chip cookies and coffee at a store in Umatilla Heights.
Nora, of course, dined on kibbles, z/d canine food from a can and Lean Treats.
It’s amazing how much fun you can have in December, and Christmas is yet to come.

Walla Walla's Fall Colors

                     Walla Walla's Fall Colors

Seven sparrows stood on the edges of a frozen over bird bath. They pecked the ice and looked about, apparently for the deliverer of fresh water.
“Poor birds,” Darlene said, warm in her chair before the window.
She sipped her coffee.
Treading to the porch in white socks, I stabbed with a kitchen knife the thin ice into floating bits.
Nora the Schnauzer slipped out before the door closed and chased birds from the bleak rhododendron.
Back inside I reminisced of warmer times, before big November winds, when trees had spread ankle deep carpets of gold, ruby and russet leaves beneath their dancing boughs and fields had tan and red hues.
About days not all dark and grey.
Nora and I made our usual fall tours of Pioneer Park, Rooks Park and the trails around Bennington Lake.
Although a leaf sweeper worked at Pioneer Park, wide and deep swaths of leaves garlanded the grass. Squirrels darted ahead, scampered up trees and teased Nora by creeping close, just out of reach.
With posted names for trees long lost, I may name a few of the leaves, such as: maple, sycamore (London plain tree?), oak and sweet gum. And perhaps the dark-red sumac.
And there are needle droppers, such as  the tall young redwoods.
One man walked with a black, giant dog of about 200 pounds. He called it Adonis and said it was a European Great Dane.
And, on a sunny day,  we watched happy children climb on the pioneer wagon sculpture.
Rooks Park also had thick layers of leaves, mainly cottonwood I think. Nora nosed through them, sticking them to her legs and head.
For three days, I watched a piliated woodpecker foraging high among cottonwood limbs.
To locate it, I tilted an ear at the playground, listening for a thump-thump-thump and following the sound.
While following Whitetail Trail and the lakeside paths at Bennington Lake (maps are available trailheads), we crossed vivid gold-colored fields and shady thickets. We counted many birds, including a winter-white male harrier that  rose from the tall grass, 15 yards away, and swooped nearby in figure-eights while I smiled.
Woodpeckers and chickadees flitted among the thickets around the lake.
Dozens of dark lead-sinker shapes, but live robins, dropped from the sky to flutter their wings and settle into naked cottonwood trees.
Then Darlene said something about filling up the birdbath with fresh water.
“Put on your coat,” I suggested.