Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Photographing Birds West of Walla Walla

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I turned one of our somewhat regular trips westward from Walla Walla into a full-fledged (ah, a pun!) and surprisingly successful bird-photography excursion.
Well, lets say IT turned out to be a more successful excursion than we expected.
We left home at about 10:32 a.m.
I detoured to Bennington Lake to check on the great horned owl that nested in the cliff near the new toilet. The owl appeared calm and healthy.
I worried about it because Naeem, a fellow wildlife photographer who visited Walla Walla from Dubai (Yes, that Dubai),  that I met near the cliff  the day before had seen two kids shooting some kind of BB gun into the bank.
He worried that they could harm the owl.
So, I checked and found the owl to be in good shape. I had determined to email Naeem later (that evening, which I did) to ease his mind.
After visiting the nesting owl, we stopped for coffee and snacks at Starbucks and headed west.
On the way, we saw four great blue herons in a pasture along the road to the Whitman Mission. We stopped at the mission so I could walk Nora to the pond and look for turtles and water birds.
We continued west on the rural roads that parallel Highway 12. Near the junction with Lowden-Gardena  Road (as I recall?), a kestrel with a mouse for lunch sat on a post above a detailed no trespassing/no hunting sign. It made a nice ironic image.
We dawdled along, but we didn’t see anything else to gawk at until we saw a bunch of American white pelicans on a log behind Ice Harbor Dam. Needless to say I took a bunch of photos, again, of pelicans.
By then lunch time had long passed, but we continued along the Snake River to Charbonneau Park. We saw pelicans along the way, several glided gracefully inches above the water.
Then we saw a mature bald eagle on an electrical pole before reaching the park. Nora and I strolled the 100 yards or so, until we stood directly beneath the big bird. I took a ton of photos, and it finally flew away.
At the park, we saw another (or the same) eagle in a tall, bare cottonwood tree. I strolled around beneath the tree for a clear view while the raptor watched Nora. This one didn't fly. So, I took another bunch of photos.
We stopped a Hood Park for Nora to take a another break before we headed toward the Red Robin for a late lunch (or an early dinner).
We arrived back in Walla Walla after dark.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A wet, windy day at Wallula Junction

February 22, 2013
Friday,  5:21 p.m.
Today we enjoyed a typical February day in the Northwest: cold wind, low-hanging blue-grey sky with stinging raindrops.
So, Nora and I headed west.
When Walla Walla weather turns dark and wet, we often find clear skies, at the Wallula Junction area, where the Walla Walla River joins the Columbia River.
At the Wallula Unit of the McNary Wildlife Refuge several sandy paths wind 3-4-miles upstream along the WW River, twisting among the big sage and past tree-lined ponds.
We have seen deer, coyotes, porcupines, skunks, otter, jackrabbits eagles, quail, pheasants, owls, wild turkeys, voles, side-blotched lizards (to mention a few of the area’s critters) there over the years.
It’s a good place to walk with Nora in cool, dry weather.
Today, however, the wind and rain followed us all the way.
I had chucked coordinates for several geo-cache sites into my new Garmin eTrex 30 GPS unit. We drove to within a few feet of two sites, but the truck-shaking wind and rain deterred us from traipsing around to find the caches.
I felt a bit wimpy, actually, but I left Nora's coat in WW and didn’t want to deal with a wet dog or to leave her in the truck and have her pout.
So, we headed home the long way looking for herons, pheasants, coyotes and/or deer along the Walla Walla River Valley backroads.

I got one shot of a red-tail hawk and some pheasants in a field and good dark-roast coffee at Touchet, so we enjoyed the trip.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21, 2013, Thursday

On Wednesday, an unseasonably bright and warm February day, Bret joined Nora and me on our usual walk around Bennington Lake.

We looked forward to seeing herons, mergansers and owls. And I wanted to show Bret the large number of owl pellets on the ground in a small stand of ponderosa pines and junipers near the east side of the lake.

And we had the prospect of seeing long-eared owls there, as well as great horned owls in a stand of tall cottonwoods next to a large swath of honey locusts.

I carried the usual camera with the 150-500-mm zoom lens and Bret carried a soft cooler with beer.

We trekked along at a casual speed, conducive to gossip and reminisces. Nora dashed about with her nose to the ground. She often squated to mark spot after spot in seemingly haphazard fashion.

We saw a heron swoop to a landing on a nest high in a cottonwood tree near Rooks Park. We saw the usual geese, ducks and mergansers on Mill Creek.

We walked all around the lake. We met people with friendly dogs, including black labs, a Jack Russell, a Belgian Malinois guard dog and a 180-pound great Dane named Charlie.

We saw the owl pellets, a bald eagle cruising over the lake looking hopelessly for a fish, five or six low-flying harriers and one great horned owl in the cottonwood near the wheat fields.

We sat on a rain-water collecting tank, to provide water for wildlife, and drank Black Butte Porters,

We crossed below the dam, on the lake side (noting the wide mud flats and low water) and saw a great horned owl on a nest deep in a hole in the cliff near the toilets.

We saw the owl by taking an over-exposed photo of the hole and magnifying the image in the LCD window. Otherwise, the hole looked like a dark spot on the cliff.

We headed back and paused on a bench for our second Black Butte Porter and to enjoy the scenery and the outing. One strikingly pretty and smiling young woman passed with a black lab

After that, a woman paused with the handsome 180-pound Charlie. We all visited for sometime, with Nora staying away from the friendly giant. Bret and I petted Charlie.

Back along the stream, I snapped photos of two common mergansers that sent up plumes of spray as they sprinted across the water and launched into flight.

We spent about five hours on the walk, with (according to my new Garmin etrek 30) three hours moving and two hours not moving. We averaged one-mile per hour.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 17, 2013
7:32 a.m.
Another morning awash with sunshine (really, a Sun Day), and the temperature gauge on the porch indicates 41 degrees. I’m not sure what we will do yet.
Yesterday, I didn’t want to take a camera out in the steady drizzle. So, Nora and I walked to Pioneer Park. We spent most of the time walking around the aviary, and I missed the camera.
A peacock posed on a large hollow log, with its shiny, colorful tail-feathers streaming like  the trail of a wedding gown across the log. I could have filled the frame of a lens with the image.
Then two wood ducks -- a male and a female -- stood on top of a birdhouse atop a six-foot high post. They were about six feet away.
I don’t often take photos at the aviary. It’s too confining for the subjects, and there’s something contrived about the photos. I prefer images captured in natural surroundings.
That said, the aviary -- despite the closed space and the wire fencing I aim the lens through -- does allow interesting photos. I will include a few here. Others may be seen at .

Soon we will decide what to do today. If anything.

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15, 2013

Spring-like January/February days in the Northwest?

Today the official Walla Walla temperature hit the high 40s. When  I drove past the Gesa Credit Union time-and-temp sign at 1:05 p.m. it flashed 47 degrees in bold numbers.
I rolled down the window and turned on the fan that blew outside air into the sun-warmed cab. Even Darlene, who likes go be toasty warm, didn’t complain.
So, we had a warm, sunny day for mid-February. And we’ve had mostly warm weather for three weeks or so.
On two consecutive sunny days in late January, for example, Nora and I looked for lizards at Wallula Junction. I didn’t really expect to see any, but I seldom pass up a hike there with Nora. She loves to go, period. Anyway, it’s where we have seen hawks, owls, eagles, wild turkeys pheasants, quail, song birds otters, deer and voles.
Not to mention a mesmerizing array of lumbering beetles, during spring, summer and fall. And lizards, during spring, summer and fall.
Anyway, looking for lizards or anything else provides an excuse.  Not that we need one. We really shouldn’t need one, right?.
So, on a Monday we hiked upstream on the north side of the Walla Walla River to a 30-yard stretch of small, five-to-10-foot-high, sandy cliffs smattered with hidey-holes.
And, sure enough, lizards lay in many of the openings to soak up the warm afternoon sun. I took a ton of pictures, but without a macro lens (
So, despite a heavy fog the  next day, before noon I took Nora, a monopod and a macro lens back to the cliffs. I hesitated because of the fog, but I suspected that it could disappear near the mouth of the Walla Walla River, where it joins the Columbia River.
Actually, the fog faded away as we topped Nine Mile Hill, nine miles from the junction. And, if anything, more lizards lay on the  cliffs.
I used the monopod close to the ground with the Nikon 105 macro lens and a 1.4 tele-extender. The close-up images revealed surprising colors on the (normally bland-brown) lizards and in the (normally bland-brown) grains of sand (
Anyway, that occurred in January.
On this bright February day, we stopped for coffee at Starbucks. I got a chocolate-chunk cookie. Darlene got a banana-walnut bread. We each shared non-chocolate tidbits with Nora, who doesn’t drink coffee.
We drove along rural westerly roads looking for raptors, pheasant, coyotes, etc. I took a photo of a great blue heron standing in a pasture. One image had a fool-the-eye effect of the heron’s wing as it took flight.
Then I walked Nora to the pond at Whitman Mission and took photos of one turtle and two coots.
We had another typical day.

February 15, 2013

Lazy? Or What?

I haven't missed the pressure or the need to "do something" for a weekly column. Actually, Nora the Schnauzer provides plenty of motivation to get out and do something. 
So, we have, every day we've taken a Sunday Drive or a day hike, with photos.
By the way, I calculated the "56 little years" as the length that I have held full-time jobs, beginning with the Air Force at 18 and including the 40-plus hours I worked at Safeway for my four years at Northern Montana College and my two-year teaching assistant-ship while I earned my master's degree at Montana State College.
Then I taught high school and reported on sports and the outdoors for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Now, I lying about, taking photos. I've taken some of my best in the last few weeks, of  hawks, owls and lizards.  
C'est la vie!

Written Jan. 31, 2013, Thursday

Oh, what a difference a job makes, 56 little years.

I noticed this morning how radically my schedule has changed since I retired. More than two years ago.  The difference just never occurred to me before.
I probably had more significant things on my mind. I didn’t fully retire, you see. I signed a contract to send in an Outdoor Column with photos once a week.
I got a kick out of working from home. I felt so professional. Do the research (that is, do something in the Outdoors, with photos), write a column and e-mail it with photos to Sports Editor Bret Rankin at the U-B on Sunday for publication on Wednesday.
As a result of this technology, I haven’t been in the newsroom since the day I left on March 31, 2010.
April Fool’s Day was my first day of retirement. That felt important, somehow.
Anyway, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I did many things, and I took so many photos (www.tripper.smug that I paid no attention to schedules, period.
It was fun. We made trips to the Oregon Coast, trips to Malheur wildlife Refuge in Central Oregon and dozens of day trips.
When Darlene didn’t go, Nora and I took walks, called day hikes, snowshoe trips, fishing trips (often with Bret), and I recorded wildlife and scenic photos by the ton, some of which I stored on the Web and a few of which (totaling in the hundred by now) I printed either 81/2x11 or 13x19.
Darlene has stacked the smaller prints in a glassed living-room cupboard. I have stored the larger ones in a folder in my upstairs (casually called) workroom.
Now, I’ve recently become less pleased by the contract work. Aspects of it have become redundant.  I’ve taken way dozens, maybe hundreds, of  great blue heron, hooded merganser and downy woodpecker photos.
Inevitable changes have also occurred. The U-B editor has recruited citizen columnists to contribute (free ?) columns to the weekly Diversion section of the U-B, which means the full page that I usually had for the column and the photos would be shared by another column. Some of them were very good, so I didn’t really mind. More recently, some have been, well, more ego trips than anything else.
In addition, the paper (following a nationwide trend) made cuts, which meant it cut payment about 40-percent per my columns. That happened a couple of months ago, when I had already grown weary of the weekly deadline pressure and thought about ending my contract.
The editor, however, suggested that I just cut back, one or two columns a month. Something like that. He said he didn’t want be to give up my connection with the paper, and that made me feel wanted.
So, I did weekly columns for the next month. Then I did two a month, and that felt pretty good.
The month after that, however, one of my columns appeared with one that didn’t impress me very much, and it depressed me,
So, I did one more, because Bret, Nora and I made a trip to McKay Creek  looking for Eagles and Elk.
That was last week, and I sent the column in on Sunday, pretty much committed to it being my final one, numbering 1,525 since I started. It was published on Wednesday. I wrote this on Thursday, and I haven’t changed my mind.
So far, I don’t feel the desire to do so.