Monday, November 25, 2013

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Brrr, Another Exciting November Trip after McKay Creek  Elk

November 23, 2013

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I braved mid-30-degree, cerulean-sky weather to rush the raptor season along Eastern Oregon’s Mckay Creek.

That may sound demanding, but it’s a mere 170-mile round trip, including a rushed detour to Walmart to use the restroom on the way home .

And I mean rushed.

I unbuckled my belt, beneath my jacket, as I double-time marched across the parking lot. I nearly jogged along the line of checkouts at the front of the store. I gritted my teeth, knowing I would be doomed if all of the stalls were occupied.

With a stacked parking lot, and long lines at the registers, I figured the odds were against me.

The doors to both stalls were locked.

Left home at 10:15 a.m., after dining on English muffins while finishing a Law and Order rerun.

We drove south, head-on into the slanted late-November sunshine, through Milton-Freewater to the Mission turnoff. I lowered the sun-visor flap against the blinding light.

I squinted, hard, over my cheek bones and along my nose.
I pressed my lips tight.
I still could not see well.

We turned into the truck-stop complex on Mission Road. We visited the restrooms, and I bought fresh coffee while Darlene perused the gift shops selection of jewelry. She purchased two rings and a watch.

With Darlene holding the camera with the big lens on her lap, we continued south. Mission Road became South Market Road after we crossed I-84. We spotted four kestrels on the power lines, but ignored them because of the mean backlight.

They flew when we approached.

After a mile or so, we turned west on unpaved Holmes Road for another mile or so and south again on Motanic Road.

After another two miles, at Spring Creek Road, we headed over the hill toward McKay Creek.

On the downside a red-tail hawk perched in a tree, a horseshoe toss from the road.

I took the camera from Darlene and rolled down the window, but the hawk took off as I aimed the camera. I fired a few frames, expecting to get nothing but dark, blurred images.

Perhaps I could add light in Photoshop?
Well, it helped, but not much.

We turned east on McKay Creek Road and ambled along at 10-mph and slower. We scanned meadows and the creek's riparian area for deer, turkeys and raptors.

In the past, we had seen eagles and elk in the area.
Although the high slopes remained snow free, we ogled them carefully for deer and elk.
We saw nothing of interest until we crossed the bridge before the north and south forks junction of the stream.
As we turned south, about 25 wild turkeys strutted among the trees on the right side of the road.
More hustled across the road and disappeared into the thickets on the left-side hill.

In the next quarter-mile, we saw an uncountable number of scurrying turkeys, and one clutch of a dozen-plus trotted for 200 yards ahead of us down the middle of the graveled road.

I took photos through the windshield. Darlene leaned left and guided the truck with one hand.

We continued south and I parked about 200 yards from the gate. I slipped on my hooded jacket, took the camera and walked up the road with Nora.
On other trips, we had seen deer in the stream-side flats and deer and elk on the slope up the 500-foot high north-side ridge.

Back in the truck, Darlene and I deduced we had rushed the season: Not enough snow in the high country to move elk into the lower elevations.

I figured the top of the ridge at the South Fork road’s end would be about 2,500-feet above sea level.
At least. We were at 2,147-feet near the South Fork road's end.

Neither of us had a theory about the scant number of visible deer, unless the deer-hunting season had something to do with it.

On the trip back, however, the critter sightings picked up.

In the first five minutes, we counted eight mule deer halfway up on the south-side canyon. I suggested that should be unusual. That slope would be a north-side slope that would receive less sunlight than the slope on the north side of the toad, or the south-side slope.
Darlene didn't seem impressed. Neither of us said anything else for awhile.
Then, near a ranch with fenced pastures, a sky-darkening flight of turkeys sailed from the high ridge, across the road and to settle in the flats around the ranch.
Had to be 100-200 birds, Darlene said.
I stopped in the middle of the road as another squadron sailed overhead.
I grabbed the camera, stepped into the road and waited. Surely more of the giant birds would cross the road.
Sure enough.
They did.
In groups ranging from half-a-dozen to three and in singles. This continued for a minute or two, and I snapped a bunch of images.

We continued down McKay Creek Road without stopping for anything else. Well, I paused once to photograph a sign marking the Umatilla Indian Reservation boundary that we left.

We turned south, up the hill on Shaw Road. We turned back at the top. On the way westward again, I aimed the camera at half a dozen heads of pheasants that bobbed in a wheat stubble field.
We continued along Shaw to a parking access at the south end of McKay Reservoir.
We often stop there for Nora to walk off some energy while hounding  the abundant primitive odors.
Darlene opened an often-read Nero Wolf novel. Nora and I set off on a path across the dry reservoir bed. A heavy blanket of brown, foot-tall cockle-burr stalks covered the packed chalky dust.
We walked 100 yards on a path through the burrs that narrowed to brush my pants.
Then I had enough.
If some irresistible scent drew Nora from the path, I would have a devilish chore removing thorny burrs from her hairy legs, underarms, dangling ears and belly.
It would require scissors.
We continued on Shaw, and I stopped once to photograph colorful kestrels that posed for several seconds before launching in their falling-rock fashion.

We turned east on Best Road to South Market Road and back to Mission at 3:15 p.m.
My GPS said we had averaged a moving speed of 23 mph, including the highway drive from Walla Walla.
I gassed-up the truck and we dined at McDonald’s, despite growing information that fast-food emporiums deal in unsavory products. These days biting into a Classic Chicken Sandwich feels, well, like the chicken may not really be chicken.
Sure, it's tasty, or at least salty, but I felt a hollow, mushiness to its texture.
Then, as we headed down the hill toward Mission, two deer ( a doe and a handsome trophy buck, maybe a six-pointer) stood a few feet from the road.
“Wow! Look at that buck,” I said.
"What a beautiful animal," Darlene said.
I swerved into a driveway close by, whipped a Uey, drove back, rolling down the window, and, seeing nothing coming from behind, stopped 15 yards across from the deer with two tires off the asphalt.
Darlene handed me the camera.  I snapped several photos. The deer watched for a few seconds and broke into a sprint when an 18-wheeler rumbled between us.
The deer, muscles rippling, looked magnificent.
Later that evening, however, as I processed the photos, the buck appeared nagged by bugs or stickers; dark spots in its body.
Darlene deduced that, despite the cold, the spots could be ticks . Or they could be burs.
Probably ticks, however.

Anyway, the buck spiced a mostly uneventful trip with a welcome note of excitement. And the photos turned out sharp and properly exposed.
The photos looked good, even with ticks on the deer.

So, back to those occupied Walmart restroom stalls?
Just as my tight sphincters threatened to lose control, one door flew open and the occupant rushed away.

Another fitting conclusion to a November outing.



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