Sunday, January 19, 2014

Boggling Photos of Winter Birds in the Columbia Basin

January 16, 2014

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Eagles, Night Herons and Mergansers Launching; Eagles, Night Herons and Mergansers Launching.
We (Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I) recorded photos of the above interesting birds, as well many others and of a few deer, over the past couple of weeks.
The sightings occurred close to home, when we drove to Ice Harbor and McNary dams, with strategic pauses and detours en route.
On a brief westward trip into the Touchet Valley, along the Walla Walla River, we detoured to buy gas in Oregon.
As we approached State Line, Darlene spotted a mature bald eagle perched high in a cottonwood tree near the pond south of Highway 11.
I turned around at State Line Road and drove 300 yards back to a pullout on Highway 11, below a high bank. I climbed the bank with the big lens and snapped several pictures as the eagle adjusted its stance on the thin perch and eventually flew.

The eagle’s white head lacked detail in the photos printed later. Alas, I chalked up the lack of detail to my distance from the eagle and/or a slight overexposure of the images.
Ah, well!
Also on that drive, we stopped at Whitman Mission where a great blue heron perched high in a skeletal cottonwood tree that cast bony reflections on the mirror-smooth water.



That day we ended up on Sudbury Road near Dry Creek, north of Lowden. As we crossed a bridge over sheer-walled, 20-foot banks down to the stream, a pod of mule deer, including two bucks (one with a trophy rack) lounged among the tall shrubbery and weeds.
I should have continued for few hundred yards and turned around. Deer in the area tend to ignore passing cars.
They flush when a car stops, and dash off when s person gets out.
I did both. Stopped and got out, with Nora.
The deer, with mostly ears and tails visible, easily slipped down the steep cliff near the bridge, hustled upstream and reappeared on the edge of the wheat field.
By the time I reached a viewpoint, the deer had already crossed the field and topped a hill beyond the road to a farmhouse.
The images I recorded from several hundred yards revealed the wide, heavy antlers of one buck.

When we visited ice Harbor Dam, a bunch of American white pelicans
gathered near the island below the dam and sailed over the water.

As we left after watching the pelicans for awhile, five great blue herons began to move, some launched, as we passed a spot with sparse weeds.
“How did we miss seeing them?” I mumbled. We counted six of the big birds.

Four or five pelicans rested on the log boom above the dam and ignored Nora and I as we walked along the shore.

To vary our routine drive to McNary, almost 60 miles away via the normal Highway 12/730 route, we took the longer route through Athena, Helix and Hardman to Umatilla.
We thought perhaps we would see a coyote, and we did, silhouetted against the light and a hillside.
We also saw a rough-legged hawk poised on a power pole.


Finally, at the ponds below McNary, night herons clustered in trees at one pond west of the road. Darlene counted 14 of the red-eyed birds.

While Darlene read a mystery novel, Nora and I worked our way along a weedy path on a finger of shrubby land partway down the middle of the pond.
From there, we followed a trail between two ponds and lucked upon several night herons perched maybe 20 yards away. They essentially ignored me as I stood still and snapped images and the invisible Nora as she sniffed among the tall grass.


One immature bald eagle perched near the pond, while a mature bald eagle circled in the distance.

Nora and I also spent several hours walking along Mill Creek where, no matter how a told myself that I had taken way too many photos of mergansers launching, I snapped away every time one ran across the water to become airborne.

Finally, a photo from the Whitman Mission sums up the past few weeks of shooting photos in the Columbia Basin area.
It sure beats sticking to the couch and old movies on TV.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Home Country Edging from 2013 and into 2014

January 3, 2014

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We in the Walla Walla Valley enjoyed several days of heavy, decorative freezing fog prior to Christmas and into the new year.

On the day after Christmas, with a soupy fog limiting visibility to 20 yards, I walked Nora at Mill Creek. We started at the WW Community College parking lot. I collected the usual 100 or so images of frosted plants and winter birds as we meandered beyond Rooks Park and back.


I could see the mergansers and herons at mid-stream.

But they appeared to be gray shadows in the LCD window. Yet, I expected a bit of contrast, etc., in Photoshop Elements 12 would salvage some of them.

I hoped it would, especially for the images of common mergansers running across the water on webbed yellow feet to launch. For some foggy reason, I had several opportunities to catch them in action.

The photos, in fact, turned out sharp. And the heron's colors popped out with more saturation than usual.


I credited the fog.

We took our son Michael home to Kennewick on the Sunday after Christmas.
On the road soon after breakfast at Smith's, I regretted not taking a camera to photograph the frosted scenes, especially those where fog-flocked trees stood watch at country homes to convey a surreal, or unreal, Norman Rockwell imagery.
The usual dark, skeletal roadside tree limbs and the tall golden rye-grass stalks, drooped heavy with snow-like frozen crystals.
Then, before heading home again, Darlene and I lunched at a Red Robin. She had Fish & Chips with a diet coke.
I had the Red, White and Bleu Salad (lettuce, walnuts, apple, cranberries, grilled chicken, etc.) and a Blue Moon.
Weather reports at home suggested that the freezing-fog conditions would last until Wednesday.
That would be good.
I set the camera gear on the landing to be ready for a frosty Monday.
I awoke to a Chinook-warmed 40-plus degree morning with wet grass, damp sidewalk and naked frostless trees in the yard.

I supposed, however, that 10-15-miles east, in the Touchet River Valley  along Highway 12, and the parallel back roads south of the highway, frozen fog would still decorate the flora.

And it did.

Nora and I made a nearly 60-mile loop to the west and back. I stopped often to capture images of the more dramatic frosted scenes.

We toured the Whitman Mission and captured more fog-bound images. We met a young couple from Seattle. Their smiles and friendliness to Nora, lit up the gray afternoon.

Later, we anticipated 2014 with a New Year’s Eve late lunch at El Sombrero on Second Street. I had the Vegetarian Burrito with a glass of Sangria; Darlene had the Colorado Burrito with a diet Coke.
Some celebration, I guess, but on New Year's Day we rose clear-eyed and bushy tailed, dined at Smith’s again (Me: One egg over easy, crisp hash browns, toast, coffee; Darlene: One-half order of eggs Benedict, water), and motored through the valley toward McNary Dam and the nearby nature area.
Near Wallula Junction, Darlene spotted whitetail deer off to the right.

“There’s a big buck,” she said.

I didn’t see them, and hesitated to stop amidst the ambient traffic.

A quarter-mile later, however, I swerved into a pullout and went back. We saw the deer briefly in a swale. I stopped, took a camera and crossed the road.
I climbed the bank, with the grassy hump between me and the deer. I topped the hump cautiously and found the large buck and three does easily within image-capturing range.

Later, at the nature area below McNary Dam, we saw two bald eagles, one mature and one not so much.

Many birds dived and preened on the ponds, mostly mallards and mergansers. I saw a male wood duck too distant to photograph.
On the next two warm January days, Nora and I walked at Mill Creek, from the project office upstream and south to Bennington Lake on sun-
warmed muddy trails.
On the stream we saw the usual mergansers (one launching), mallards, and a less usual golden eye, but no herons.

Moving away from the stream, we saw a backlit kestrel from a bluff overlooking the lake. We made a long circle and eventually approached the bird with the sun at our backs. We found the kestrel, busy watching the ground-sniffing Nora, perching in place until we drew too close for its comfort.

And it flew.

On the trek back to the stream, after having seen two chickadees but no woodpeckers among the line of rosehip bushes above the overflow channel, two quick downy woodpeckers flitted across the path and into a close-by tree.

So, 2013 ended well and 2014 began with more beneficial Bennington Lake walks, although Nora as usual picked up enough mud to require heavy brushing by Darlene.
After the walk and the brushing, however, she (Nora) lay like a small fuzzy log on the couch.

Me, too. Well, less small.