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.

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