Original Post submitted to the PBC Newsletter (Dec 2012 edition)

I started my daily walks here in Umatilla County on July 4th of 2012. As this goes off to press that makes 198 consecutive days.

I am into my third season and winter has proven to be quite a challenge. I lived in the Portland area for nearly forty years, cold was not what I had to worry about. Staying dry was my challenge there. Here in Pendleton the cold has made a new woman of me. I bundle up and question my sanity as I trudge out the door into temperatures in the teens.

Winter has shown me it’s own unique form of beauty. Walking in the frozen fog or snow searching out animal tracks has been fun. I have followed deer, rabbit, and coyote tracks this month. One morning I saw a rabbit sitting in the snow until it hopped away and into a bramble bush.

The Beaver has not been very active at its den, though I have seen it swimming in the river twice. I have also spotted otter, mink, and muskrats this month.

For two days there was a sheet of ice on several places on the river. One morning it was sunny and unbearably cold, the sun was just rising upon the river and it began to sparkle and gleam as the morning light hit the frozen ice that was clinging to the reeds and grasses, it looked like diamonds dancing along the waters edge, it was so beautiful.

The Great Blue Herons are changing their daily patterns over the last two weeks. They are bunching together near the rookery and hanging out together on the cliff above the river. One morning I actually got to watch one of the Herons carry a branch up to nest 2 and tuck it neatly into the inactive nest.

The Kestrels have been active too this month. Once I even observed one fly into a hole in the side of the cliff, coming back out into view about a minute later.

There are a few Belted King Fishers out, nothing like in the summer though. The Flickers are active as well as the Chickadees and Juncos. One afternoon I got to watch a Sharp Shinned Hawk as it hunted along the cliff. That same afternoon I saw a flock of Golden Crowned Kinglets as they scavenged along the rivers edge.

There are three female Hooded Mergansers that have taken up residence amongst the Common Mergansers. Two male Common Mergansers have joined the females. They actually got into a small tift earlier in the week. All of the Mallards are now paired up for the arrival of Spring.

This last week has brought fifteen Ring Billed Gulls to the river. They have been fishing for small 3-4 inch silver fish, always starting as the sun hits the water.

As of this morning I have seen four Bald Eagles this month. Last Saturday I stood across the river from a two year old juvenile as it sat in a snag. I was beyond blessed when the giant bird turned to face the morning light. There we were, together, watching the sun come up on a new day.

Another blessed morning today as I once again stood across the river from an adult Bald Eagle. Its head and shoulders were wet so I assumed that I must have just missed an early morning dive into the river. As I watched the Eagle I noticed a small bird sitting about ten feet away. It took off and flew over to a tree near me. It turned out to be a Downy Woodpecker. Pure Joy …

I have seen two lady bugs this week … hope that Spring is coming.

link to my article in the Pendleton Bird Club Newsletterhttp://www.pendletonbirders.org

 
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Grief Along the River …

My heart is breaking as I write this … Maybe I should wait to write until the grief isn’t so new …

I was out walking two hours ago as I came around the bend in the river so I could peek in on the new otter den. I saw something out of place up on the hill across the river from me. It was large and white and close to the ground. I focused in and it was the white horse. My heart tugged with heartache as I awaited some type of movement.

The sun was just coming up over the horizon and the horse lifted it’s head. I calmed down just a bit but I knew that something was horribly wrong. I have watched this horse graze every morning along the hillside or atop the hill, today just wasn’t right.

I moved east a bit so that I could see it from a different angle. I could see that both of it’s back legs where covered with dirt. It’s right front leg was dirty and kind of tucked under, not a good sign.

I stood helpless … I was alone, the horse was on the hillside across the river from me and there was no way for me to cross over to be with it. My phone was turned off three days ago so I stood there crying, alone, and helpless. There was no way that I was going to let that horse die alone so I stood talking and praying from across the river.

All I could do was pray and talk to the horse … I stayed there standing with the river between us until I knew that the horse had passed on.

I walked home in tears, aching … wishing that I could have done more. I left church early, all that I could think about was the horse. It had been a daily part of my life for the last six months and this morning I had to stand in silence and say goodbye …

Eagles … Rabbits … and Snow

21 degrees this morning … oh man, my finger tips were hurting but I was seeing so much that I just couldn’t turn around and go home.

The bushes and tree tops were covered with frost allowing me to see some dens that I had not seen before. I have located what I think are two coyote dens in the side of the cliff, each with a path leading to and from. Last week I got to watch a coyote above one of the dens as it sunned itself in the warmth of the early morning light. 

The valley is filling with Bald Eagles, I have seen ten in the last two weeks. Yesterday and today I was treated with seeing two each day. This morning as I was letting my little terrier run free in the ball field just outside of town I saw a black spot high in the air to the north. I watched as it  got larger and larger as it flew nearer to me. I watched as the eagle continued to fly south and when it got over the river it turned west and continued on along the river.

Now that the trees are bare of leaves I am spending a lot of time looking for old nests and holes in the trees where I will watch for activity next spring. Out over the pasture this morning there were several pairs of Eurasian Doves flying from tree to tree. I got excited to see them, it’s been awhile.

Heading back I stopped to check on the goats, I guess the black one isn’t pregnant. Man, I really thought that she was. I looked beyond the pasture over to where I have been spotting a coyote and pheasants. I saw movement … I focused in and saw a rabbit, and then another. This is just west of where I have twice seen the coyote so I thought that I might see some action but then the rabbits both bounded into a hole in the ground. All is well for another day.

As I was walking along the river I spotted a lone Coot and stopped to watch her. As I was watching a beaver came swimming by close to the shore. The Coot slowly moved east as the beaver approached from down river. The beaver swam a little further and then quickly ducked into it’s lodge. Over to the east I could see where it was stacking a pile of Cottonwood branches stripped of bark.

Walking along I spotted a pair of Hooded Mergansers, they are absolutely beautiful right now. The male is in full breeding colors of white, black, and brown. The females chocolate brown head was adorned with a hood a few shades lighter then her head.

As I stood watching for the Great Horned Owl (I didn’t see it this morning) I saw a Red Tailed Hawk fly in and briefly land in the top of a bare tree across the river from me. As I watched him I could see the snow covered hill behind him reminding me of what is soon to be coming our way.

Yesterday morning was sunny and I got to watch a flock of Pine Siskins flitting around and eating seeds from the pods on bushes in a thicket near the river. Their bellies and backs are beginning to become a bit more vibrant in colors of buff, yellow, and green.

I stopped across from the fox den and saw two male Ring Necked Pheasants call out and then fly west along the river. I looked over to where they had taken off from and got to watch another male as he walked along the path. He was magnificent as the sun hit his crimson head, the burnt orange of his side, and the white of his neck. Absolutely Beautiful … Thank you Lord.

Back home now, warm and cozy .. a light snow is expected in a few hours …