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Yesterday, the girls and I enjoyed our first outing over the pass this year. It’s hard to believe we are staying so close to home all the time. And we barely got over the pass so maybe it doesn’t even count, even if we did leave our county. There were a fair number of cars in the parking lot when we arrived and many of them had out of state plates – it seemed like more than usual.

The trail is muddy in places but more of it is snow-covered and icy. Normally I would not take my hiking poles for this hike. This time I did and I was glad to have them. They made the downhill part of the day much easier. Lots of little streams crossed the trail. Luna appreciates having water to drink regularly. Her old body seems thirstier all the time. She did lead the way and did more exploring than Sky so at 13 1/2 she is still going strong. The lake is mostly ice-covered and Sky was disappointed I did not throw the stick in it for her. Next time. There was a little bit of rain but no wind like at home where we’ve been buffeted by high winds for days.

Sky did get to swim in the pond near the trailhead so her day was complete. It was a good outing.

First we stopped to enjoy glacier lilies, anemones and a fast moving stream and then we looked for a place to walk. The trailheads are still covered in snow so the girls and I started at Meadows campground and walked up. Up and up til we got to a high spot named South Slate at 6828′. It is a south facing slope so the snow was mostly melted, leaving patches where the dogs could roll around. There was no trail; I just picked my way around the rocky slopes. I think this area burned in 2003 leaving behind a silver forest of standing dead trees that have sloughed their blackened bark. Why do some dead trees stand for years and years while others (like on our place) fall within a few years of dying?

The views were terrific. The flowers were lovely. Birds were singing and calling. I heard a Sooty Grouse doing his display hoots but could never track him down. Olive-sided Flycatchers sang their ‘quick three beers!’ song over and over! Mountain Bluebirds made soft chirps. Ground squirrels whistled. And I found a geo cache. Not on purpose. The cylinder was not well covered and the bright color caught my eye underneath two oddly stacked rocks.

It was a good outing.

Of course, we saw lots of other birds while camped in the Okanogan Highlands. Here are a few of them plus a chipmunk that lived in our campsite. Its main job was to drive Luna nuts.

Common Loon. One of my favorite birds. Growing up, I had no idea they could be found in Washington. I thought they lived in places like Minnesota or New England or Canada. I was well past middle age when I saw, and heard, my first loons in the Okanogan Highlands. It’s one of the reasons we keep going back there, year after year. Where else can we listen to loons as we sit around the campfire or hear them at first light or watch them socialize with each and raise their youngsters on the clear cool water? Loons are remarkable birds. You can learn more about ‘the spirit of the north’ here.

It is worthwhile to click through all of these images and see some interesting loon behaviour. They clearly are very social, flying from one lake to another to ‘visit’ with the resident loons. They struggle to raise their young with the ever-present threat from hungry eagles also raising youngsters. The family we watched each day had two young the week before we arrived but only one when we were there. And that splashing! I don’t know what that’s all about. Loons often just tip over gently into the water, hardly leaving more than a ripple. Those four loons appeared to be fishing together and did this repeatedly while we watched for an hour or more. Others reported seeing the same activity.

In the eastern part of Okanogan County and the western part of Ferry County is a region referred to as the Okanogan Highlands. It is an area dotted with lakes and covered with forests and meadows and occasional high mountains. The lakes are a big attraction for birders and anglers and photographers.

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