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Tag Archives: Columbia River

My birthday is the first day of Spring – the Equinox – and I like to celebrate it out in nature. This year the snow lingers most everywhere in our region making hikes or even long walks pretty challenging. So we went down to the big river – the Columbia – where the temperature is more moderate and the snow melts more quickly. Still, there was snow on the ground. Not everywhere so we all were happy to walk or in the dogs’ case, run on ground for a change. And Sky got to jump in the river so all of her wishes came true.

Ken and I watched birds and enjoyed the diversity of species we got to see. Sometimes in winter there are just not many birds around. Spring and migration change all that. We saw over fifty species in a few hours of birding. That includes the birds at home. One of those was a Great Horned Owl that woke me up before dawn, hooting from a snag in our yard. I had hoped to maybe see Sandhill Cranes but it seems that they are put off by all the remaining snow. I imagine when they do head north, they won’t stop here very long since they need to get to their nesting grounds. We did see lots of ducks and geese and swans too.

For the second half of our camping trip, we went to Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon. It is also at the mouth of the Columbia River but on the south side. It is an enormous park with lots and lots of paved bike trails and miles and miles of beach. Much of the beach is open to driving which decreases the wild nature of the place but there weren’t too many cars on the sand while we were there. The tracks were evident though.

The campground is a long ways from the beaches so we drove to them with the dogs. Some beaches are much less popular due to a high dune to cross to access the water. And the campgrounds cram a lot of people into a small space so they were noisy and crowded. We probably won’t go back to Fort Stevens. Oregon has lots of other nice state parks on the coast. This park is good for families and people that bring their bicycles.

Birding always brings something interesting. Sometimes when we go with expectations of seeing something in particular, our hopes are dashed when we miss it. But the search is always fun. Yesterday we went down to the Columbia River where it was warm and spring-like. Despite the warm temperature we did not see any swallows or bluebirds which have already made an appearance at my house. The water was calm and glassy giving us a beautiful background for the numerous waterfowl we observed. They are all in their spring plumage and the colors are brilliant in the strong sunshine – mallards, goldeneyes, canvasbacks and many more species were seen. We saw nests of Common Ravens and also Great-horned Owls. Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were paired up and some were cavorting in flight! We heard the songs of a Bewick’s Wren and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Western Meadowlarks sang in several locations.

We did have a target bird yesterday – Northern Saw-whet Owls. People have observed as many as five of them in the state park and we even knew which campsites to search for them. Unfortunately the state park staff was engaged in clean up with noisy machines – leaf blowers and leaf vacuums. We picked the group site to begin our search, as far from the machines as we could get. Two big evergreens seemed like likely candidates to shelter these tiny owls. We found the white wash we were looking for and even found pellets but could not spot a small owl. We began to take apart the pellets (a pellet is the part of the meal that is undigestable and is regurgitated onto the ground, usually composed of bones and fur) to entertain ourselves, making a tidy display of teeny little bones on a board.

Having had enough of fur and bones, we moved on to the rest of the campground despite the machinery. After a while I tired of that but Juliet kept looking while I went to the riverbank to see what I could see. I caught up with her at the last area, nearest where we had left the car as she was searching intently high in a dense tree with her binoculars. She said, it has to be here; look at this big white wash! I stood there and looked straght up into the tree and what did I see? A bird butt! I moved around and sure enough, there it was, a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl looking down at me.

 

Small mammal bones

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These bones are tiny. The jaw bone on the left is maybe half an inch long.

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Small but ferocious

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The owl was more interested in people farther away than us immediately under it.

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It wanted us to leave so it could go back to sleep.

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This is a Double-crested Cormorant skull, one of two that we saw on the riverbank.

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Earlier this week I had business in Wenatchee, one hundred miles south of here. It was still cold and clear but down there it was ten degrees warmer – almost balmy since I’ve grown used to the cold temperatures. My car needed servicing and when I made the appointment the lady said it would take about an hour so I planned to wait for it. When I arrived she said two hours – there was a recall I didn’t know about. Darn. So I gathered my wits, my binoculars, my little camera (yes, I travel with a lot of stuff, luckily this time I didn’t take a dog) hat and gloves, and went for a walk. The car dealership is located near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers in an area that has become fairly industrialized. It seems ironic to me because in its natural state this place would have been full of birds and other wildlife. The native Americans had celebrations and horse races in this area. In the 1900’s it became a busy area for orchards. And now it has fruit warehouses, port buildings, a mail distribution center and various businesses like the car dealerships. One good thing is that the PUD bought some of the land at the confluence as mitigation for the hydro power dams on the river and turned it into a state park named appropriately enough, Confluence State Park. That was the destination for my walk.

 

Trucks lined up and waiting to be filled with boxes of apples

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Some apples travel by rail

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Now why would someone frame their license plate with skulls?

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Smart?

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More litter

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Some places have nice trees but why plant invasive ivy at their base?

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Same birch tree looking up

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Plaid logo

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At the park, there are acres and acres of grass near the rivers. This is perfect habitat for Canada Geese.

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There’s a feeder in those trees. I saw Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches and other small birds.

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This is a terrific pedestrian bridge across the Wenatchee River. It is an important link in the Apple Capital Loop Trail.

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Looking down the Wenatchee towards the Columbia with East Wenatchee in the distance

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The ice on the right side of this image is broken and moving with the current while the ice on the left is still.

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Lookin up the Wenatchee at the railroad bridge and then the highway bridge

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Here you can see the moving ice on the left. When I was returning to my car, the ice on the right was cracking as water behind one of the dams began to back up into the Wenatchee River. Not only could I hear the cracking, I could watch cracks form. I could have stayed there all day.

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Endless patterns

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When I got to my car I discovered that my lens cap was missing. This tiny thing was sure to be difficult to replace so I retraced my steps and spotted it where I had crossed the busy arterial. It had been run over but is still functional.

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While I was at first disappointed to learn that my car was going to take longer than expected, I had a great walk in brisk sunny weather and really felt refreshed by it. Some sights were not pretty but the beauty of the rivers more than made up for that.

 

Yesterday I went to Wenatchee for a variety of errands and one of them took me to Hydro/Billingsly Park on the Columbia River. It is a place where my mom and her dog Kelly, walked every single day, rain or shine. My mom’s been gone now for more than six years now and her dog, Kelly who went to live with Ken before we all moved up here together, died in February. I needed to spread a few of Kelly’s ashes near the shore where she used to run with great abandon along the edge of the big river. I like to think of her and my mom together again – healthy and enjoying the crisp air of fall.

 

The park is a combination of manicured lawns and ball fields coupled with a sometimes tangled shoreline of the river.

Lots of beautiful fall colors among the non-native trees.

Why is one branch bright red while others are yellow?

Mom loved seeing the birds and learned many of them during the years she frequented the park. I saw this fairly tame group of Mallards and a Common Loon in winter plumage.

I was pretty obsessed with this leaf.

This photo of it, from my cell phone was my favorite

 

Leaves, like tears fallen from the trees

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