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December weather has not been ‘normal’. But what is normal anymore? Normally there would be lots of precipitation, mostly snow, and fairly mild temperatures. There was early snow and then it just got cold with a thick inversion that kept the sunshine away for the most part. The snow on the ground has begun to lose its moisture and shrink.

Lucky me, I went away for nine days to sunny Arizona and while it wasn’t particularly warm most of the time, it was pleasant for the most part. Today was the first day back so the dogs and I got out a couple of times to see what had changed while I was away. Not much. It’s not a colorful world.

Photos from Arizona will show up here in a day or two.

Most of the snow has melted so ski season is mostly over and hiking season is officially underway. Mountain Bluebirds and Spotted Towhees added a few sprinkles of color in an otherwise pretty monochrome setting. The songs of Western Meadowlarks accompanied me for much of the hike. This area burned in the giant fires of 2014.

The morning’s bird list: Gray Partridge, Dusky Grouse, Golden Eagle, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Say’s Phoebe, Black-billed Magpie, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, Brewer’s Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, Western Meadowlark, Cassin’s Finch.

When your birthday is on the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring, you might have some expectations for the day. I got it in my head that I wanted to see sagebrush buttercups – one of the first wildflowers that shows up in our shrub-steppe habitats. Well never mind that here at our house, there is still over a foot of snow on the ground. Wet, rotten, sloppy snow. Spring birds like bluebirds, phoebes, juncos and others have arrived so it does sound like spring but right now as I type this, it is snowing. Again. I keep thinking I am done with winter but it’s clearly not done with me.

So if I wanted to see buttercups, I was going to have go somewhere else. I went east and north to McLaughlin Canyon, near Tonasket. The day started out sunny but was soon overcast and breezy and fairly cold at 37° Fahrenheit. Good walking weather. There were a few patches of snow and there was lots of water everywhere. I imagine in the summer this place is very dry and full of rattlesnakes so this was a good time to visit. Melting snow sent cascades of water over the cliff faces and in the shady spots, the rocks and shrubs were covered with ice.

Shortly after I arrived I heard the wonderful song of the Canyon Wren! Have you heard them? Listen here. I heard several others while I walked. The trail starts in a narrow section of the canyon and all that water found its way to the path so it was a bit of a struggle to keep my feet dry. I was somewhat dismayed by all the weeds. This area burned in 2015 when much of Okanogan County was on fire and its recovery is slow. I did see that some pine trees have been recently planted so hopefully they will grow quickly and hold the ground in place during spring flooding.

I walked til I was overlooking the bottom of the canyon and the Okanogan River. Still no buttercups. The hill below me was steep and not appealing for walking but it did look warmer and dryer than the ground I’d been walking on. I used my binoculars to scan the hillside and sure enough, a good two hundred feet below me, I saw the bright yellow color of the buttercups. I found them. It was worth the climb down and back up.

The dogs had great fun exploring a new place and so did I. We were all grateful to be walking on dirt again.

Afterwards, we drove down valley and managed to find some Sandhill Cranes in the snow. It is the time of year when they migrate through this region but most years, the lakes and ponds are thawed and the ground is mostly snow-free. I imagine they are having trouble finding enough food to eat.

And here at home today it is still snowing. Big, fat, fluffy flakes. Winter needs a new calendar.

More of my nearly monochrome world. Grays days give definition to shapes on the plain backgrounds of snow and sky. There is still much beauty to absorb.

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