Muskrat Love

What are thought to be beavers turn out to be muskrats in an algae-covered pond off Frog Hollow Road while tooling around the Valley.

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I slowed, stopped and idled the truck backward.

"Beavers?" I asked.

"Yes," Darlene said.

"Well, maybe," she added, a tad less sure about "two beavers" swimming in an algae-covered pond beside Frog Hollow Road. I stopped parallel to the pond and leaned to peer through the passenger-side window.

By golly, a furry critter plowed through the green water, turning a furrow of algae with its nose.

"Could be," I said reluctantly.

Yet, a pond in a treeless pasture hardly resembled beaver habitat.

"I don't see a beaver house," Darlene agreed.

Neither did I. I cut the engine and lifted the camera with the long lens.

Darlene lowered her window. I aimed the lens over Nora the Schnauzer and snapped a few shots from a cramped position.

"I'll turn around to get a better view," I said.

I drove east, more or less, to the first road and back, pulled off to the right as much as possible and lowered my window.

A flock of sheep nibbled in a field on Darlene's side (the north side) of the road, along with a white-and-black llama and at least five strutting great blue herons.

"Roll down your window again," I said. "Please."

She did, reluctantly, grimacing at the cold, gray mid-December fog. I aimed the lens at a heron.

Actually, the region's several days of air stagnation and freezing fog led to Darlene's spotting the critters swimming in the green pond late last week.

It caused us a yawning malaise, a sense that we should do something before cabin fever set in.

Or perhaps we had become weary of watching recorded marathon reruns of "NCIS" and "Law and Order."

Anyway, a hawking tour along the less-traveled roads between Walla Walla and Touchet, parallel to Highway 12 and Stateline Road, seemed fitting.

Raptors congregate there during the winter months. They watch for prey, usually mice, from high perches, such as power poles.

In the past we have seen dozens of hawks on a 50-mile loop there.

More or less.

After fetching coffee and scones, we drove west through College Place to Mojonnier Road. I snapped photos of a deer by burn barrels before we turned west onto Mission Road.

Eventually, we drove down Swegle Road to the Walla Walla River and Mill Creek and looked for herons or pelicans on the water.

Zilch.

We drove to the Whitman Mission parking area so Nora and I could walk to the pond and back, and for Nora to take a potty break (which I plucked up with a Mutt Mitt).

Frozen fog flocked the grass and trees, as if for Christmas-time. Thick ice covered the Mission pond, so the painted turtles huddled in the bottom's mud.

I reminded Nora that we had seen 20 turtles, give or take, on the floating platforms there in late July.

We counted four herons in a field along Swegle as we continued westward. We didn't stop to gawk.

Then, I snapped photos of deer on a bank along Stovall Road.

On McDonald Road we passed an American Kestril on a power line. It ripped puffs of fur from a mouse, so I turned around and drifted slowly beneath it

Dining, it refused to fly.

We saw about a dozen larger hawks as we continued west and stopped again at large stacks of hay near the end of Riggs Road. Nora and I walked north to an overlook of the Walla Walla River there, and a cackling pheasant erupted at my feet.

Then, as we headed back, a rooster pheasant posed near the road.

Eventually, we passed the "beavers."

Actually, we didn't know what the critters were, but we leaned toward them being Muskrats.

Two stopped to munch pond flora, and they looked like rats.

For sure.

As we watched, another pickup stopped, and a man stepped out to photograph the herons among the sheep.

Taking a hint, I drove west again, turned around to head east and take photos of herons, sheep and the llama, which kept a wary eye me.

I also photographed some horses near the pond. They ignored me.

Finally, we drove home and I used Google to look up "swimming beavers" and "swimming muskrats."

Darlene, Nora and I agreed to call the critters on the green pond "muskrats."

That's our story, and we'll stick to it.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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