Thursday, December 29, 2011
The temperature may have reached into the 20s around noon on a recent mid-December weekday.
An extended period of air stagnation, with its freezing fog and light snow, had decorated the flora along Mill Creek with dazzling designs, especially between Tausick Way and Rooks Park.
And it seemed like more water birds than usual bustled in bunches on the friendly currents of the stream.
Perhaps because of the misty cold, I found the parking area at the Walla Walla Community College baseball and softball fields empty.
In fact, Nora the Schnauzer and I crossed to the unpaved south side of the creek and walked all the way past the project office and to Rooks Park without seeing another dog or walker.
I carried two cameras on the walk, one with a big lens for critters and one with a small lens for scenery.
Still all alone, we crossed the bridge below the dam and toured the park with its frost-flocked trees, new playground equipment and frosted volleyball net.
People had left many scuffling trails through the frosted grass of the park, either the day before or early that morning.
Eventually, when we started back on the paved path, I detected birds fluttering among the trees 20 yards away. I figured they were sparrows or juncos.
When one landed on a tree trunk, I wondered if it could be a brown creeper and aimed the big lens at it.
"Probably a brown creeper," I said aloud, but Nora continued watching mergansers and mallards on the water.
After that I aimed the big lens vaguely toward the birds hopping among the limbs and snapped off several frames before losing sight of them.
Alas, nothing looked very clear in the camera's LCD monitor.
About then a man with a spotting scope on a tri-pod crossed the park's arching, photogenic bridge. He was the first person I had met, and we shared stories about what we had seen.
I told him about the "brown creeper."
He seemed skeptical but went into the park to check as Nora and I moved on downstream.
I took more photos of the scenery, with an occasional shot of hooded and common mergansers, along with the usual shots of great blue herons.
We began to meet other people along the path.
The man with the tripod, however, passed on the south side of the stream.
Moments later, Carol Hargreaves, a frequent Mill Creek visitor who taught elementary school for 26 years and who knows birds, passed us as she headed to Rooks Park.
She had seen a flock of golden-crowned kinglets among the thickets near the bridge at the project office.
"I'll look for them," I said as she continued upstream.
Minutes later, the man with the tripod approached on the paved path. He suggested the birds at Rooks Park had been a flock of ruby-crowned kinglets.
He had a field guide and showed me a colorful picture of the tiny, striking birds that I had barely noticed.
Seconds later, Nora and I met Carol and Dale Pettibone.
We meet them often along Mill Creek, usually during the photographer's golden hour before sunset, and share information about cameras, lenses, what we've seen and what to look for that day.
Dale, who aimed a 500-milemeter lens at a kingfisher across the stream, also often carries two cameras.
As we talked, Carol Hargreaves stopped again to tell us that the flock of golden-crowned kinglets still fluttered around in a nearby thicket.
Dale and I hurried to the spot she indicated. We clicked frame-after-frame and showed each other the results in our monitors.
His looked sharp. Mine looked fuzzy. I blamed my fogged glasses.
Nora and I eventually headed for the nearby bridge to take the south side trail back to Tausick Way and the truck.
Mink tracks marked the thin layer of snow among the equipment boxes on the bridge, and I stood for several minutes watching for a mink to show itself.
It didn't, so we traipsed back to the truck and drove home.
Later, when I filed the day's photos on the computer, I made the serendipitous discovery.
Three photos of a ruby-crowned kinglet revealed sharp images of the 4-inch bird with a ruby-colored spot on its head.
Alas, no really sharp one of the golden-crowned kinglet appeared, but a couple did show the golden crown.
Nevertheless, I liked the ruby-crowned kinglet photo.
It's nice to be lucky sometimes.
Contact Don Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .