$n$ Critters on film

You don't need much more of a reason for a back-road drive around the area than to pick up a camera and capture some critters in photos.

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Pals Darlene and Nora the Schnauzer accompanied me on a mid-morning drive along the back roads toward Touchet to hang with wild critters.

If you dawdle along during these waning winter days and observe carefully, you may see any number of raptors (red tail, rough legged, ferruginous, osprey, kestrel and so on) perched on telephone poles.

In addition, great blue herons often decorate Walla Walla River's streamside trees or gobble rodents in roadside fields.

On occasion, coyotes and deer glance over their shoulders at us as we pass.

Anyway, even on a short drive, we expected to see some photogenic critters.

And we did.

We counted 14 herons, for example, in trees near the pond adjacent to Whitman Mission Road.

We gawked awhile, then continued downriver and saw several hawks on poles and herons in fields along the way.

Feeling lucky, Darlene suggested we make another attempt to see bald eagles at Charbonneau Park.

Yet, in no hurry at Touchet, we took Byrnes Road to Nine Mile and watched for deer or coyotes.

Eventually, near the junction with Highway 12, a young mulie burst from cover and bounded toward the road. I captured half a dozen images with the big lens.

We took Highway 12 to Wallula Junction and Darlene spotted two eagles with white heads circling near the Columbia River.

At the ponds straddling the highway before Burbank, we saw two more eagles in a tree on the right, four trumpeter swans and perhaps a dozen pelicans on the left.

With no convenient place to park, however, we continued to the wildlife refuge ponds at Burbank. Geese, mallards, and canvas backs rested there, but we continued toward Charbonneau Park.

Well, we did stop briefly at Ice harbor Dam and two-dozen American white pelicans rested on the log boom. Nora and I walked within a few yards of them, and they ignored us while I took more photos.

Then, at the park, two eagles sat 50 feet up in trees 10 yards from the parking area. I stood below them and snapped photos of one that aimed an eagle eye at Nora as she sniffed around the tree trunk.

Twenty-eight minutes later, we dined at the Country Mercantile, or the chocolate factory, five miles north of Pasco on the Spokane Highway.

Darlene had tortillas. I had a turkey sandwich.

We left lugging two dark-chocolate truffles, two dark-chocolate almond clusters, two milk-chocolate peanut clusters, two hefty chunks of white almond bark and fresh coffee.

You can't have too much chocolate and bark on a meandering road trip.

Anyway, we reached Wallula Junction again shortly after noon with several hours to go before bedtime. We took Highway 730 along the Columbia River.

We turned toward Warehouse Beach near the weigh station. We found the beach and the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail parking area empty. That stretch of the trail leads to Hat Rock State Park and McNary Beach.

Nora and I have walked to Hat Rock a couple times, but this time I drove.

We parked and strolled to a bluff above the river. We could see a residential area upstream and a passing train across the river.

We flushed a bunch of coots and gulls at a pond before continuing to McNary Beach, about two miles east of Umatilla.

We saw no one else at that beach, either, but one bald eagle flew past clutching a bird in its talons. Another, a juvenile or a golden eagle, waited in a tree for photographs while Nora played with a plastic cup.

From there, with the chocolate running low, we motored to the Marina in Umatilla and to the McNary Wildlife Unit near Irrigon.

Bucks with large antlers and coyotes live there, but we completed the loop without seeing either.

Shucks.

As the afternoon faded away and the chocolate became a fond memory, we turned toward home. We didn't worry about dinner. Neither of us felt like eating.

Nora, who doesn't eat chocolate, always feels like eating.

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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