Wednesday, June 22, 2011
We turned onto the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area at Pierce Road, near La Grande, Ore.
Two minutes later, an antelope toting thick horns strutted across the road in front of the rig. A small group of females followed. I counted six, and none of them appeared concerned with our presence.
Darlene and I watched quietly.
Nora did, too.
She stood at the window, wagged her stub and loudly sucked air down by the bags full.
I cut the engine, and we watched the antelope for 15 minutes or so. I've visited Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area many times over the years without seeing an antelope.
But this trip occurred during a wet springtime, when critters seemed to pop up all over the place.
Eventually, we continued eastward along the graveled Pierce Road, pausing to watch swallows, northern shovelors, red-winged blackbirds, coots and so on, until we turned north and stopped at a "Road Closed" sign.
So, we back-tracked and took the Foothill Road to refuge lands across Interstate 84. We saw no critters on that side, however, but we enjoyed the scenery, rimmed by the Eagle Cap Mountains.
We drove back to Highway 203, pausing only briefly to watch the antelope munch grass, and headed toward Union.
We passed the Hot Springs Hotel, crossed a bridge and turned west-northwest, more or less, onto Peach Road. It runs for a couple of miles like a yardstick-straight ribbon of gravel. Ladd Marsh area boundary signs and marshes border both sides of the road.
Seconds after creeping onto Peach Road, I saw a black-necked stilt standing in the gravel.
"Did you see that?" I said to Darlene.
"I've never seen one before," I said, putting the rig into reverse and backing up slowly. "I hope it doesn't fly."
And it didn't.
As we drifted to a stop the Official Camera Holder said, "Here."
I stopped perhaps 10 feet away from the bird. Nora stood in the window, and I aimed the lens past her shoulder.
The bird stood guard on red legs over three or four eggs as I snapped photos.
We watched for several minutes while the bird slowly bent the red legs and settled its belly onto the eggs.
As we drove away, another pair of stilts sat on a nest of sticks in the nearby pond.
I drove at 5-to-10 mph along the road, pausing to ogle water birds along the way. We stopped at the Peach Road Public Fishing Pond to use the one-hole facility.
We turned off at the Tule Lake Access Area, to another facility, and I allowed Nora to get out of the rig in the parking area. Then we followed the one-way auto route back to the main road and counted six black-capped night herons, two blue herons and a dozen other water birds.
I also allowed Nora out in the road when I snapped photos of a house flooded by high water and an old coot with five young coots that munched dark-green mossy stuff.
We drove slowly past Wilkinson Road to the end of the area and counted four or five great white egrets in the distance.
We turned around and drove just as slowly back along Peach Road, We passed the black-necked stilt sitting on its eggs beside the road.
I silently wished it well as we passed and turned toward home.
Contact Don Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .