Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Perhaps the golden-hour light of dusk enhanced the vivid shades and hues of the turkeys' feathers. They strutted in the rosy sunshine beneath yellow pines near The Last Resort RV Park on the Tucannon River Road.
Perhaps, as jakes rather than jennys, they wore colorful garb for the looming mating season.
February had arrived, after all.
"They simply could be a colorful sub-species," I mumbled.
Planted Rio Grande turkeys took hold along the Tucannon, but Merriams and Easterns also occur now in Washington.
Perhaps some bloomed brighter than others?
I didn't know.
Neither did Darlene.
"I've never seen such beautiful turkeys," she said.
Unfazed, Nora the Schnauzer strained at the window as I aimed the big lens at the dozen-or-so birds.
Darlene had spotted the turkeys as we headed home after a long afternoon drive. We started the drive after I met a man along Mill Creek who said he had seen scads of wildlife north of Walla Walla in the Starbuck area, meaning deer, mouse-hunting coyotes, herons, bald eagles and hawks.
So, we went, outfitted with camera, coffee and water. I took Lower Waitsburg Road past the golf course. Minutes later, we saw two red tail hawks on the ground.
We passed a gaunt tree with a building and a farm-machine in a wheat field on Hart Road. Nora and I walked out for a photograph. The wind snapped and popped my windbreaker. It lifted Nora's ears.
At State Route 124 near Prescott, I turned onto Smith Springs Road for a wide sweep north and west to Clyde.
Along the way, across from familiar old farm buildings, including a handsome barn, I stopped for a photo and spent a few moments pondering the past.
At Clyde, I turned north, then I turned left on Ayer Road. I recalled watching a porcupine climb a tree at the boat basin once.
We drove seven miles to the basin, including a steep 4.3-mile descent into the Snake River gorge.
Five cormorants perched on the docks and flew at the sight of the truck. Dozens of water birds floated on calm water close to the high slope. We followed the road away from them and headed back up the hill, below massive cliffs and rock formations.
We stopped for Nora to whiz. Nothing moved but Nora and the wind-blown tall grass.
As we drove up the hill, three mule deer hastened up a rocky slope, like mountain goats.
We drove over the hill, saw the snowy Blues to the east, and onto Highway 261, where we turned southeast toward Starbuck and Highway 12.
Near the mouth of the Tucannon River, a deer bounded in front of us. Darlene steered one handed, and I fired off a few frames through the windshield.
We turned right on Highway 12 for 2.5 miles and turned left on the Tucannon River Road.
We saw more deer, mostly whitetail, raptors and turkeys than we could count as we drove upriver toward Camp Wooten.
About this time last year, we counted three bald eagles near the Tucannon Fish Hatchery area. This time, we stopped at rest areas twice and drove slow without seeing a single eagle.
We turned back at Camp Wooten and spotted the vivid turkeys at The Last Resort.
From there, I stopped twice to photograph whitetail deer and a drab-looking turkey that waddled down the middle of the road in front of us for about 100 yards.
Finally, we turned left at Hartsock Grade. Despite a warning to through traffic, passenger cars frequent the steep grade, and pavement begins on top of the hill.
Deer and turkeys dotted fields along the way to Dayton, but I stopped only once at the Lewis and Clark campsite.
Although we'd driven 125 miles, in almost six hours, and had another 30-plus miles to go. We decided to eschew dining out in favor of steaming bowls of soup at home.
"It was worth the drive to see those turkeys," Darlene said.
Contact Don Davis at email@example.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .