A cold search for an elusive bald eagle along the Columbia proves fruitless

Freezing weather seems a likely time to track down the regal birds, but a recent exploration turned up none of them along the Columbia River.



Nora the Schnauzer walks along a freezing Columbia River beach while searching for bald eagles.


Deer watch cars pass near McNary Beach along the Columbia River.


Water from the Columbia River freezes on rocks and foliage at Government Beach on a recent 20-degree day.


Nora the Schnauzer looks at the McNary Nature Trail.

Bald eagles should be showing up here abouts by now. Waters in the far-north latitudes of Alaska’s Chilkat River Valley and Haines must be frozen over.

That’s when eagles by the dozens flap south to the Snake and Columbia rivers after filets of salmon, carp or sucker.
Or, maybe even road kill that tastes like chicken.

It’s about time for the regal birds (in looks, if not in character) to arrive at Charbonneau Park, above Ice Harbor Dam; Columbia Park, in Kennewick; Hood Park, west of Burbank on the Snake River; the Burbank area ponds; and along the Columbia from Wallula Gap westward.

Last year, during the chilly gray months, several of them hung out along the Columbia River between the yacht club and Irrigon.

One of my best photo opportunities last winter came on a residential street in Irrigon.

I focused straight up beneath a naked, 60-foot tree. A mature, white-headed eagle focused down at me with a yellow-eyed intensity. Its talons twitched, raising the hair on my neck.

So, it seemed time to look for eagles. Darlene and Nora the Schnauzer agreed.

We drove to the Blue Bridge over the Snake River, scanning the trees along the river from Wallula Junction along the way. We strolled beneath the bare trees and Hood Park.

Not an eagle to be seen.

We turned back and went westward at the junction, cruising down the Columbia. I paused twice near the yacht club and studied the canyon walls.

Rumor from two calls said "mountain goats" peered down from steep cliffs.

I’d often seen goats there.

And possibly, the cliffs resemble mountains.

The goats, however, resemble "billy" more than "mountain."

We saw no goats.

Darlene, of course, spotted several deer up the canyon between there and Government Beach. I missed them and didn’t stop.

We stopped at Government Beach, where Nora and I walked along the cliffs crusted with ice formed by splashing waves freezing in the single-digit weather.

Next, we drove to the McNary Beach turnoff and saw a dozen mule deer along the way, some within a few yards of a busy industrial site.

Then, from Umatilla Heights, we slipped down to the wildlife and nature area at McNary Dam.

About 12-dozen night herons sun-bathed in trees beside an unfrozen, bird-heavy pond (moving water, I guessed).

Nora and I sneaked along a nature trail to get as close as possible, within about 87 yards.

Most of the herons looked young. We watched them for half an hour.

And, when a wood duck paddled past with some mallards, I snapped it, too.

From there, since we were close, we drove another 11 of miles on Highway 730 through Irrigon to the turnoff for the Umatilla Unit of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

We stopped at a an iced-over pond blanketed by blown sand. The pond stretched out of sight to my left. As I focused through the camera, Nora appeared on the ice.

"Nora, come back," I said.

She squinted at me as she left the ice.

Next, we drove the loop and looked for big bucks ad eagles.

We saw neither.

The search for eagles turned up none. It may be a bit early.

But we’ll keep on looking for the next two or three months.

If You Go

It’s about 30 miles to Wallula Junction from Walla Walla and another 10 miles or so to Hood Park.

It’s about 55 miles from Walla Walla to Umatilla. Follow Highway 730 west from Wallula Junction. Signs along the way indicate the turnoffs to Government Beach, McNary Beach, McNary Dam and the nature area.

A couple of miles past Irrigon, a sign indicates a right turn to the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.


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