OUTDOORS - Don Davis takes a tour through his wild kingdom



A great blue heron checks out visitors to his creek.


Nora the Schnauzer meets a raccoon on the trail.


An osprey carries its catch from the water.


Two young bucks prance away on the Mill Creek Trail.


Ducklings make their way up a weir at Mill Creek.

When the osprey smacked like a falling brick into the water at Mill Creek near Rooks Park, I missed the photo.

I saw the hawk dive and aimed the camera.

Tall canary reed grass blocked my lens, however.

I mumbled "Well, shucks," to Nora the Schnauzer.

She continued sniffing among the tall grass.

Sometimes called fish eagles, osprey may disappear beneath the water's surface in pursuit of their prey.

This one did.

I stretched on tip-toe and snapped photos as it resurfaced, shook away sunlit spray and flapped into flight with a fish in its talons.

In flight an osprey may turn a fish into a head-first position that cuts wind resistance.

This one didn't.

It clutched the fish awkwardly and turned upstream toward me. I snapped photos as it passed and swerved away among the tall cottonwoods trees.

Some of the photos turned out OK, and I saved them along with other images collected during the spring and summer of 2010.

During the spring for example, an invasion of photogenic songbirds fluttered among the shrubbery along Mill Creek, including Bohemian waxwings and yellow warblers.

The usual flood of water and wading birds also arrived, including common and hooded mergansers, knight herons, and white egrets.

Not to mention the more common mallards, American widgeons, great blue herons and Canada geese.

Raccoons and deer often crossed our path.

One morning shortly after dawn, when leaving the bridge from the south side to the Rooks Park side, an adult raccoon with three little ones faced us on the paved path.

Nora saw them from the bridge and rushed forward.

"Nora," I hissed, holding out the leash. "Here!"

With the three little ones ushered into a thicket, the big one stood tall and faced Nora with a hard glare.

Nora skidded to a stop. They studied one another for a few seconds before the raccoon slipped into the foliage.

Nora hurried back to the leash.

Another time, as we walked up the north-side path, two young bucks crossed the stream on a weir up ahead of us.

They briefly disappeared among the shrubs. Seconds later, they reappeared trotting toward us.

One wore a rope of weeds tangled in its antlers. We stopped. They continued toward us, spotted us and pranced into the shrubbery.

One day a brood of 12 ducklings proved the phrase "bird-brained" to be a fallacy.

The mother duck led the brood, perhaps three weeks old, to a weir. Water rushed over the weir, but the hen flapped up onto it.

The anxious little ducks swam back and forth below the weir for several minutes.

After repeated failures to climb the weir, 11 ducklings scrambled up among the riprap and across it. They climbed back down, joined the adult and swam toward the next weir.

The 12th duckling had backed off from the weir. It turned and with a sprinting start zipped onto the weir with the rest of the group.

"Pretty smart," I said to Nora.

We saw the raccoons again in the golden hour after dawn on the south side. We stood on the bridge as the big one led the young ones onto a weir. The young ones crossed halfway and turned back.

The adult crossed to the rocks on the north side, sniffed around for a few minutes and ran back. They all scooted off into the woods.

Nora watched the episode by looking between the rails near my leg.

Over the summer we saw mink, bald eagles, belted kingfishers, a river otter and a coyote, along with frogs and a beaver in the Rooks Park slough.

We also met a woman who saw a young moose in the stream near the park.

So, I enjoyed seeing all the wildlife and taking photos on spring and summer strolls with Nora along Mill Creek.

So far, the fall and winter promises to be just as pleasant.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

If You go

The trails along Mill Creek begin near the Little League Baseball Parks at Kmart. They continue past Walla Walla Community College and to Rooks Park.

Rangers have posted rules for dog owners along Mill Creek. They are on posts near the Project Office and at Rooks Park. Owners must keep dogs under control at all times, and leashes are required on the north side of the stream. Bags for dog waste have been provided near the project office and at Rooks Park.


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