Eagles fly, despite the blizzard, on a trip up the Tucannon

An excursion in search of bald eagles turns into a blizzard in the Tucannon River Canyon.

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A bald eagle studies the lunch prospects from a snag along the river.

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A pileated woodpecker pecks a pine tree near the Tucannon River.

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A bald eagle hops from its perch near the Tucannon River.

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A whitetail buck pauses along Patit Creek Road.

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Deer run on the hills above the Tucannan River.

On the day after Christmas, a mature bald eagle perched on top of a charred snag near Watson Lake in the Tucannon River Canyon. Its snow-white head and tail shimmered in the afternoon sunshine.

To the south, however, a dark-gray sheet of rain hastened toward us.

"Come on, Nora," I said to the Schnauzer and hurried back over the river bridge to the Subaru.

I plucked the hooded nylon jacket from the back seat and put it on. I pushed Nora's sweater over her head and pulled her front feet through the leg holes.

"We'll check that eagle," I said to Darlene. "We'll hurry."

She said "OK" and handed me the camera from her lap.

I shut the door as another eagle flew southward in front of us. I aimed the camera but missed.

We crossed the bridge again and followed a trail to the south as light sprinkles tapped my shoulders.

Nora ran to a 30-yard lead before looking back. I scanned the tops of the snags, but I didn't see the eagle.

I hurried on as a cold deluge arrived. I pulled a rain cover from my pocket and slipped it over the camera and lens.

I looked for the eagle-capped snag, but rain obscured it.

"Shall we go back?" I asked.

Apparently.

Nora galloped to a 50-yard lead northward in six seconds. The rain left her sweater soggy and her head soaked.

The rain became snow as I spread my wet jacket over the back seat and wrapped Nora in a towel on my lap.

"Look at those snowflakes," Darlene said. "They're huge."

They were quarter and half-dollar size.

"So much for sunshine," I said.

"Right," Darlene said.

When we had left Walla Walla, dark rain clouds hovered to the south, and sunny blue sky beckoned to the east.

So, with coffee and blueberry scones, we headed east.

At Dayton, we took Patit Creek Road.

Near its junction with Maloney Mountain Road, Darlene spotted a whitetail buck with big horns.

"How big?" I asked.

"Pretty big," she said.

I made a three-point turn-around. The deer did have a nice rack, and luckily it posed for several photos.

At the start of steep, unpaved Hartsock Grade, 20 deer pranced by in a stubble field. One had big antlers.

I drove in low gear down the grade and turned south onto the river road.

We stopped at a drained pond for a photo, and a pileated woodpecker thumped on a stump near the road.

I managed two photos when it flew into a tree.

Ten minutes later, we saw a eagle perched on a snag. It posed for 10 minutes before flying.

We turned around at Camp Wooten, and slowly drove north looking for more eagles. That led to the soaking at Watson Lake.

With snow hiding the canyon walls and reducing the possibility of photos, we pointed toward Hartsock Grade again.

Snow covered the road, and swirling flakes cut visibility to 73 feet.

Halfway up the hill, we passed a compact car going downhill. Shortly after that we saw tracks showing the car's three-point turn-around.

"Our all-wheel-drive should make it OK," I said,

Shifting into low again, and with wind driving the huge flakes against our left side, I drove up the hill and turned west onto Patit Creek Road.

"This must be a blizzard," Darlene said as three deer walked across the road in front of us. I stopped, but couldn't see them through the camera's lens.

A short distance later, a snow-mottled deer stood 20 feet from us on the right side. It waited while I snapped photos.

Half-a-mile later, four vague bull elk lay beneath a pine tree while 20 to 30 shadowy cows watched from the hillside.

We drove on and left the snow zone behind in 15 minutes. Sunshine dominated the sky to the west and south, toward home.

Well, the Eastern Washington weather can be fickle on the day after Christmas.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com.

If You Go

A pair of routes leads to the Tucannon River Road. Take Highway 12 for 15 miles east of Dayton and turn south on the river road, or before leaving Dayton turn right onto Patit Creek Road. Turn left at the junction with Maloney Mountain Road and to Hartsock Grade. At the bottom of the grade turn south on the Tucannon River Road toward Camp Wooten.

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