OUTDOORS - Turtles, dragonflies and herons

A day without plans leads from Rooks Park to the Whitman Mission, and to the McNary and Umatilla wildlife refuges as birds and animals of all kinds are discovered.

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Male and female wood ducks spend time at McNary Dam.

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A painted turtle suns on a log at McNary Dam.

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A painted turtle enjoys the sun at Whitman Mission.

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A heron struts on a Mill Creek weir.

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A hawker dragonfly hovers at Rooks Park.

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A great white egret takes flight at the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.

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A great blue heron stabs at a meal at Rooks Park.

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A young deer dines near a Hat Rock boat launch.

We fetched 16-ounce cups of Pike Place coffee from Starbucks on a bright, crisp Thursday morning last week.

I snared a blueberry scone for me and a Very Berry Coffee Cake for Darlene.

"Lots of calories," I said. "Keep us strong. Alert."

"And plump," Darlene said.

"That, too."

Nora stretched to sniff the bags and wagged her stubby tail.

We had no plans beyond coffee and pastries, but we meandered to Rooks Park where I nosed the pickup into the shade of tall trees.

At 7:58 a.m., we had the park to ourselves.

We finished the snacks. Darlene opened a Margaret Grimes mystery novel. I looped a camera strap over my shoulder and followed Nora toward Mill Creek.

A blue heron stalked prey about five weirs downstream from the bridge. We crossed the bridge and padded toward the preoccupied wader.

A large graceful bird flapped upstream toward us.

Not a heron or hawk.

Possibly an eagle.

Yes, magnified in the camera's LCD window, a young eagle.

Maybe.

Nora tip-toed across the rip-rap and onto the weir with the wading heron.

Drat.

I snapped off a couple frames as the big bird rose, flapped once, and fluttered onto the next upstream weir.

With arms waving for balance, I crossed the rocks to the slippery moss on the weir. Water barely reached Nora's knees. Shouldn't seep over the tops of my Asolo hiking boots.

Unless I slipped off the weir.

I slide-stepped along, with water reaching my cuffs, and stopped near the north side to snap several photos of the hunting heron. It ignored us.

Once across, and on our way back to the car, we stopped at the downstream end of the pond. I sneaked onto a platform at the outflow gate.

Two frogs with protruding eyes and thin lips waited in the layer of green algae for passing mosquitoes.

A hawker dragonfly buzzed to the edge of the tall grass, hovered for an instant, and darted away. It returned to hover again.

I aimed the camera and shot many frames while Nora lay at my feet. A few shots seemed OK in the LCD.

Eventually, I noticed a heron stalking through the algae at the other end on the pond.

"How did I miss that?" I whispered to Nora, who said nothing.

I snapped a shot, and we moseyed along.

"Well, what now?" I asked Darlene as she put Martha Grimes away.

We decided to visit Whitman Mission, look for a coyote on the way and probably see herons, painted turtles and dragonflies at Mission Pond.

Two-out-of-three came through.

The dragon flies didn't pose for photos.

The turtles did. About 15 young and old soaked up the mid-morning sun on wooden platforms.

From the Mission, we diverted to the McNary Wildlife Refuge ponds at Burbank to look for pelicans. We saw three cormorants.

On the way back, we detoured to Quarry Pond. Nary a person, bird or hovering dragonfly lingered there.

"Being this close, we should visit McNary Dam and nature area. We could see herons there," I suggested.

We drove west, with stops at Government Beach, Hat Rock and McNary Beach.

We saw no one at Government Beach. Nora and I strolled along the small cliffs near the river.

We visited the facilities at the Hat Rock boat launch, and I watched a doe with two offspring browse at water's edge.

We turned around at a "No dogs allowed" sign at McNary Beach.

We drove the road between two ponds at the McNary Dam nature area. We idled along and noted the many ducks on the right-side pond.

"Hey," I rasped. "Wood ducks. Never seen so many in one place."

"The gray ones with the white around their eyes are females," Darlene said.

Yeah!

At road's end I turned so the pond would be on my side. With the window down and the camera ready, we idled back between the ponds. Darlene held the steering wheel as the truck rolled along at 3 mph.

Ducks scooted from beneath the Russian olive trees as we passed.

"They nest in trees," I said.

"Yes," Darlene said.

We made another trip between the ponds and back. Then Nora and I hiked along the chip-covered nature trail for awhile.

"It's 2:09 p.m. and 15 minutes to the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge," I said when back at the truck. "

"May as well," Darlene said.

We drove the loop there, and Nora and I walked along the Heritage Trail bordered by very tall grass. We saw two great white egrets and one great blue heron.

Back on the road, we drove to Umatilla for burgers with everything and milkshakes (more calories) to keep us strong, alert and plump until dinnertime.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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