11 Swans a-resting found on Bennington Lake

Snow geese swarm into the air  at a Burbank pond.

Snow geese swarm into the air at a Burbank pond. Don Davis

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Eleven white swans rested briefly at Bennington Lake on a misty Sunday afternoon (Dec. 9).

I thought they were snow geese.

A day later, I did see snow geese, about 5,293, at the pond behind the McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Burbank.

If You Go

Whitman Mission is off of Highway 12 between Walla Walla and Lowden.

The McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters are at Burbank, about 45 miles from Walla Walla on Highway 12. At Wallula Junction, take Highway 730 west for about 30 miles to the nature area ponds below McNary Dam.

To reach McKay Creek Road, take the Mission turnoff from Highway 11 near Pendleton and continue on Mission South Road across Interstate 84. Turn right onto Lloyd and left on Motanic Road (unpaved) to a junction with Sumac and Spring Creek Roads. Turn left onto Sumac and continue over the hill to McKay Creek Road. Turn left to road’s end on the North Fork McKay Creek or the South Fork McKay Creek roads or turn right on Lower McKay Creek road to Shaw Road. Turn right again to Spring Creek Road and McKay Reservoir and back to Mission.

Heller Bar and the Grande Ronde River are about 30 miles up the Snake River from Clarkston (97 miles from Walla Walla on Highway 12). Continue up the Grande Ronde to the bridge and upstream along Joseph Creek.

And those are not December’s only dazzling highlights for Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.

On the way to Burbank, we stopped at the Whitman Mission, where Nora and I took a stroll and watched colorful waxwings gobble red berries in a tree.

Bohemian waxwings sometimes gobble fermented berries and become tipsy.

So I’ve heard.

Then, after ogling the boggling swarm of snow geese, we motored on down to the nature area ponds below McNary Dam. As we hurried to the one-holers, Darlene spotted a domestic-looking goose on one pond. A later Google search revealed it as a Greylag from Europe.

While Nora and I watched the goose and waited for Darlene at the one-holers, four otters crossed from one pond to the other.

Nora saw them but wisely stood her ground.

This stunning excitement came after we drove during the previous week to McKay Creek near Pendleton to look for elk on the canyon sides and to Heller Bar, on the Snake River, and Joseph Creek Canyon to look for Big Horn Sheep.

Alas, we saw no elk at McKay Creek, and the high canyons remained free of snow. We did see several raptors, however, a few song birds and a ton of pheasants along Shaw Road, near the Ellis Hunting Ranch.

We also saw a few mule deer high on the canyons and caught glimpses of whitetails in thickets along the creek. We counted 53 wild turkeys along the North Fork McKay Creek Road.

We enjoyed the usual dazzling lower Snake River scenery, of course, but we didn’t see many critters. I slid to a stop once to photograph a heron in the mist by the river, and Nora and I spent almost an hour re-visiting the ancient Native American petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy, about 15 paved-road miles upriver from Asotin.

We saw several boats with steelhead anglers back-trolling the high-water riffles of the Snake and fly-fishing on the swollen Grande Ronde.

We passed the bar and I stopped along the Grande Ronde River to snap another heron standing stoically on a stone.

We continued a few miles up the road and along Joseph Creek, to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. We did not see any wild sheep.

And, of course, I treated Darlene to daily dinners, one at the Paraiso Vallarta in Clarkston and one at Subway in Mission. I even bought chocolate-chip cookies and coffee at a store in Umatilla Heights.

Nora, of course, dined on kibbles, canine food from a can and Lean Treats.

It’s amazing how much fun you can have in December — and Christmas is yet to come.

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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