I like the American coot.
It's a white-billed, red-eyed dark bird that muddles in wetlands and open waters of the Columbia Basin.
A bit frumpy looking, it seldom attracts bird lovers by the score.
Anyway, I'm a coot fan.
I also like bald eagles along with other large, colorful, stately and rare birds.
I especially like eagles and coots.
So, a few days ago, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I went west, away from a soupy Walla Walla fog, to find eagles.
Coots didn't enter my mind.
The fog cleared at the Columbia River, and we turned toward the McNary National Wildlife Refuge headquarter ponds.
Four swans floated near a reedy island. I parked and walked with Nora to a shed with peeper ports. I snapped the swans and peeped at a thousand geese and ducks, along with a few cormorants.
Then we dawdled on to Ice Harbor Dam and Charbonneau Park, where white pelicans and bald eagles visit in February.
We parked near the dam and counted 21 pelicans on a log boom. I snapped one that conveniently hopped onto the boom and watched a black-and-white goldeneye run on the calm water.
We toured the park and saw nary an eagle. Then, back toward Wallula Junction, a blanket of white snow geese and dark Canada geese lay in a cornfield. Two miles later, a dozen eagle silhouettes perched in trees by the river.
At the junction, we saw that a bright sunshine beamed over Umatilla.
At the McNary Dam nature area, I parked between a pond and the Columbia, and Darlene turned to Harry Potter's adventures.
As Nora and I set off around the pond to a scruffy peeper blind, a night heron circled overhead. Its vivid red eyes gleamed in the sunshine.
Half a dozen coots paddled placidly away.
Then one took umbrage and dashed like a long-legged sprinter on the water. It looked humorous (not funny), and made me smile.
We spent two hours touring ponds.
Night herons hovered in trees.
Uncountable numbers of wood ducks, mallards and coots paddled on the ponds.
I especially watched the colorful and photogenic wood ducks.
Alas, we saw no eagles before buying milkshakes and heading home.
Undeterred and fog-bound once again, the next day we set out to find eagles at Ladd Marsh Wild Life Area, near La Grande.
We left the fog atop Milton Hill and sailed beneath clear skies over the mountain.
Well, we encountered patches of graveled snow-pack and stopped at Woodland Sno-Park for Nora to stretch.
From Summerville and Imbler, we took Pierce Road to Highway 203 and the graveled Ladd Marsh loop.
A stately bald eagle sat in a roadside tree.
Then it flew.
Out of camera range.
At Highway 203, we turned north onto a graveled road into the refuge.
Alas and drat. Ice froze over the ponds.
And our plans.
As we turned around, a handsome hawk posed on a pole for a photo.
So, at barely noon, we meandered through Union and North Powder to the Anthony Creek elk-feeding site.
Where eagles dare.
A distant coyote watched us pass from a field off Powder River Lane. At the sun-drenched feeding site, the elk cast long shadows.
Finally, on Anthony Lakes Road, an imperial bald eagle sat high in a close cottonwood tree, patiently, while I stopped three times to get a clear view through the bare boughs.
Minutes later, we counted six eagles in a cottonwood copse.
At 3:07 p.m., we reached Haines. An A-frame "Open" sign stood at the steak house (Google Haines Steak House for a menu, etc.).
I braked. My palate pinged.
It savors bowls of homemade beans and chili from the restaurant's world famous salad bar.
Darlene savors the prime rib.
As we left Haines, Nora dined, then sacked out.
Daylight faded away as we passed through Imbler and Summerville. We crossed the mountain easily, but slowed to a crawl with a soupy freezing fog on Milton Hill.
"Well, we saw a ton of critters the last couple of days," Darlene said.
"True," I said.
And, thinking of the old coot, I smiled.
Contact Don Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .
If You Go
Ice Harbor Dam is three miles off of State Highway 124, northeast of Burbank Heights.
The ponds at McNary National Wildlife Refuge headquarters are off of Humorist Road near Burbank on Highway 12 about 45 miles from Walla Walla. Nature area trails and ponds are below McNary Dam and Umatilla Heights about 55 miles from Walla Walla.
Ladd Marsh Wildlife area near Union is about 70 miles from Walla Walla on Oregon State Route 203.
North Powder is about 15 miles from Union. Take the road to Anthony Lakes to reach the elk feeding area and the back roads to Haines and Baker City.