Animals galore found along Mill Creek

A raccoon hides in plain sight on the WWCC campus.

A raccoon hides in plain sight on the WWCC campus. Don Davis

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If you go

To walk along Mill Creek's north side you may park in a lot behind K-mart near the Little League baseball complex, walk to Tausick Way, Walla Walla Community College, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mill Creek Office and to rooks Park. you may also park at the community college softball baseball complex or at Rooks park (a few miles out on Mill Creek Road). You may park on the south side of the stream at Tausick Way soccer-softball complex and at the Mill Creek Office off of the road to Bennington Lake.

Tuesday of last week sizzled. Nora the Schnauzer and I left home at 6:17 p.m. for her daily outing.

It usually takes an hour. Or two.

This one took longer.

Way longer.

Let me set the scene.

Normally in such heat we motor 10 minutes to Mill Creek, near Walla Walla Community College and park at the Corps of Engineers' Mill Creek Office.

We cross the bridge to the shady north side. The shade can be marginally cooler. And the slanting golden sunlight reflects vividly on the water, not to mention on the varied flora and fauna.

I walk slow and focus to see anything that moves or that ogles at us from the dark woods along the trail.

And the strategy has paid off.

Once, near the ramp for service vehicles to cross the stream, a spotted fawn stood motionless among the woods.

Another time, two deer stood almost hidden among slender trees. I didn't see the second one until I processed the photo.

Another time, from almost the same spot, the round dark head of a mink plied the water to the south bank. It clasped a crawfish in its jaws and disappeared among the rip-rap.

I waited, and it returned. I watched a long time as it caught crawdads and carried them into the rocks. Then it slipped onto a rock, shook wet diamond sparkles into the sunlight and crunched down a crustacean.

In half an hour, mink appeared at different spots within the space of four or five weirs. Belatedly, I realized that meant more than one mink.

The next day I waited there only minutes before three mink appeared to frolic together among the south-side rip-rap.

That's the way things had been going.

So, back to the long walk in question.

Here's my tale, and I'm sticking to it.

We dawdled from the project office to Rooks Park. When we reached the shaded grass, a man and woman met us.

"There's a beautiful little snake there. Be careful," the man said.

He didn't want the snake to be injured. It turned out to be a skinny, 10-12-inch bull snake. It wiggled safely into the woods.

We toured the park and started back. We went slower than before. A tern cruised by up the stream. A heron on a weir caught a tiny fish and launched in the golden light. I snapped photos of the catch, the gobble and of the golden-hued launch.

We waited and watched where I had seen the mink, but saw none. Waxwings and swallows swirled after insects over the water.

Then, a belted kingfisher jetted upstream. It sat awhile on a rock. Then, with rowdy cackling, it launched and skimmed the water past us.

I looked back upstream.

An osprey perched on a rock. Its white head glistened in the sunlight. With Nora in tow, I quick-stepped close enough to see a trophy trout in its talons.

An osprey can be up to 24 inches tall, 70 inches across the wings and weigh up to 4.6 pounds. I tabbed that fish at 16-18-inches long and nearly the same weight as the bird.

I shot several frames at the osprey, standing, lumbering aloft, dragging and fumbling the heavy fish, clutching it with both talons, and sailing off downstream.

Shade covered the water when the bridge at the office loomed into view again. Large wings fluttered below the bridge, surely a night heron.

We approached the bridge, and the heron flew downstream. It perched in a tall snag on the south side, still in the sunlight.

I went toward the tree, and sauntered a few feet past it to get a sun-lit view of the bird's red eyes. The heron didn't move.

Then we headed back, ready to go home.

As I looked across the creek, however, a deer with a tiny fawn nibbled lawn grass near a college building.

I hurried to the bridge and crossed.

I snapped Nora to her leash and padded along a graveled path in the darkening shadows toward college buildings. A rabbit sat statue-still in the grass to the left as we passed.

Two killdeer cried poignantly as they raced back and forth ahead of us. Occasionally, one flopped with a splayed wing to draw us away.

The deer and fawn had gone, probably into the dark woods along the paved streamside trail.

Then, two round-backed forms rolled from the woods to the left. They crossed the lawn and disappeared close to a building. I edged closer and watched. Unaware, Nora sniffed the weeds.

Then, two raccoons appeared next to the building, both with dark, round eyes staring warily at on my face. One sneaked past and disappeared around a corner. The other lay chin to the ground and rock-like except for its dark, round eyes.

Nora and I moved slowly out of the animal's way, and it hurried around the corner.

So, by the time we reached the truck, and I drove home in the dark, we been gone way, way too long.

So, that's it, and I'm sticking to it.

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