Wildlife abounds not far from Walla Walla

A painted turtle sunbathes at Whitman Mission.

A painted turtle sunbathes at Whitman Mission. Don Davis

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A day after returning from wildlife watching in Harney County, Ore., mostly at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Nora the Schnauzer and I hiked near Andies Prairie.

We stumbled upon a cow elk.

Head down, it munched forage and didn’t see us round a curve about 40 yards away.

I saw the dark brown spot and raised the camera.

Definitely an elk.

As I focused, she raised her head.

I clicked off a few shots as she studied my presence.

Then I twitched.

The elk turned and thundered down the road.

I clicked away until Nora the Elk Dog in hot pursuit entered the frame. She kicked up dusty puffs with her galloping pads.

Talk about the height of optimism?

I whistled hysterically.

My loudest blast.

Twice.

Nora skidded to a halt.

The elk darted into the pines off to the right.

And the dark woods erupted with reverberating elk bugles and heavy stomping of hooves in the deep shadows.

The cow bounded back into the road and galloped from sight around a bend.

Nora trotted back with a swagger in her gait.

Anyway, within an hour of downtown Walla Walla, wildlife waits to be watched.

When Nora and I walk along Mill Creek from Walla Walla Community College to Rooks Park, we see birds and animals and the ambiance changes daily.

Nora enjoys the exercise, which makes each walk a good thing.

A few days ago Darlene, Nora and I fetched coffee and blueberry scones and drove into the valley toward the Columbia River looking for raptors.

At Whitman Mission, Nora and I strolled to the pond. Three large painted turtles soaked up sunshine on the wooden platforms.

We moseyed on toward Touchet and saw a single red-tailed hawk and two kestrels.

From there we went to the Burbank headquarters of the McNary Wildlife Refuge. Nora and I walked the paved path to the observation blind at a pond. Two cormorants and a gull stood on a log 20 feet away. Tall cattails blocked the line of fire, so I aimed the lens through a dirty window.

Then, we followed the sun to Hat Rock State Park where Nora and I hiked around the hat.

From there, we visited the nature area and fishing ponds near McNary Dam.

We observed a great white egret stalking stiffly among the tall tule on the right-side pond. Half a dozen wood ducks burst from the water. Every few seconds another two or three flew from beneath the trees along the bank.

On the left side, seven sun-warmed painted turtles lined a partially submerged tree limb. All but one slipped into the water when we eased to a stop.

We paused there. Nora and I strolled on the nature paths around the ponds and Darlene read in the sunshine.

So, wildlife watchers don’t have to travel across two states.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to resist when resurgent brown pelicans gather on the Oregon Coast during October.

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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