Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cranes are here somewhere, probably, maybe not.

On Thursday, we went on a short field-trip from Seattle to Othello, in Eastern Washington State.  Othello is a small farming town which gains some publicity each spring during the Sandhill Crane migration.   According to the local paper, thousands of Sandhill Cranes were wandering the fields outside town and could be seen by the casual visitor who arrived before noon.  By noon, we read, they retreat back to the marshlands in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

Eastern Washington is flat and blocked with green fields
straddled by the wide metal arcs of sprinklers.

The Crew in the Back
(Tara, Alex, Frost, Wren, Phoebe)

Othello is almost 190 miles from Seattle so we left on Thursday afternoon and spent the night at Moses Lake, leaving at 8am after an early breakfast.   It was still cool when we arrived at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Rangers Station in Othello.  The streets in Othello are about 8 cars wide and rutted with gravel.  We pulled in and were surprised to find the office open by 8am.   The Rangers were very helpful, giving us a map of likely viewing sites for cranes and burrowing owls and the boys enjoyed seeing the alarming stuffed crane and bald eagle posed in the reception area.

Unfortunately, this was the only Sandhill crane I have ever seen.

The only Sandhill crane we saw was not in the corn fields.

The bald eagle appears to have been struck by budget cuts.

Unfortunately, the Sandhill Cranes had not been informed of their expected locations and were not in the fields.  The ranger said we should probably have been here at dawn when the cranes would have been hungry and visiting corn fields to forage.  We would have come at dawn if we had known but we didn't.  The Rangers said that we had a good chance of seeing them roosting at the wetlands where they returned after feeding. 

We hunted valiantly, following the map along various unmarked roads in the Refuge but did not find the cranes.

However, we had more luck with the burrowing owls.  I don't have a telephoto lens or aspirations to bird photography so here is someone else's burrowing owl.  They are small owls that make underground burrows.  During mating season they stand up near the nest and can be seen on their long little legs. 

Burrowing Owl - feeling anxious at
the proximity of the minivan.

After some lostness we managed to track down a burrowing owl nest.  I won't get into details other than saying that by following the rangers map we inadvertantly overshot the intended viewing site and saw the owl very closely.   We then withdrew, and used the telescope and saw a second owl slightly further away.    It was a wonderful siting of a wonderful bird. 

The boys stalk closer to the burrowing owl
who promptly vanished into his burrow.

The burrow

Fred, Alex and Tara look from a discrete distance

The landscape out there is spacious and you can travel great distances without seeing a car.  Tumbleweeds reel across the road when the wind blows and great drifts of them pile up downwide on steep hillsides and cliffs.   Frost wanted to bring a huge tumbleweed home but we could find no place for it in the van and no way to travel with it on the roof.

Frost, Alex and Tara gather tumbleweeds.
The tumbleweed Frost wanted to bring home.

Me, with the photogenic tumbleweed.

Tara and Fred
Phoebe avoiding any contact with the tumbleweeds.

The Tumbleweed and Tara and Fred, Again. 
Its starting to look pretty malevolent to me by this point.

Frost persevering with this plan to bring the tumbleweed home

Among our other memorable moments was Tara's siting of a farmyard filled with roaming peacocks and peahens.  I have never seen peacocks with such large tails.  Frost stalked into the farmyard to take this picture and another of a peacock leaping from a roof down to the grass.  We thought he might be shot for trespassing because it was that kind of place.  Fortunately, he survived.

The peacock farm
When we arrived home I was distraught to realize we had left SOFT SHIRT in the motel in Moses Lake.  Housekeeping had not found it and I despaired of ever seeing it again.  It turned out that soft had not been left behind - but had been left in the car overnight.

I called Joshua and told him I had "lost soft" and was very upset.

He said "WHAT?"

I repeated "we have LOST SOFT"

"Oh," he said.  "I thought you said you had lost FROST.  I don't care about that stupid shirt."

I was indignant and feel I am now Soft's protector although his comment was probably best understood in the context that he doesn't care about the stupid shirt as much as he cares about his unstupid son.

Tired.  TV.  Tea.