It seemed odd to be relaxing in the shade on an 80-plus-degree day along the Snake River, and have the movie “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” come to mind.

Yet, after setting up camp at Little Goose Landing and sitting down to enjoy the scenery, that’s exactly what happened to me.

At the same time an airplane was taking off at Little Goose State Airport south of our camping spot, across the river a train emerged from the east, and a truck was backing a boat into the water at boat launch.

So, the thought of Steve Martin and John Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” brought me a chuckle.

Within minutes, the sounds of those vehicles had dissipated, and the sounds of my daughter, Madison, swimming in the inlet next to our campsite mingled with those of a flock of birds in the trees above, and as they searched the empty campsites for food.

A little internet research showed the noisy little birds to be Brewer’s blackbirds, with their purplish accent features sparkling in the sun.

They filled the trees, flying to the ground for food and then back into the trees to eat.

They were not shy, flying just above my head and walking to within feet of me.

Kinda like the Hitchcock classic “The Birds,” but not quite as harrowing!

But then, a more colorful bird entered the fray. It was a bit larger than the blackbirds, with an orange underbelly, black head and back, and some white on its wings.

Being nothing of an ornithologist, I researched this bird and determined it to be a Bullock’s oriole, which inhabits the area and exhibited many of the traits assigned to its description. My estimation was confirmed by U-B senior editor Dian Ver Valen, who’s much more of a birder than I am.

In short order, this oriole was on the ground pecking at what I thought was one of the blackbirds about 30 yards away. I could see wings flailing as the colorful oriole pecked at it.

So I grabbed the camera and slowly made my way toward the struggle on the other side of the camping area.

That’s when I saw it wasn’t another bird being attacked, it was a huge moth! It had to be three to four inches in wingspan, with a thick body.

I got too close and the oriole flew off, so I backed off and in a few minutes it was back, resuming its pecking.

And, to my surprise, with the moth being so large, the oriole managed to pick it up and flew to some bushes, presumably to eat in peace.

When asked for her opinion via email, professor of biology at Whitman College Heidi Dobson said the moth looks to be of the Sphingidae family of hawkmoth.

What a start to our first camping trip of 2021!

We’ve been camping along the Snake River since Madi was just a little girl. She’s always loved Little Goose because of the inlets for swimming, and even now, at 15, she still enjoys jumping into the water — although it was still a bit cold for her in mid-May!

I like the area for the fishing 10 feet from camp.

So it was great to be back at our favorite spot again!

And the weather couldn’t have been better, in the mid-80s and mostly sunny.

We’ve camped along the Snake River in 105-degree weather — great for Madi to spend the days swimming, but a little hot when out of the water!

On that trip, I had a tarp extended from atop the tent out to extension poles held in place by guy-lines for shade.

One morning about 6 a.m., we were asleep in the tent when Brodee the dog started growling. I woke up and saw a large, dark figure moving just outside. I grabbed Brodee to keep him quiet, and watched the shadowy figure move around the tent.

A bear?!?!


The figure came around the tent to where the window was open to the screen, and it turned out to be a cow! Somehow, the cow had maneuvered through camp without hitting any of the guy-lines, and moved past.

That whole experience got my blood pumping!

Madi slept through the whole thing.

Later that morning, a ranger came by and said a local ranch had lost a herd of cows through a downed fence.

Anyway, it seems adventures with wildlife at Little Goose Landing continues.

When Madi was done swimming on this recent trip, I figured I’d try some fishing. It was a bit windy, so I opted for the spinning rod instead of the fly rod — I’d learned my lesson on THAT one, which was detailed in an earlier column.

Some of the fishermen putting boats in at the launch were going after smallmouth bass, so I put a crawdad lure on the line and headed to the river.

Three casts in I had a fish on, and from its fight I figured it was a smallmouth.

I’d caught my first fish on a fly just across the same inlet 10 years ago, and it had put up a good fight as well.

I brought the bass in, a beautiful 12-incher, and then carefully released it.

And that was enough to entice Madi to grab a rod and try her luck.

But despite trying different lures and methods, no more fish took the bait that night.

So we grilled up the steaks we’d brought and enjoyed a delicious dinner with a gorgeous view of a beautiful sunset.

It was a great day to start camping season.

Bret Rankin can be reached at or 509-526-8316.

Bret Rankin graduated from Western Washington University, and after reporting and editing at several newspapers in western Washington, he joined the Union-Bulletin in 1999 as a sports reporter/copy editor. He has been sports editor since 2010.