Here we are now, part of a new year and the start of a new decade.
Our last steps in 2019 have slipped off into history as has all that was said and done during the last 365 days.
We take our first steps into this new year, this winter season at a time some refer to as the “dead of winter.”
This season is far from dead.
To me 2020, sounds like a chance for a clear view and an opportunity to see with unimpeded vision a future that builds and matters for the good of life on this planet.
This day, the first of this new decade, I joined MerryLynn, Bruce and RJ in an adventure to see how many wild bird species we could locate within Walla Walla County between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
So off we went in our hybrid Toyota to encounter the natural world on this 52-degree, windy day with vast open areas of blue sky to the west and north, which looked to us like a great promise of sunshine through most of this New Year’s Day.
The wind blew and smacked the side of the car as we traveled west on Frog Hollow Road, then south on McDonald Road and on to Detour Road, all the while seeing birds despite the constant blowing wind out of the southwest.
Gusts came and went as our bird list grew.
Moving west along Highway 12 through Lowden, through Touchet and toward Wallula Junction, everything we saw was new, having never seen any of these birds this year or decade.
What a wonderful way to start off a new year by watching for, and keeping track of, the wildlife you see in this New Year!
As we moved west, the air temps kept rising and now hovered at 54 degrees. Hard to believe it was Jan. 1, 2020!
Upon approaching Wallula Junction, we noticed several cars pulled over at the old yacht club pond to the north of the highway, and as we came to the turn-in to the overview area we saw something we have never seen before.
Standing in the middle of this shallow lake, up to their knees in the water, were 11 bull elk ranging in maturity from spike bulls to five-point animals.
What on earth had driven this group of bull elk into the middle of this lake on this very windy morning?
We photographed them, and moved on west to Highway 730 along the Columbia River.
More and more birds were spotted, and our New Year’s list kept growing.
After checking out Port Kelley and the choppy, wind-blasted, gray-green waters of the Columbia River, we retraced our way and returned to Wallula Junction.
Some of the species we had observed by then were common goldeneyes, herring gulls, a common loon and a couple of sub-adult bald eagles.
Our next stop was Madam Dorion Park along the lower Walla Walla River. Here there were dozens of robins, some sparrows and red-tailed hawks along with a sharp-shinned hawk.
After stretching our legs and walking the area, we noticed a lot of litter and trash that has been dumped — sad and pathetic behavior, indeed.
The air temp was now right at 55 degrees, and our bird list was around 50 species.
On we went to the north on Highway 12 towards Dodd Road, and the feedlots where many thousands of birds gather during the winter months. Here we saw dozens of ravens and a huge flight of snow geese.
We then headed back out to Highway 12, and that is where we located an amazing wild mammal we have never seen where we located this unique and wonderful weasel. In a large cut corn field was a running American river otter.
Not believing our eyes, we took a good number of photographs. To have a river otter running across an old corn field was totally unexpected.
The air temps were right at 56 degrees, and on we went to McNary NWR at Burbank. Birds everywhere, such as tundra swans, canvasbacks, mallards and even three trumpeter swans, which are the species that really started the conservation movement in the United States as they were all but wiped out by market hunters in the early 20th century.
The next species seen were four great egrets that look like all white herons. These, too, are are a huge success story in wildlife conservation as they were almost lost to the millinery trade, which created a lady’s hat style with these birds on them.
Our sunny, but very windy, day ended as planned at sundown with 80 birds on the list and wonderful experiences despite the wind.
At Hood Park, the temperature shot up to 60 degrees on this Jan. 1 — the warmest day of the year!
Remember, life is good!