Saturday, July 9, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Seven

Brooks Memorial State Park

I spent some of the night wondering if that was an owl... but it was the Park Ranger's dog barking from the other side of the highway.  I did get Nighthawks again, though, and I was up and packing up a tent at 5 AM. 

I was excited for my day.  Klickitat County...well, I'm not allowed to have favorites this year, that's part of the deal, I think, is to give all of the counties some love.  Still, though, it's got one of the largest observatories in the country which is regularly open to the public for observing (Goldendale), it's got Mountains all around it (Adams, Hood, St. Helens), it's got huckleberries (the purple ones... something I don't need to explain to most people, but maybe someone else grew up eating the red ones Vaccinum Parvifolium like me.), wineries, some quirky museums, the Columbia River, and Stonehenge! 

Brooks Memorial State Park
Klickitat County also has some birds I've never seen (Lesser Goldfinch, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher), and some birds that I've only seen in King County last fall when poor oak crops sent woodpeckers all over the state (Lewis' Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker).  I found the first of these before 6AM.  Opperman's guide talks about an area in the campground that is good for Gray Flycatchers - walked there, saw one.  That easy!  I was hopeful that my day of dipping on birds yesterday was just a fluke.

I finished walking both sides of the campground.  Another beautiful morning - I'd been really fortunate with weather on the trip - and I had chosen to wear shorts.. It was cold now, but it was a good call down the road.  Once I was all packed up, I went back up to Satus Pass and took the little Ski Lodge Road as far as I could go.  It was not nearly as far as I had hoped, but still found a House Wren, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Bushtits, to make it 25 species before breakfast.

Goldendale to Bickleton

The views were big coming down the hill.  Mount Hood was in the distance, and the sun was already shining brightly at 7.  I stopped in Goldendale for a Sausage McMuffin with Egg, filled up the hot water for coffee and oatmeal, filled up the water bottle, and hit the Bickleton Highway.  Before I got in the car, I saw my first Western Scrub-Jay of the trip.  They're making their way north, but aren't so common up there yet.  Here, they're all over!

Oak - Klickitat County

Along the side of the road, oaks were the common trees, and I stopped every mile or so hoping to find some of the birds above.  I finally did find some - two Ash-throated Flycatchers and two Lewis' Woodpeckers at the same stop.  I wish they'd all been closer to get some better pictures, but it was fun to watch the pair of flycatchers working from the same tree - darting up after bugs and returning to their perch.  The Lewis' Woodpecker I'd seen in Seattle had actually been flycatching when I saw it - something they'll do when it isn't acorn season!  I enjoyed the birds for a little, and eased on down the road.

Western Bluebird
 Approaching Bickleton, things got grassy, and I found a lot of bluebirds (this is one of the better places for them in the state), and Vesper Sparrows.  I rolled into Bickleton by 10 AM with over 50 species of birds in the county, and I was wondering if it I should try for 100, as I had in Pend Oreille.

Carousel Museum - Bickleton
After getting another cup of coffee in town, I was ready to head out and I stopped in my tracks at the sight of the Carousel Museum.  Here?  Seriously!?  I thought over my options for a minute, took a deep breath and went in.  Admission was $4.  I paid the woman and slipped in.  I was the only one here, and she was ready to walk me through.

There wasn't really a good way to tell her that I needed a minute, so she was right next to me as I came around the corner and saw the carousel horses.  It wouldn't have been fair for her to have some guy walk in on a Friday morning, and start crying without any explanation. (folks... I'm sorry about all of the crying in the blog... there should be a warning sign "Primitive Blog:  No Warning Signs").

Sweeeeeet lunchbox collection!  They even
had Mork and Mindy!
I got myself as together as I could, and explained that my son who had passed had really loved carousels.  Like reealllly loved them.  He would have gotten a kick out of this place.  These were all horses that come out each year for the carousel at the County Fair and Rodeo.  Real horsehair on each, and beautifully restored.  That was just part of the museum - they had a lot of interesting collections, historical pieces from the area and a wall of honor for all of the residents of the Bickleton area who had gone off to war.

Rock Creek Road - Klickitat County
I pondered getting a bluebird mug as I left... but there was nothing on it that said Bickelton, so I passed.  It was nearing 11:00, and I set off for Rock Creek Road.  This was by far one of the dustier areas I'd been through!  I wasn't sure what all I was looking for down this road, but the explorer in me wanted to check out a new area.  I added Bewick's Wren, Black-billed Magpie, Yellow-breated Chat, and Great Blue Heron before disaster struck.

The Creature
I cannot tell you how much pain it caused me to find this information, but the name of the insect that flew into my car window was an Ammophila thread-waisted Wasp.  My eyes grew enormously big as it bounced around against the rear window... over and over and over... it had to eventually realize that something stingable was sitting in the front seat. 

There were so many factors coming together here to make this one of the most traumatic moments on my trip.  1) I have a fear of stinging insects.  This fear is sometimes modified by other factors, all of which were not in my favor today.  2) If I have somewhere to run... I'm okay.  This wasp, however, was in my car, and I was on Rock Creek Road.  Do you know where that is?  Exactly.  Nowhere to run, and even the geography of the place (river on one side of the road, steep cliffs on the other) worked against me.  3) If I don't know what it is, it must be worse.  This may not actually be true, but trying to get my brain to believe this when there is an Ammophila thread-waisted Wasp in my car is pointless.  I was going to be stung, and probably killed by an unknown creature in the middle of nowhere. (I have read now that they only kill caterpillars.... really, it would not have mattered if you had told me).

I finally got out of the car - weary of driving with the back windows down, half-watching the road, seatbelt off (so I could run).  I got out and thought of how to kill it.  It wasn't flying out... I grabbed a notebook from the passenger seat...dang, won't reach.  Then I saw exactly who was going to save the day.  Mappy, my Washington Gazetteer.  Mappy had spend much of the trip sulking because I had been using the new GPS to get where I needed to go, but this was his shining moment.  "Can you do this?" I asked Mappy.  "Bring it on." he replied coldly.  One shot with this oversized gazetteer, and the wasp didn't even have a chance to get pissed off and charge me.  In taking this swing, though, I accidentally tightened the other hand, which had been holding my car keys, turning on the alarm. 

The video replay on this would have been hysterical during that brief moment where my brain was thinking about danger, and my ears were suddenly presented with alarms.  I turned off the alarm, looked around to make sure nobody had seen this, high-fived Mappy, and cautiously got back into the car, watching the back corner to make sure The Creature did not reemerge.  I was relaxed again when I got sight of the Columbia River ahead.

The Lewis and Clark Highway

The Lewis and Clark Highway, Highway 14, runs the length of the Columbia River along the Washington Oregon border.  I imagined the two intrepid explorers encountering their first Ammophila thread-waisted wasp.  Would either of them have run around like a little girl, as I had...?  In any event, the Columbia was beautiful, and the cliffs gave me Ospreys and Rock Wrens and Turkey Vultures.  I made my way along the river and arrived at Stonehenge.

I wanted to do my homework on this one - who in the Sam Hill built this thing?  As it turns out, it actually was a person named Sam Hill. 

Stonehenge replica - Klickitat County gives a nice summary of Sam Hill, his life, and how he followed the path of many people late in life - building something really big out of concrete.  I checked the grassy areas around here for Lesser Golfinches - not quite sure if I had them, so I went back up the hill to the shady trees around the Maryhill Museum of art to have my lunch. 

Maryhill Museum of Art - Rodin, Orthodox
icons, and chess sets!
Crazy sounds from the trees told me that I had a new bird above me - Lesser Goldfinch!  These guys are really gregarious, like so many of the other birds that were highlights of the day (Western Scrub-Jay, Lewis' Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher).  I love the birds down here, and the people aren't bad either.  They're a little nutty, and there's some Collectors of Odd Things (lunch pails above, chess sets in the Maryhill Museum, license plates.. but that's later).  I joined in on the theme of collection and penciled in Lesser Goldfinch, while wondering if the museum sold mugs so I could have one for Klickitat County.

Lesser Goldfinch
Umm... email me and tell me which tree it was..
(Balch Lake Road)
My last stop along Highway 14 was to visit a tree.  On Balch Lake Road near Lyle, there is a tree known as an Acorn Woodpecker granary.  It's riddled with holes for the woodpeckers to store acorns from the oaks around them... and I couldn't find it.  At least, if I did find it, I couldn't quite see the holes in the tree, and I certainly didn't see any of the Acorn Woodpeckers.  I'd have been more inclined to wait for these birds if I was more confident about which tree, and had someone else to chat with while waiting it out.  Today, Trout Lake was calling me.

Trout Lake
Note the license plate collection on the wall.

I had a crush on a girl from Trout Lake back in high school, but had never made it down.  Seeing a recent trip report from Klickitat County that highlighted the huckleberry ice cream cones eaten in Trout Lake, I had to go, if only to break the spell this place had on me...  KJ's Bear Creek Cafe provided the yummy cone while I tidied up my lists for the day, and looked over maps to plan out the end of the day.

Mount Adams reflected in Trout Lake - Klickitat County

After the cone, it was up to the Trout Lake Marsh.  Turns out the vegetation in Trout Lake has made it more of a marsh than a lake these days, but that hasn't hurt the view at all.  It is... by my estimation... about two feet from Mount Adams, and I decided to take the walk (less than a mile) to a viewpoint above the marsh.  Lots of flycatchers, warblers and sparrows sang here, even in the heat of the day, and I had Virginia Rails and a Belted Kingfisher calling from the marsh below.  Of course at the top, my favorite warblers of the trip - MacGillivray's - came out and gave me good views.

I don't know if the pictures capture how awesome the sight was, but when I got down to the bottom, I was beyond content with the day I'd had.  It was only a matter of figuring out what to do for dinner, where to make my last stop of the day, and where I was going to rest my head for the night.  I got in the car, and punched my destination in so that Jill the GPS girl could give me an ETA.  Took her a bit, but she gave me a good answer, and I knew my plan from there.

Beacon Rock State Park

That rock is even bigger than it looks here..

Bre and I travelled so much of the state together, and this is a stop we made years ago.  We enjoy so many of the same things, but this magnificent monolith standing guard over the Columbia is not one of them.  "It's a big rock..." Bre would say.  Our stop had been brief last time, but I wanted to take a couple hours here: to hike to the top, and to find one more first-of-year bird, a Canyon Wren.

I leaned against the hood of my car eating the sandwich I'd picked up in Husum, and drinking a Mountain Dew White Out (I'd never tried the new Mountain Dew flavors... but I had given in during the trip, certainly inspired by some micronutrient deficiency developed during the trip.).  I listened carefully for the whistle of this wren as I ate.  I've only heard it once before, in a canyon outside of Grand Coulee years ago, and I was excited to hear it again.  Dinner came and went, I grabbed my camera and binoculars, and started up the 'big rock'.

I don't know exactly how long the hike was, but it was pretty manageable, and the temperature was nearly perfect, with a late afternoon breeze cooling me on the way up.  I stopped several times on the way up to listen for other birds (I was in Skamania County now), especially the Canyon Wren, and to enjoy the views.  The view from the top was easily worth the walk, and I eventually realized that the big shadow on the river below was in the shape of Beacon Rock!

A woman at the top was enjoying a beer, and sharing some with her dog, who had also made the trip up.  I had been listening for the Canyon Wren for a while to no avail. 

"Well... I guess I should give up on it."

"What, your inkpen?" she replied. (I had dropped my second favorite pen over the side of the railing.)

"No, there was a bird I was listening for, and I figure I'm not going to hear it sing today. Another day!"

"Are those the ones on the other side?  The ones they protect because of the nests?"

I was intrigued!  Maybe I just needed to check on the Northeast side of the rock, which I hadn't really been to.  I confirmed with her how to get to that side from the bottom, I took one more look at the Columbia, and made my way down.  I got to the bottom of the rock, made my way to the Northeast side and listened. 

Then I heard a song that I hadn't heard yet on my trip.  Hermit Warbler!  I wasn't expecting this one here, but this would be a life bird for me, and it sounded like the song described in my Sibley guide, so I pished... the bird came closer... again... and I got one of the best views I've ever had... of a Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Stupid warblers!  I took this as a signal that it was time to call it a day.

Back in the car, I sent Bre a text:  "Near Beacon Rock right now.  Sleeping somewhere awesome tonight!  Can't wait to see you." 

Maybe it was wussing ou, cutting my trip a day short... I could say I just wanted a shower and a comfortable bed, but this had been a near perfect trip, and this day had been a nearly perfect day;  Home seemed like the right place to be at the end of it. 

160 birds or so during the trip.  10 life birds, and ten more counties complete.  I'll probably revisit Columbia and Benton when I head out for Franklin County in mid-November, my last planned trip of the year.  A loooot of counties down, and trips are planned out to finish the ones I'm missing by mid-November.  There will be other trips in between, but none like this one!

1 comment:

  1. Amazing blog. I just stumbled upon it while googling Tucanoon Campground. Nice pictures too.