Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Donner and Blitzen Wild and Scenic River

I did return to spend a second night at the Page Springs Campground (during which I saw a shooting star and observed stellar open clusters, the Pleiades being one example, though not my favorite). Upon awakening I first hiked a nature trail that does a loop to the east of the campground, going up on a ridge with an expansive view. This is the view looking north, into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The sun was low on the horizon and the light seemed to catch a spider web in such a way that it refracted all the colors of the rainbow. I guess I've seen dew sparkle on a web, but I can't recall seeing the web itself so colorful.


While I was enjoying the view a Western Meadowlark flew to the top of a nearby juniper tree and as I focused the camera it flew on to another spot. I just managed to get it in the picture as it flew. A little blurry, but the combination of blue, yellow and black is wonderful. Three great colors that go great together.

The trail headed north along the crest of a basalt ridge line above the campground and I had a nice view of the campground, which was quite obviously extensively renovated recently. New gravel, fire pits, picnic tables, restrooms and water spigots were everywhere. There were so many good sites I was not sure if I wanted to camp on the river and use my tent as a blind to watch the ducks or park under the juniper trees to feel a bit secluded. In the end I decided to camp under the junipers and avoided the golf course feel of the grassy north end which is shown in the photo below.


As I enjoyed the sunrise view a bird approached, flying upstream. Perhaps a Bald Eagle? It seemed to be black with a white head. As it got closer I aimed my camera and began to follow it ... and just as I pressed the shutter it passed behind a juniper tree. I got a blurry photo of the tree. But, as quickly as my inexpensive camera would allow (after a few seconds of saving the photo) I reacquired the bird, now slightly past me, focused again and shot another frame. It was a Raven flying with an egg in its beak!

The Raven flew upriver and I took a photo of the view in that direction. It really seemed like I should venture further upstream, to see what would be found there.

The Donner and Blitzen Wild and Scenic River flows through the Page Springs Campground. The river was named by the US Cavalry who were there to fight Indians, the name is German for thunder and lightning. Originally Dunder and Blitzen. It was stormy when they crossed the river on horseback.

The path dropped into a gully and headed back toward the campground, becoming more moist as I neared the springs and river. Water striders lived in little pools in the rocks.


As I was almost to the campground I came to a gate, and on the other side was this sign. I didn't know I was in an area that was part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness is an area where the forces of nature predominate, where humans are casual visitors instead of residents, and where the opportunity for primitive, unconfined recreation is outstanding ... an area untrammeled by humans.

After this walk I took the other trail out of the campground and headed upriver. The trail wound through a thicket of teasel. Teasel heads were used by the early white settlers to "tease" wool. For those who have made a sweater from sheep fur, that action is called "carding" today. It is the action of drawing the wool through comb like brushes to get all the fibers aligned and cleaned prior to spinning them into yarn.

The deep blue sky reflected in the water of springs. And the new green water plants made it difficult to imagine I was in a sagebrush desert. The trees and shrubs had not yet leaved out, so this was a nice sign that springtime was fast approaching.

Overhead three raptors circled in the warming air, rising toward the crescent moon. This adult male Northern Harrier flew close to the sliver allowing me to get this photo of both in one frame. While some use digital manipulation to combine elements, or remove elements, from photos, that is something I try to avoid. I do color correction and contrast and brightness adjustments just as a technician in a photo lab would do when printing from a negative. I worked in photo labs for many years, printing literally thousands of photos, some from quite marginal negatives.

I saw a caterpillar and thought about the cutthroat trout that darted for cover when I looked into the river. I imagine that a fishing lure made to resemble this little creature would attract some of those big fish!

The day was getting warm, so I sat by the river for a while, enjoying the musical gurgling and splashing. Can you hear it?

It was tempting to just lie down and go to sleep here in the warm sun, with the sound of the water ... but I'll have to continue to work on my ability to slow down from the pace of modern civilization. It's a skill I desire to regain.

My camera batteries are nearly all exhausted and the memory cards nearly full. For me, half the fun is downloading the photos and seeing what is there, and sharing them with friends and family, like on this blog. You might think I know what I have when I click the shutter ... but that's not the case. Will the photo be blurry or in focus? No way to tell at the time. What was that bird that just flew off? I'm not sure, but I'll have time to study the photo and decide later. The camera lens is similar in magnifying power to my binoculars and the constantly active birds are frozen in the moment when I press the shutter.

I said goodbye to the Say's Phoebe that was building a nest by my campsite and headed out of the campground.

I saw about a dozen gulls circling on a rising updraft and this Ring-billed Gull was close enough to see the ring on the bill. Gulls can be difficult to tell apart, especially if two species interbreed.


When I told them at Headquarters that the White-faced Ibis were back they were interested in the location. The woman at the desk wanted to go see them herself. That is understandable because they are a large, beautiful bird. They're the size of a Great Blue Heron, but their feathers shine with a glossy green or dark violet color, depending on how the light hits them. There were a few hundred in the flock. They were a bit far away, but the color still shows nicely in this photo of a few that were closer than the others.



I then turned homeward, taking a route I've never traveled before, across the sagebrush ocean. I mentioned that I had seen gulls and others circling on updrafts. Did you know that a dust devil is where a bubble of warm air is breaking the cohesion it has to the ground, rising above the cooler air like a hot air balloon, and often at the top of this vortex a puffy white cumulus cloud forms where the warm moist air hits the cooler air in the upper atmosphere. There are a lot of ways to "see" the invisible air, such as dust, birds circling and rising without wing beats, or ripples on a grassy field or surface of a lake.

As I drove I saw a huge bird in the distance on a utility pole. A juvenile Bald Eagle.



And, a sleek bird in a field caused me to stop for a look, and this Prairie Falcon circled once before going on its way. And, with that, I made my way home past the flowering fruit trees of southwest Idaho, arriving home after dark; tired, but excited to start editing all my photos and blogging about all the cool things I saw and experienced.



1 comment:

the casbah kitten/inside the casbah said...

You always take the prettiest photos. I love the little CATapiller....I think you should have taken it home for Jelly Bean to play with.