Hike at White Bluffs
I finally made it to White Bluffs. It’s an amazing location to hike and explore geology, wildflowers, wildlife, and grand views. I highly recommend going.
During the Missoula Ice Age, glaciers and melting ice carved out the basin, leaving behind the exposed layers of ancient sediment and the path of the Columbia river. The white sands seem misplaced as they are surrounded by a freshwater river and a desert sagebrush habitat.
Many wildflowers flourish in these dry conditions. Mule’s ear, Larkspurs, and Linearleaf phacelia are sporadically found along the trail. Even the dainty Wingnut cryptantha thrive in this dry and exposed habitat.
We found evidence that deer had been there a little earlier. Quite often you may see raptors flying overhead or near the water. This particular day we caught a quick glimpse from the ridge of a waterfowl as it flew along the river’s edge below. Across the Columbia River, buildings of the Hanford Site dot the former agricultural and indigenous peoples’ land.
The trailhead is about an hour’s drive from the Tri-Cities and there are two ways to get there. One route is to take 240, then turn east on 24 for about 20 miles. There’s a small entrance road on your right. Follow the packed gravel road for about 2 miles to the parking area near the boat launch.
The second route goes through Pasco. Take Broadmoor to Taylor Flats, then turn left on Ringold Rd. You can go to the Ringold boat launch to catch the south trailhead. But if you want the north trailhead, turn right on Ringold River Rd. It’s approximately 9 miles to the parking area and trailhead.
A Discover pass is required. There is no porta-potty by the parking area and doesn’t appear to be one at the boat launch, either. There are plenty of shrubs near the parking area, though. Be sure to take plenty of water and a hat as it gets quite hot and there are no trees along the trail for shade.
The north trail will take you up along the hillside for 2 miles and then you’ll reach the white bluff sands. There is no trail through the sands so you may walk wherever you like. Take only pictures and leave only footprints for the winds will remove your footprints later.
Enjoy the hike. I’m sure the wildflowers will change throughout the season and wildlife visitors will vary as well. The views, however, will remain.
For more information on the geology of White Bluffs, please click HERE.
Cordova is a quaint coastal town located between Anchorage and Juneau, just east of Prince William Sound. Here I share with you 10 reasons why you should join me in this amazing destination this summer.
Travel dates are August 6-14, 2022. I'd love for you to join me. Click HERE to register.
San Juan Island Tour Review
San Juan Island is always beautiful and is one of my favorite places. During my wildlife photography tour last month, we were provided with plenty of wildlife to photograph. Although the weather predicted was going to be wet, we did not let the rain deter us.
Prior to arriving on the island, high winds and a small craft advisory was predicted for our scheduled day of sailing. Luckily, we were able to adjust to a day earlier. All attendees caught an earlier ferry and once the rain let up, we set sail. The conditions were great, and the clouds eventually allowed some sunlight to break through to provide us with a fabulous rainbow.
Remember, no rain, no rainbows
We encountered many seabirds throughout the day including Heerman’s gulls, glaucous-winged gulls, marbled murrelets, and rhinoceros auklets. Mature bald eagles watched the water from their high perch on the conifers while harbor seals rested along the rocky shoreline. We were treated to a special encounter with 2 humpback whales who were later ID’d as BCY0458, “Raptor”, and MMX0007, “Bond”. They are likely on their way now to either Hawaii or Baja. Safe travels, my friends.
Many, many gulls
Humpback whale fluke, diving
The following day, the wind and rain did not keep us inside. We were dressed properly for whatever the elements wanted to throw at us, and we kept our cameras dry with a rain cover. Even though the majority of cameras are weather sealed, we were not taking any chances since we were going to be outside all day. Luckily for us the rain was light and sporadic.
Wooly bear caterpillar. To watch a short video of him, click here.
Our 3rd day started with a presentation on marine mammal acoustics at the Whale Museum. After some additional time to tour the museum, we met our presenter at Lime Kiln lighthouse. Here we were able to listen to the hydrophones that are installed along the coast to monitor when the Southern Resident Orcas and other marine mammals such as Humpback whales are nearby. We had a tour of the lighthouse which included the lantern room. While we did not spot any orcas that sunny afternoon, we had a spectacular view of Haro Strait.
Species list from our weekend
Golden crown sparrow
Great blue heron
Wooly bear caterpillar
Where the Whales and Winds Blow
I wrote this blog for NANPA (North American Nature Photographer's Association).
Click the link below to check it out.
Dragonflies are an intriguing insect. They're pretty, colorful, and quick fliers. When perched, they often blend into their surroundings making it tricky to see them. When viewed up close, however, they suddenly become a more prehistoric looking creature.
Their big, bulbous head consists primarily of two large compound eyes which contain thousands of lenses each. This allows them to see almost every angle except immediately behind. They have several neck muscles which allows them to move their head sideways 180 degrees, back 70 degrees, and down 40 degrees.
This excellent vision allows them to catch their prey in flight. The legs capture the prey and bring it up to their mandible, or jaw, which is full of serrated teeth. They’re voracious predators, yet hugely beneficial to the ecosystem and people because they primarily prey on mosquitoes and other flying insects.
Their heads are such an interesting design. Even with those big eyes and wicked set of teeth, they always look like they’re smiling. Could they be happy because of the quantity of prey?
Unlike other insects, dragonflies have 2 sets of wings. Wingspan ranges from 2-5 inches depending on the species. Fossilized dragonflies, dating as far back as 300 million years, had a wingspan of 2 feet! That would be similar in size to the sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, and least tern.
They’re super fast, reaching speeds up to 60mph, and are experts at maneuvering. The 4 veined wings, which can move independently, allows the dragonfly to fly forward, backward, sideways, up and down, hover, and stop on a dime.
The wings are attached directly to large muscles on the thorax. Looking up close at the wing and muscle attachment on the thorax, it appears quite mechanical and reminds me of Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Dragonflies are most commonly found around wetland areas such as the Yakima River and Amon Creek Natural Preserve and also visit backyards that are near other water sources like irrigation canals. But they have a short life span, ranging from 2-weeks to 2 months, depending on the species. There is quite an abundance and variety of species currently at Amon Creek. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend going for a short hike to see all the different dragonflies.
Please enjoy this video of the dragonfly showing its head movement.
Bison at Antelope Island
When I hear the word bison, I immediately think of Yellowstone National Park. Large herds of bison roaming the snow-covered grasslands, plowing their heads through the snow to reach the frozen vegetation underneath. But I’ve discovered there are several other locations across the US to view wild bison, such as Montana, Kentucky, California, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah.
Just east of Syracuse, Utah, about 30 minutes north of downtown Salt Lake City, is a wonderful place called Antelope Island State Park, a mountainous island surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, and connected to the mainland by a 7-mile long causeway, the original sandbar, the only link to the island. Antelope Island is home to a free-roaming herd of 500-700 bison. The lowlands of the island are covered in a shrub-steppe habitat which offers a variety of vegetation for the 1,000-2,000-pound herbivores to forage on.
My daughter and I spent the afternoon on the island while she was attending her online courses. Not far past the visitors center, we found several bison resting and grazing among the shrubs and grasses, a safe distance from the edge of the road. It was so exciting and felt like we were in our own mini Yellowstone! We didn’t have 2 feet of snow but it was barely above freezing and we could see the bison’s exhaling breath as he slowly moved among the shrubs.
A cyclist we had passed earlier stopped by our car and asked if he could ride alongside our car when we were ready to move on because the bison were now at the edge of the road. Bison are quite unpredictable and are known to suddenly charge for no apparent reason so I was more than happy to assist him in getting past the bison safely.
Adult bison are the largest mammals in North America, measuring 6 feet tall at the hump, and 9 feet in length, roughly the same size as most cars. And don’t forget their 2-feet long sharp horns. Given their massive size, they are still able to run up to 40 miles per hour. Bison use their heavy heads as snowplows in deep snow and swing it side to side while grazing the shrub-steppe and grasses. They get the strength needed to move their 50-75-pound head from the large pile of muscles in the hump that stretch over the shoulders.
Antelope Island covers 28,000 acres and is 15 miles long and 5 miles wide. Exposed rocks on the southern end of the island are 17 billion years old, the same age as rocks in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. While the bison don’t wander into the upper mountains, they can be found along the base, grazing on the grasses.
As the sun begins to set, the pink sky glows on the snow-covered Wasatch Range behind us. As we start our return drive across the causeway, we see a bald eagle sitting on the frozen lake. An afternoon on the island was the best school day for my daughter, and it was a great afternoon for viewing bison, too.
Last weekend I finally traveled outside of the Tri-Cities. And not just to the next county. I ventured all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. My daughter and I went to visit my son who is a freshman at the U.
We decided to check out a couple of wildlife refuges along the way. Friday's stop was at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge in Caldwell, Idaho. It was a good rest stop, only a handful of visitors, and there was cellular service so my daughter could attend her online classes.
I walked along the sagebrush trails while she attended her classes. The bees were busy collecting more pollen before cooler fall temperatures kicked in and prepped them for hibernation. Notice the orange pocket, or pollen pants, on this little guy.
We left SLC Monday morning and our wildlife refuge stop was at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, only one hour north in Brigham City, Utah. This refuge is viewed primarily by driving the 12-mile one-way loop. There are observation platforms but on our first stop, I got out of the car and discovered that there were millions of mosquitoes, so it was decided that we'd view with the windows up.
After squishing several mosquitoes that invaded our inner car sanctuary, we headed for the loop drive in search of the white-faced ibis. It was noted on the refuge's web page that the ibis should still be there through the end of September, so I crossed my fingers that we would still find some.
We saw several birds along the drive including white pelicans, sparrows, and western grebes. Our visit must have been between seasons as there were some individuals rather than large flocks. On the last turn of the loop route, I caught a glimpse of a small group of birds along the edge of the pond. With the sun not very high in the sky and the tall grasses blocking light, I could just make out their silhouette. I almost missed them because they blended into the vegetation pretty well. I believe we found the end-of-season stragglers of the largest population of white-faced ibis in Utah.
Because of the mosquitoes, I had to shoot with the lens against the window. And because of the lighting, we can't see the white marking on their face or their red legs and red eyes. While we can see their distinctive curved bill, we can't tell that it is also red. This long curved bill makes it easy to probe the mud in the shallow water for aquatic invertebrates.
I was still quite excited to see this small crew of white-faced ibis. Their habitat range is west through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and through the mid-western states from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico. They'll spend the winter in Mexico and along the coast of eastern Texas and western Louisiana and then return to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge next April when they'll mate, nest, and raise their young. And when I head down to SLC in the early summer to help my son move from the dorm to an apartment, I'll add some travel time to see the white-faced ibis again. And I'll wear mosquito netting.
Bees Get a Helping Hand
Whether you’re going on a short photo walk around Bateman Island or a longer hike in the Cascades, these tools should always be in your camera/hiking bag.
I hope you find these tools helpful for your camera bag. Do you have any additional items you take with you? Please share.
Learning to fly is hard work. Especially when faced with natural and non-natural obstacles. The osprey nest I have been watching since the spring has already gone through the loss of its first clutch and the rebuilding of their nest. The second clutch has been successful with the mating pair having 1 offspring. He’s grown quickly and now it’s time for him to prepare to leave the nest and forage on his own. First things first, he must learn to fly.
I didn’t get to the osprey nest until just after sunrise. A flock of white pelicans caught my attention while I was on my way to the nest, so I stopped to photograph them in the sunrise light. They’re so awkwardly graceful and fun to watch.
When I arrived at my usual viewing location alongside the road, I rolled down the passenger window so I could sit on the ledge. As I rolled down the driver’s window, I glanced across the road and saw an osprey perched low on a branch. It was the juvenile. I had missed his initial, possibly ungraceful, descent from the nest. This was his first day learning to fly.
He remained there, looking around for a while, startling at the occasional sound of an airplane taking off from the nearby airport, or just resting and closing his eyes. I guess the newfound physical exertion was exhausting.
He finally decided to give his wings another try. He spread them wide and flapped several times but remained on the branch. After a brief rest, he tried again, and this time made a long leap off the branch and behind the shrubs.
Several more leaps brought him next to the wire fence. As I watched from my car, I quietly chanted “please don’t get caught on the fence” over and over. It turns out that he’s a pretty smart young bird, because he lowered his head and carefully walked between the horizontal wires. Whew. But now he was on the road side of the fence.
He made several more attempts at flight, strengthening those fragile wings. He was now on the wide rocky shoulder of the two-lane road, which very few passenger cars traveled along, but is frequented by big ag work trucks. While he was on the side of the road, he was relatively safe.
Now I already said that this young bird was “pretty smart”. Well, I retract that statement. He quickly became a not-so-smart young bird because he hopped and flapped himself right into the road. Luckily, there were no vehicles at that time. I kept willing the osprey to get off the road, but he wouldn’t go. I know he was tired, but he just didn’t understand the hazards facing him if he stayed there much longer. I wasn’t going to let him find out the hard way.
Then came the first truck. I yelled at the bird to move, but to no avail. I had to do something quick. From the side of the road I flagged down the truck. The driver stopped and asked if the bird was injured. I said “no” and explained what was happening. He got out of his truck and we shooed the juvenile off the road. I told the driver that we couldn’t touch him and hoped that our shooing him off the road wasn’t considered harassment, especially since we were trying to protect him.
The driver told me he would tell others he would see during the day to drive slowly through that area, per my request. Thank you, Mr. Truck Driver. I ended up stopping five trucks that morning because the osprey decided to hop back into the road. And all of them said they would let others know and that they’d take it slow through there for the next few days while the juvenile osprey strengthened his wings.
All those efforts paid off. I returned a couple days later and saw the juvenile in the nest with a parent. Yay! He had survived flight training.
I'm Diana and welcome to my Wild Places Blog. Here I'll share adventures of finding wildlife, new images, and talks about gear.