Writing on the Wild Side #3: A Winter’s Tale.
By Mike Denny:
Here in Walla Walla County each new season brings with it unique and amazing beauty. This, the shortest season of the year, is no different. Life is energetic and diverse in this most wonderful county in southeastern Washington. Winter life is present in many thousands of waterfowl such as Common Mergansers, Northern Pintail Duck, Canvasback Ducks and the rapid flying Bufflehead. All of these birds winter out on the Columbia River off the eastern shore on McNary National Wildlife Refuge. Winter brings many challenges to wildlife species and, due to shorter days and cool weather conditions, many wild animals are forced to look for forage all day long and that allows for great views of these normally skittish creatures. The two species we will focus on this month are the Mule Deer and the Bald Eagle – both conservation success stories. When I first moved to this county we were lucky to see three to four individual Bald Eagles each winter. As the years passed more and more Bald Eagles began to arrive along the county shorelines. The population of these symbols of our country were greatly assisted with the ban of DDT and DDE preventing these chemical from thinning the birds’ egg shells. This allows m more and more chicks to reach adult hood since it takes five years for these big birds to gain their white head and tail.
Bald Eagles are both skilled predators and crafty scavengers. During the long winter waterfowl hunting season these big raptors search out and feed on wounded and dead ducks and geese that hunters hit but never recovered. These big raptors also feed on dead and living fish along most of the water ways. This eagle species also flies out over the landscape in search of winter- or road-killed deer and elk The average wild Bald Eagle lives upwards of ten years and many live into their seventeenth year. When you come to Walla Walla County and wish to see Bald Eagles go to the Two Rivers Habitat Management Unit along the Columbia River in the late afternoon about 35 minutes before sunset during the winter months. Park along the paved road in the Habitat Management Unit, and from your car with binoculars, watch as dozens of Bald Eagles go to roost for the night in the large stand of great cottonwood trees to the west of you. Often upwards of fifty birds fly into this roost-keep your distance and enjoy.
The other wonderful, wild, native animal we will look at is the Mule Deer. This mammal is native to Walla Walla County and enjoys the uplands, canyons and forests of the Blue Mountains- they can sometimes be seen in the city limits of Walla Walla around Fort Walla Walla Art Remple Natural Area and Trail, out at Bennington Lake or around the Mill Creek Trail from Rooks Park west to behind K-Mart. This deer species is common some years and a bit more challenging to locate other years. They are beautiful and yet must be considered a wild animal with strong defensive capabilities, so do not feed them or attempt to touch them. Grazing/browsing deer in the evening bring a connection to the natural world at the end of a busy day. So enjoy your visit to Walla Walla and watch for the many wild animals that share this area with all of us. Other areas to see deer in the Walla Walla area is east of town up Mill Creek Road, east up Lewis Peak Road and southeast up Russell Creek Road starting about an hour before sundown. After sundown be very careful on these roads, and travel slowly, deer are often on or near the roadways.
Walla Walla is a wonderful area to come explore and well worth your time. You must come here to believe it!