Footloose and Fancy Free

I’d intended to stop at the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge on my way home since I’d had such good luck the first time I stopped there. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how different the refuge looks at different times of the year. When I stopped much of the area was flooded and birds were spread out over such a wide area that it was nearly impossible to locate them.

In fact, the only picture that I’ve saved from this visit is this shot a killdeer that I had to wade through a foot or so of water to get.

Killdeer

I decided it was foolish to try to go on since there were no birds in sight, had no idea how deep the water was and had already waded over the top of my GoreTex hiking boots once before.

However, the visitor’s center was open for the first time since I’ve visited there, and I found a number of interesting pamphlets, the most interesting being on one on Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Trout Lake, an area I hiked for years but somehow missed entirely.

When I heard that it was one of the only places in Washington where Sandhill Cranes nested, I knew I was meant to visit there. While the refuge itself was somewhat of a disappointment, I would have missed those glorious views of Mt. Adams if I hadn’t decided to visit.

I did enjoy visiting the Whitcomb-Cole house,

Whitcomb-Cole House

but I saw very little beside deer on the four-mile hike that skirted the perimeter of the refuge. The hike was saved, though, when I managed to get a shot of this Red-Breasted Nuthatch, the first time ever.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

It was quite a challenge getting a decent shot since it spent its entire time in the darkest part of the forest.

The best birding of the visit to the refuge, though, took place while crossing the refuge as I headed to Vancouver, I spotted a Wood Duck in the pond and when I got out of the car to look I found several ducks, including this pair of Cinnamon Teal, a duck I had found at virtually every stop on my trip.

Cinnamon Teal pair

And when I looked across the road, I saw a large herd of elk grazing in the meadow.

Elk Herd

It’s not that uncommon to see elk when you drive around Washington during the winter since they’re forced out of the mountains by the snow, but it’s almost always a treat to see them.

It’s amazing how well things often turn out when you don’t have a plan or a schedule. This side trip might have been the highlight of my week on the road.

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