It was wet and 39 degrees at the Tualatin River Refuge Wednesday morning. But I can never stay away for long.
Thanks to winter storms, the water is brown and running much faster than it was last summer and early fall.
I peeked under the rails of a footbridge, noticed this Great Blue Heron looking for breakfast, and took a dozen photos hoping to capture his face. He refused to cooperate but catching the elegant feathers on his body was enough.
The storms of the last two weeks were too much for a large old oak. The relatively new wetland overlook will need repairs.
Teddy and I meant to spend a few hours exploring Woodard Park in Tigard this morning. Instead, we stayed on the boardwalk at the end of Johnson Street and marveled at the Derry Dell Creek Restoration project.
Only a few years ago, Derry Dell Creek had become an ugly ditch that frequently threatened homes, property, and sewage systems. It was inhospitable to humans and wildlife, and it was a dead end for fish trying to move upstream.
Today, the creek is a messy, chaotic, living work of art; exactly what a healthy creek should be. It’s a piece of wild beauty in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood.
Now the creek is rich in inviting habitat for herons and many other birds.
There are streams of fast-moving water making ripples in the surface. The stream sometimes wanders around giant root balls and logs piled up like pick -up-sticks, other times it sits quietly at rest in pools. A pair of raptors nest in one of the tall trees standing over the creek
The restoration work received the Oregon State Land Board’s Stream Project Award in 2014.
One day soon, Teddy and I will go back to explore the rest of Woodard Park, and we will go back again in the spring to see what’s happening on Derry Dell Creek.
The backyard chimes I enjoyed so much in a tiny breeze last summer, are temporarily down. I wasn’t thinking about winter storms when I hung them outside my bedroom window last spring.
A few nights ago, tucked in my warm bed, I listened to a howling wind and buckets of rain splashing against the bedroom window. The wind and rain only only heightened my sense of warmth and security.
The storm woke me up every once in a while, but only long enough to turn my pillow over, snuggle deeper under the blankets, and drift back to sleep. My pillow was cool, the bed was warm, the dog was at my feet, and I remembered how fortunate I am.
A wild night of wind and heavy rain had flooded the paths in the oak savannah area of the refuge this week. Still, I counted myself lucky to be able to take a nice walk before the rain began again.
Thank to the storm the night before, the river was moving swiftly, carrying logs and debris. I rarely see any noticeable movement on the lazy Tualatin River. Drops from rain-soaked trees along the banks fell to the river, briefly expanded in concentric circles, then quickly disappeared before being replaced by others.
As I stood there, a single black goose flew over the river, reminding me of my ignorance in identifying waterbirds.
While walking to the river, I had seen a pair of Bald Eagles fly to the top of a tall fir overlooking a large pond crowded with ducks and geese. I’d first noticed the eagles because of the modest little chirrup sound they made as they landed. It’s a sound that doesn’t seem appropriate for such a magnificent creature. As for the ducks and geese, they didn’t appear alarmed, though I’m sure the eagles were planning dinner.
I left the eagles and took the path into the woods and out to the wetland viewing platform where I could see several ponds in the distance and a small herd of deer gathered together on the grassland about half a mile away.
On the way back, I glanced to my left just in time to see the eagles land together in a fir tree directly across the river from me. It is hard to miss the bright white plumage of the huge bird. One of the eagles seemed to be sitting low on a nest and the other sat beside the nest, tall and confident. I lingered under the dripping trees for a while just to savor the sight.
Teddy was shaking and whining with excitement when we got out of the car at Cook Park. He knew this wasn’t going to be our usual neighborhood walk. It was cool but not freezing as it had been the day before. The sky was clear but heavy rains had left the ground mucky and Teddy seemed to gravitate to the worst puddles.
We arrived in time to see a huge flock of geese rise from a pond and circle the sky above our heads. I confess that I never get tired of their noise and chaos.
The little dog followed his nose from tree to tree, reading pee mail and gathering as many smells as he could. I have to wonder whether he remembers particularly delightful scents the way I remember the the lovely Egret we saw.
There are plenty of opportunities to glimpse the Tualatin River as you walk the path through the woods.
I stood near the path,on the “civilized” side and peeked through the bushes into the wildlife area. It was a bit like straddling two different worlds and my favorite moment of the morning.
Snowberries always looks like Christmas to me, and we found plenty of them when we followed the path to Durham City Park.
Teddy must have been happy. He trotted along happily beside me on the way back to the car. At home he had to submit to having his feet washed before he found his favorite soft spot (my favorite chair) an napped for a few hours.
The chaos and drama of sunrise at the Tualatin River Refuge a couple of weeks ago (Celebrating the Dawn) inspired me to wonder if sunset would provide equally dramatic moments amidst the masses of water birds wintering there.
It was 3:00 PM when I parked near the highway and hiked up the hill to the visitor center.
From the observation deck overlooking the pond, I watched hundreds of ducks and geese moving about on the water.
I was fascinated by one small duck swimming into the middle of a group of geese, staying there for a few minutes, then moving on to another party of geese, seemingly introducing himself again and again, as though he was making the rounds at a cocktail party
Birds came and went from the pond in bands of four or six and sometimes in groups as large as fifty.
The prehistoric croak of a Great Blue Heron announced his short flight from an overcrowded area of the pond to a quieter spot. It’s not the first time I’ve observed that the Blue Heron seems irritated with the masses of birds wintering in his home.
I shivered as I watched birds noisily jostling for position water or gliding quietly on the surface. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many birds as I had seen rise together at dawn only a few weeks ago.
Like the frog in boiling water, I had barely noticed how quickly the temperature was dropping until my cheeks began to sting and my bare hands to ache. I’d left my gloves in the car.
To avoid the cold wind, I backed up under the overhang of the building, held my hood tightly in place, and continued to watch.
I had been so sure there would be some dramatic end to the day for these creatures, something to match their wild dawn awakening of a few weeks ago. The sun gradually dropped behind the hills, the temperature continued to drop, the cold wind grew wilder, and the birds grew quieter. My curiosity and resolve waned.
Shivering and miserable, lacking the fortitude to last five more minutes until sunset, I quit that cold, windblown place.
I was still shivering as I reached the highway, started the car, and waited for circulation to return to my fingers. On the other side of the highway I saw that many hundreds of birds were gathered on wetlands, more birds than I’d been watching at the pond. As I watched, the sun slipped away and the birds across the highway rose suddenly, and noisily, together. They spread across the sky and flew over my head to the ponds at the refuge. Many of them appeared to be landing at the pond where I had been keeping watch.
This was the main event I’d been waiting for, and I was catching it because I’d given up! There must be a lesson there.
From the warm car, I watched until every last bird appeared to have flown to the refuge. If there were birds left across the highway, it was too dark to tell.
I was at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to greet the dawn this Saturday morning. There was no rain, but the air was cold and the dampness from the rains we’d been having seemed to penetrate my warmest jacket and gloves. Trees held plenty of water from the rain and one or two icy drips managed to run down my neck until I wrapped my scarf tighter.
There are not many leaves left on the trees, but there is still a colorful carpet of leaves in some areas, and they serve to soften the sound of the gravel path.
I startled a small flock of juncos and sparrows rooting around on the gravel path. They flew into a bush, waited for me to pass, then immediately went back to sorting gravel.
According to the weather service, dawn would be at 7:18. At exactly 7:20, with the sun burning softly through the fog, a roar rose from the refuge ponds. It was the sound of many geese and water birds rising together in response to the dawn. Perhaps there were thousands of them. I can only say there were so many that they didn’t sound like geese. For just few moments, sounded instead like the roar of the crowd in a huge football stadium during Superbowl. I’ve seen huge flocks of geese before, but I’ve never heard anything like the roar they made as they first roused themselves.
The geese seemed to rise in waves, some appearing to fly away from the refuge but many staying overhead, low in the sky, circling, stretching their wings, milling around and around, not minding the fog. There were so many geese overhead I worried about what might drop on my head. In the end, luck was with me. A noticed a heron who seemed to resent the noisy early morning ritual as he fled for more peaceful territory. After thirty minutes most of the geese had settled back down and quieted. The ceremony of celebrating dawn was over.
The spectacular wakening was the gift I had come for, so was the small herd of deer I nearly stumbled into, and the juncos and the sparrows. I seldom anticipate what I will see when I walk in the refuge. Instead, I wait for the gift I will be given. I am never disappointed.
The minute I first saw the huge windows in the back of the little house, I was blinded to the broken down backyard fence and kitchen cabinets, the oversized low-hanging bedroom fan threatening decapitation, an aged dirty carpet covering a plywood floor, and a multitude of smaller sins.
Love, after all, is the ability to look past the warts and treasure the good. I told myself I would fix what I could, when I could.
The windows were old, no longer fit, and couldn’t be locked. I saw them as my year-round access to the outdoors and whatever wildlife I could nurture in my tiny backyard.
Butterflies, bees, tiny green tree frogs, and garter snakes live in my new little yard,
Hummingbirds found the feeder the day I first put it up. A scrub jay and a pair of house wrens frequent the yard and drink from the bird bath. Skunks and squirrels and chipmunks live nearby. I only need to pay attention to enjoy their presence.
The house is close to the wildlife refuge and the autumn skies are often filled
with large flocks of noisy gossiping geese.
Yesterday morning, as I was looking out my back window I saw a tremendous flurry of activity in a neighbor’s large tree. Hundreds of Cedar Waxwings were filling up on the bright orange berries covering that tree. Cedar Waxwings are the most nattily dressed of birds. I was so delighted to see them that I forgot to take a picture.
A few days ago I took a short walk in the refuge, just a small break from the digging, planting, and painting I’m doing at the little house I hope to move to one day soon.
Most often I walk in the early morning, when the songbirds are loud and cheerful. On a hot July afternoon they quietly hide from the sun. I only knew the birds were there because of a soft rustling in the bushes and the occasional burst of Chickadee song, though I never saw the singer.
The bunnies barely seemed to notice the heat, or my intrusion, as they nibble on the undergrowth.
The herons didn’t move at all as they napped on their feet at the edge of the pond.
A couple of large nutria were unfazed by the heat while they dived and played in the pond. They reminded me of a morning two weeks ago when I’d watched a young family exclaiming over a couple of beavers. There are beavers at the refuge, so I didn’t risk disappointing them by telling them they were watching nutria..
How could I have imagined that I was too busy for a walk in the natural world?
The Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge is also a refuge for me; but lately I’ve been working on my new little “fixer-upper” home and I’ve been preoccupied with the state of the world, living a little less in the present.
For the first time in weeks I visited the refuge again yesterday.
It takes a lot to distract me from the birds, the bunnies, and this year’s fawns, but yesterday it was blooming wildflowers that earned my undivided attention.
We’ve all been dealng with serious issues this year, but we need to take time to do whatever it takes to maintain internal calm and peace despite the chaos. Taking care of ourselves will keep us grounded as we face our issues head on.
Whatever it is that makes you feel whole, make room for it in this strange year of 2020 – and be well.