Driving east.

We have entered the season of driving east.  There are early wildflowers blooming in the gorge, there are year birds waiting in the high desert, and most importantly, there's a better chance of dry weather east of the Cascades.  On my recent weekend I drove east to Larch Mountain to cry over new clearcuts and poke around.  Bird activity was minimal though a Chestnut-backed Chickadee came in to check me out.

On the edge of a clearcut I saw a Red-tailed Hawk flying and it eventually came over and soared right over me for awhile.  It had a stick. 

It soared with two other Red-taileds briefly before cruising down straight to the trees on the edge of the clearcut and depositing the stick somewhere.  It reappeared soon after without the stick.  I can only hope on my next visit those trees are still standing.

On Friday Jacob and I drove east to Catherine Creek to look for wildflowers and birds.  Grass widows were the main attraction flower-wise. 

Prairiestars were also in bloom along with gold stars and desert parsley.

Oregon saxifrage?

I probably should have switched to my bird-friendly camera lens because the birds were great that morning.  We had lots of Western Bluebirds, a flock of Red Crossbills, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and even a couple Pygmy Nuthatches.  At one point a crossbill landed low on a dead tree but the macro lens is not of much use in this situation.

Oh well.

On Saturday Jacob and I drove east again and ended up in all kinds of random places as far east as Morrow County.  We took the scenic highway out of Mosier which was mostly a nonstop deer parade.  The trio of excited dogs in the car did nothing to dissuade this young deer from creeping closer and closer to us. 

Right before the turnoff for Rowena Crest there is a lovely little bridge I like to stop at.

On the other side of the bridge a small grassy area held a number of wildflowers with a stunning view of the gorge.  I was walking out to the edge when I caught sight of something about fifteen feet in front of me.  A pair of sleeping Turkey Vultures!  One woke up, looked at me and jumped.  Then the other did the same.  They sat, looking at me, looking at each other, for almost a minute before flying off to the opposite side of the canyon, not far away.  I grabbed my camera from the car and went to get a few shots.

The vultures had landed apart from one another, but soon one flew over to join his or her companion.  They were quite sweet and far more striking up close than I remembered.

We kept on heading east and began taking side roads and dirt roads and muddy roads, exploring all over the place.  I was especially excited to see a Chukar standing on the side of the road at one point though it quickly took off into the tall grass.

This reminds me, I now have a public Instagram account!  Click here to find me, or search the handle "whatthechukar." 

Back to the birds, we began seeing a lot of Loggerhead Shrikes in one area, which is always pleasant.

Horned Larks can be total jerks, like this one flipping me the bird.


Other birds seen throughout our travels included a lone Mountain Bluebird, Black-billed Magpies, a Golden Eagle, plenty of Say's Phoebes, and tons of Rough-legged Hawks.  One raven decided to fly in front of a rainbow for me which was appreciated.

Somewhere along the Heppner Highway we found a yellow-bellied marmot which of course ran away from us.

A little bit farther up the road we stopped to look at a dead porcupine.

We made our way back towards town via Highway 14, stopping for some pink skies.

A solid day of exploring with my favorite crew. 

Good times!!!  Coming soon:  tales from Tejas!