Dec
26

Activities for a Long Christmas Weekend

At the urging of fishing-nut buddy Brandon Rogers – who suddenly had an empty spot on a boat heading out for steelhead on the Columbia near the Tri-Cities – I spent the day after Solstice thrashing the big river. I came off the river to a phone call from a new homey wanting some ideas about entertaining kids and extended family after Christmas, on what he feared would be a lo-o-ong weekend. Given my responsibilities as Chair of the Long Outdoor Weekend Activity Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I agreed to help.

(And yes, thank you, we had a great time on the river, catching both wild and clipped fish. The latter of which are currently in the freezer awaiting an appropriate celebration.)

As to Homey’s request, my outdoor holiday recommendation has to be wildlife watching and photography. Grab the cell phones, and cameras or pick up a couple of those disposable cameras, take binoculars and spotting scope and get everyone close to wild critters. To maximize the pleasure for all, remember hot chocolate, coffee, cookies, sandwiches and whatever else your gang might need to make an outdoor adventure memorable.

You can do this any way you want. There are trips short enough to get them out of the house while breakfast or dinner is being prepared, or long enough to entertain the whole gang for a day.

Here in the valley, elk and deer are all over. Lower Cooke Canyon, Reecer Creek or Colockum Pass Roads will all take you into winter range and a likelihood of seeing deer. They are common up Taneum and Manastash Roads, too. A few bald eagles are beginning to show themselves around the valley – particularly along its northern edge and in the Canyon.

You may find elk up the Colockum, but the largest herds in our valley will be fed up Joe Watt Canyon once the snow flies. My spies tell me there are already a handful of elk near the fence, and you can hang out about as long as you like. You may also see them scattered from Joe Watt over to the Heart K Ranch at the mouth of the Taneum.

Down the Yakima Canyon are deer, a few elk and several bunches of California bighorn sheep, along with a seasonally increasing population of bald eagles and other raptors. The sheep are being seen on both sides of the canyon road, and, often as not, pretty close to the highway. The trick here, of course, is the traffic. There are only a handful of good pull-off areas, and they may or may not be anywhere close to critters you=d like to examine up close. Still, it=s worth the drive, and kids get very excited about being the first to spot one critter or other.

A longer drive will get you to what most consider the ultimate elk and bighorn watches; the elk feeding at Oak Creek Wildlife Area, and bighorn feeding at the Cleman Mountain Site. Numbers of animals at both sites are still increasing, but you will likely see wildlife. Both sites are near the point west of Naches where Highway 410 and Highway 12 intersect. At the intersection, turn north onto the frontage road and follow it to the bighorn sheep feeding site. You cannot miss the fencing and the signs. For the elk feeding, turn south onto Highway 12, and look for the wildlife area signs (and perhaps visible elk) on the right.

You will also have time to remind your gang that winter survival is everything to deer, elk and bighorns. Under the best of conditions, the stress of the cold season is the major controlling factor for their populations. It is always our responsibility, as we are out and about seeking in-person wildlife experiences to replenish nature connections in our lives, to avoid adding to the normal stresses of winter.

Wildlife is generally easier to find at this time of movement onto their limited winter range. They will move around less, and seem “less wild,” but don’t be fooled; they are conserving energy, but will still be on high alert for any invasion of their space. Disturbed and spooked, a large herbivore may double its rate of energy burn (and burning off 30 percent of fall body weight will often cause death, even if food becomes available).

The bottom line of all this is that we have an obligation to observe critters from a distance comfortable to them, not us. I often repeat one of my favorite expressions; “Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality!” Sinlaheken Manager Dale Swedburg passed this along some years ago, and it applies to wild critters as much as to people. Thus, even if we think we pose no danger, what matters is what the animals perceive. Causing wildlife to stop feeding, or move from a feeding/resting area, will affect their health and well-being.

And, while you are out and about, watch the winter roads and traffic of Paradise. Being hit by a vehicle or running into a deer or elk can mess up the whole day for both of you.

Enjoy the gift of this long holiday weekend as it pushes us toward whatever is in store for 2015.

See you next year.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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