The Raptors of Fall

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 20, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday night’s joint meeting of the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club and the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association was centered on the status and outlook for the wildfires of our summer in Paradise.

After the meeting, several of us talked about impacts on wildlife.  One of the members asked me about watching raptors up on Red Top.  She wondered if it was true that one could see plenty of birds and be lost in their use of the thermals up there or if her buddy was just putting her on.  After all, she figured, we have hawks all year long, so what’s the big deal?  And should she really get the family up there?  The whole thing got me thinking about raptors and fall.

Of course, we do have year-round eagles and vultures and hawks and falcons.  And some individuals of a given species will hang out through winter supervising our bird feeders and fields.  Others may migrate a relatively short distance to regional winter habitat, but large numbers of our summer raptors head to Mexico or farther south.  It is largely those birds which you may find riding the rising warm air (thermals) of our regional migration routes over Red Top, Chelan Ridge or another particular locale almost any day in early fall.

This is migration time, and birds preparing for a fall trip south migration are gathering in large numbers over certain areas which are not difficult to reach.

I invited my doubting friend to consider the possibilities.  What would be more fun than a sky of soaring Buteos, swooping Falcos or dashing Accipiters—our hawks of summer?  Take a good guidebook and go look.

Identifying raptors is not all that hard, really.  Start with shapes of wings and tails in flight and you will quickly have a sense of hunting patterns, speed and diets.  (Males in virtually all birds of prey, by the way, will be smaller than females.)

The Buteos are the largest hawks.  They are soaring birds with broad wings and tails, to swoop down on ground‑based prey (generally rabbits, rodents, snakes, frogs, insects and an occasional bird).

Many of the Buteos in the thermals will be heading south.  The ferruginous hawk (buteo regalis) will winter in Central Mexico and be back in April. Swainson’s (buteo swainsoni) will have the longest migration, flying clear to the Pampas of Argentina, then back to our country in spring.

The speed merchants are the Falcos, with their trademark long, pointed wings and narrow tails.  With blazing speed and maneuverability, they catch and kill birds and insects in flight, with an occasional rodent, rabbit or other ground‑runner.

Many falcons will be found in the state year-round, and some will head south.  American kestrels (falco sparverius) will be common in town at our feeders, but others of them will head off to Panama.  Peregrines (falco peregrinus) may migrate over the Cascades or head to Panama, while prairie falcons (falco mexicanus) may come to the east side or join the peregrines on their fall journey to Central America.

The Accipiters are in‑between hawks.  Their short, rounded wings and long, stabilizing tails enable them to dash after prey in and around trees.  They take mostly birds, but also rodents, rabbits and other ground prey.

Among the Accipiters now gathering, Cooper’s hawk (accipiter cooperii) or the northern goshawk (accipiter gentilis) may stay for the winter, or head for Mexico and Guatemala.  The sharp-shinned hawk (accipiter striatus) may find your bird feeder or take off for Panama.

More than a dozen different species of birds of prey have already been observed above Chelan Ridge of Manson, and over Red Top Mountain along Teanaway Ridge off Blewett Pass.  You will see many more than the few mentioned here.  Both ridges are natural migration corridors for eagles, hawks, and falcons in September and October.

By the way, that migration urge is probably triggered by photoperiodism‑‑the changing length of day and/or amount of sunlight reaching some critical level.

Once they head out, exactly how they find their way over thousands of miles—or even just over the mountains—remains a mystery.  More and more evidence is pointing to fairly high intelligence and good memories.  Birds, in general, seem to acquire navigation information from the stars, sun, the terrain they fly (including wind direction), earth’s magnetic field and scent.  The long-lived raptors seem to remember migration routes and landscapes.

Grab a good field guide, such as The Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, or The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.

Red Top Mountain is on Teanaway Ridge, west of Mineral Springs Resort off the Blewett Pass road (FS road 9738 to 9702).  You may find raptors rising over the Saddle Mountains, Yakima Ridge, and Rattlesnake Hills, too, as well as Harts Pass (off State 20) and the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier.

Take a kid.  Watching birds of prey on the wing is as close as many of us will get to touching the sky.

Adventures in Salmon Catching

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 14, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

As you may recall, we spent Labor Day Weekend chasing ocean torpedoes—albacore tuna—with Captain Rob out of Ilwaco.  The drive to, and from, Ilwaco took us through Claskanie and a chance to visit with friends Steve and Sue Souvenir.

Over the last few years, homeys Bill Boyum, Kirk Johnson and I have squandered much of our remaining and vanishing youth in fishing activities with Steve and Sue, and in this cosmic turn of events, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to introduce some of my family.  I figured they could use some fresh tuna, anyhow.  Somewhere in there, Steve issued an invitation I could not turn down.

This friendship started with a small bidding war during the 2009 annual meeting of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) in Spokane.  I’d been invited to give a talk about dealing with difficult people in difficult times (I’m a pro, since I have been one most of my life), and someone suggested I come to the evening’s event.

The annual auction raises money for the WACD Evirothon, education work, and other association activities.  I was being lulled by the rhythm of the auction and the bidding, and visiting with a couple acquaintances, when I heard the MC mention the 2010 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip to the Lower Columbia with fishing nut Steve Souvenir.  I asked how many people could go on the trip and got three different answers, any of which was enough to get me fully into the war.  By the time it was over, I was the proud owner of a certificate entitling us three homeys to time with Steve on the big river.

Howard Jaeger had passed away less than a month before the WACD meeting.  He was an interesting fellow—one of those volunteers who truly makes a difference in some area of interest.  After a 25-year Army career, he “retired” to a tree farm in Cowlitz County.  Almost immediately he volunteered with the Cowlitz Conservation District, eventually serving as an elected supervisor, associate supervisor or board member until his death.  Somewhere in there, he became president of the WACD and served as a region manager for the Washington State Conservation Commission.  Throughout his volunteer conservation district career, he worked to create the WACD Plant Material Center, and made it happen.  Friends called him tireless.

Howard loved fishing.  And he particularly loved fishing with Steve Souvenir, who happened to be married to Howard’s favorite niece.  They worked the Columbia for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.  As Howard failed, Steve thought a Lower Columbia fishing trip would be the perfect tribute to the man he loved so well, and selling it at auction would support the work for which Jaeger had been so passionate.

Thus, we got to know Steve.  We learned about “hog lines,” and even caught a few fish along them.  We tangled with steelhead.  We learned where to find blueberries and huckleberries.  We laughed, we grumbled and then we laughed some more.  We developed a pretty rich friendship.

Even with those cool fishing episodes, I experience periodic urges to squander yet more of my waning youth in a small boat on a big river. Thus, given that Steve has a commercial license, and my fellow Homeys of Paradise were otherwise occupied, I made the drive to Clatskanie a year ago to spend a night on Steve’s small gill net fishing boat.

I had always wanted to experience the work and anticipation of laying out a hundred fathoms (a couple hundred yards) of net, and jumped at the chance to climb aboard his boat on one of the relatively limited nights allotted to small gillnetters.

At dusk, we laid the net out into the stream, returned to the dock for a barbecue with a couple other small-scale gillnetters and double-checked our crawfish traps.  Over a glowing grill, we shared stories and experiences (does truth really matter at such times?), and listened for the thrashing which might signify a salmon in a net.  At some point, we crashed on the boat and waited for dawn.

We awoke at first light to a very still and misty dawn and pulled the net.  We drew the net, laughed and had a great early morning.  The net held enough fish for the fish buyer to make Steve’s work almost worthwhile.  I said I would gladly work the net again—the acid test, I think, for successfully squandering waning youth.

Steve’s post-Labor Day Weekend invite was to come play deckhand for another night of working the gill net.  I jumped at it, and went down a week ago.  It was hard work and good times.  Maybe he’ll invite me and the Homeys again.

Of course, we will be bidding on the next fishing trip.  This year’s WACD annual meeting will be at Suncadia, December 2-4.  Find out more about that meeting and the amazing work of our conservation districts at

P.S. If you hope to be fishing with Steve during the 2014 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip on the Lower Columbia, be prepared for a bidding war.

Chasing Torpedoes with the Tuna Whisperer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 6, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Sometimes great fun is hard work.

At 3:25 a.m. last Sunday, ten fishermen, two deckhands (Brian and Tyler), and Captain Rob Gudgell were having a briefing aboard the Katie Marie.  Mostly it was safety stuff and reaching an agreement about how the fish—should we catch any—would be divided among the fishers.  Then there was the reminder.  Those of us who’d fished with Captain Rob already knew what was coming, but the newbies needed to hear it; it was Cap’s admission of passion for finding and catching fish, and an admonition to not take personally anything he might say in the midst of fishing chaos.  That settled, we left the Ilwaco Harbor and headed into the Pacific.

Of the ten fishers on the boat, seven were Homeys of one stripe or another; Kirk Johnson and I traveled from Paradise.  Kirk’s son-in-law Ben, my boyfriend-in-law (one day a son-in-law) Brian, and his buddy James gathered from the Puget Sound area.  My son Edward and son-in-law Chris flew in from Denver.  It was a much-anticipated day.

We hadn’t anticipated such a slow start, however.  The 14 to 40 pound albacore race around the ocean searching for giant spherical schools of small fish (“bait balls” they are often called) at up to 50 miles an hour.  On our morning, these schools of a few dozen to several hundred tuna were racing in some other part of the ocean.  Finding—and catching—was slow, slow, slow.

Finally, at some point, someone yelled “Tuna!” and the chaos began.  …And ended.  We had one fish on the hand line, I brought in the first fish of the day on a rod, and that was that.  After another couple hours, Cap found another school, and four or five more fish came aboard.  Then, we spent more hours searching the ocean for any sign of feeding frenzies—flocks of seagulls, small fish leaping out of the water, whatever.

The water was pretty quiet, the air was perfect and the skies were off and on clear.  And, by 1:30 in the afternoon, the ten of us had managed to bring fewer than a dozen tuna on board.  They were beautiful big tuna, for sure, but few in numbers.

Captain Rob is a life-long fisherman and boat nut.  He was a deckhand as a kid, fully licensed in 1981, and is a full-time captain since 1998.  In 2002, he brought the use of live anchovies for tuna fishing to Ilwaco, supplementing the use of jigs.  He is known for his intensity in coaching his fishers to success.  He has good juju.

Anyhow, just about 1:30, Deckhand Brian’s eye and Captain Rob’s skill, experience and magic kicked in.  We were suddenly up to our aching muscles in a very big school of good-sized tuna.  The chaos began in earnest, rising to a crescendo, in a great joyful and wild dance.

Cap circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading, “Watch your lines!  Jim, follow your fish—if it goes that way, go with it!  Go under Brian…  Scott over that guy and under her!  Come on people, pay attention!  No tangles!  Don’t let anybody cut your line!  Get them on board, bait up and get back out there!  Hey!  No slack line—no bird nests on your reel!  Pay attention guys!  Keep your footing!  Over!  Under!”  …And so it went for a couple hours of arm-wrenching struggles with big tough fish.

Somewhere in there a homey observed that Captain Rob was a kind of tuna missionary, unwavering in his determination to talk albacore tuna onto the boat.  Hard to argue with such logic, but I liked Boyfriend-in-law Brian’s take on it more.  “Think about it a moment, Jim,” Brian smiled at me, “the guy is a ‘Tuna Whisperer…”

He was right, of course.  Cap would skillfully hook a live anchovy, and it would quickly hit the ocean as the fisher stripped line.  As the fisher focused, Cap was almost whispering instructions.  “One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Now drop the drag… Six… Seven… Tighten it slowly… Eight… Nine… Ten!  There he is!  Now don’t lose this one!”  With that, he was on to the next tuna wrangler, continuing his mission to get tuna on board the Katie Marie.

At one point, Cap was helping me replace gear I had just lost to a nice fish.  “You suck at this,” he said.  When I quickly reminded him I had caught a couple tuna, and whined that others’ lines had crossed and cut my line and that was why I had just lost a 20 minute battle with the biggest albacore in the ocean, he half-smiled.  “Well, they suck at this, too…  Now don’t lose that one running with your bait.”  And off he went on his endless mission, leaving me to a new battle.

Near the end of our tuna fishing frenzy, after a half-hour battle, I brought in the biggest tuna I have yet caught; a flashy 30.4 pounds.  Others in that size range were aboard, too.

At 4:00, we had to quit and head back.  By then, we had about 50 tuna aboard—all big tough Pacific torpedoes.  Everyone had aching arms and big smiles.

Hard work, but the day became exactly the day we had all anticipated.

All about People and Their Limits

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 30, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday morning, following a long Cascade Crest weekend filled with 100-mile runners and 36 hours of ham radio operation, Homey just didn’t get it.

“What’s the point?  A hundred and some people try to run 100 miles over dirt, rocks, downed trees and gravel roads.  And you and 40 of your radio buddies try to keep track of them from place to place while a hundred other people provide food and first aid at those places up there around Easton.  What’s in it for you?  What’s the point?  It’s crazy.  I don’t get it.”

Still lagging a bit from a weekend of all night and day radio work, I struggled for a moment with his consternation.  How do you explain the privilege of supporting men and women who are testing the boundaries of their spirits and their bodies?  How do you explain the determination of a runner who has made almost 74 miles and just can’t continue through the pain of feet and muscles, but does…or the joy of someone who has completed that 73.9 miles for the first time and smiles his or her way up and over the hill to the finish?  Finally, I turned to him with his own history lesson.

“How many times have you told me about you and your boy spending two days getting a big elk out of the bottom of that deep draw in the L.T. Murray?  Six or eight?  And how does your story always end?  You say something like, ‘Boy, that day we learned what we could accomplish if we stuck to it…’  Well, I think that all of us, at some point, need to know the limits of what we can accomplish.  There are countless ways we seek and find those limits, and runs like the Cascade Crest 100 provide one of them.  As to why we go play radio while the runners push their limits, it’s pretty simple for me; ham radio is fun, of course, but it’s the same sense I had when I was teaching at Central—it is an honor to support people who are figuring out why they came to the planet.”

This was a great year for the run through some of the most beautiful scenery in Paradise.  155 people started the race.  117 of them finished it.  This was the largest field of runners in the 15 years of the endurance run, and the percentage of finishers has only been matched once.  New race coordinator Rich White and his crew of race officials and aid station personnel, working in concert with the ham operators controlling the net from the Easton Fire Station and all the hams out in the hills did a great job of keeping runners safe and counted.  It takes a lot of people to manage an event like this and it came off without a troublesome glitch.  We got lucky.

Diane and I worked the Mineral Creek Aid Station (milepost 73.9—one of 15 stations along the 100 miles), as we have each year since 2007.  Aside from the wild berries, the runners and the camaraderie of the aid station crew, there is something about spending a crisp late August night in the Cascades that draws us back.  Then, too, there are the individual stories.

The story I share most often goes back to our first year working the race.  A woman, likely in her early 40s, jogged up to our food table, grabbed a handful of candy, a piece of fruit, poured down a half cup of warm potato soup and took a sip of Coke.  At that point she stepped back, looked at our sign saying she was at 73.9 miles, half-smiled and said, “Cool… only a marathon left.”

Every runner has a story of course, but two of this years’ are iconic, I think.

Hans-Deiter Weisshaar, is a German runner who has competed for years in the Cascade Crest Ultramarathon.  More than that, he has completed over a hundred of these 100-mile races.  He finished this year’s race in around 31 hours, 109th of the 117 finishers.  Oh, yeah.  Hans is 73.

Runner number 44 arrived at Mineral Creek a few hours before daylight.  He could hardly move.  His feet were blistered and raw, he hurt, and he was cold, cold.  There seemed little likelihood that he could go on, but we left him to make that call.  He would wait for daylight, he insisted.  The aid crew wrapped him in blanket after blanket, gave him warm sustenance and handed him several hand warmers.  He leaned to one side in the folding chair, eyes closed and still in his cocoon of covers, for an hour, and another—and another.  At some point, as daylight filled our draw, he stirred.  He looked around and said something about needing to work on his feet.  I turned to handle a radio call, and when that task was finished, I heard “Runner 44, out,” meaning he was leaving the aid station.

We watched him head up the hill, looked at each other, and knew he would make it.  He had been on that chair for three hours and 31 minutes.  Several hours later, back at Easton, at the start and finishing point of the race, we watched #44 Allan Dushan, of White Salmon, cross the finish line.  He was the 90th runner to do so.

It is an honor to share time with people fully experiencing their lives, outdoors.


All about Today’s Bigfoot Interest

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 23, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey was nosing into our sockeye trip to Lake Wenatchee.  “So, that’s where your brother Brad saw those ‘Bigfoot’ guys years ago, right?  And that’s your interest, right?  And you guys were at the head of the lake, near the White River, so didn’t you really go to look around?  So…  Did you see any tracks?  You went to look, right?  When are you going to write about them—the Yakamas’ ‘stone throwers,’ huh?”

I so badly wanted to tell him of some secret mission up our sleeves, and crank up his blood pressure a bit.  I hated to disabuse him of the notion that Brandon and I were chasing Bigfoot, but I just didn’t have the time to properly exploit his interest.  “Sorry,” I finally said.  “We were just fishing.”

Still, I certainly have an abiding interest in Bigfoot and the rapidly growing body of both serious and silly research surrounding its existence.  The TV series, published research and dozens of YouTube videos about the critter surround us. I grabbed my current files.

If you have thought about this stuff at all, you probably know about Jeff Meldrum, an anatomy and anthropology professor at Idaho State University.  His Pocatello lab arguably holds North America’s biggest collection of footprint casts, hair samples and other associated evidence.  He often says that the Bigfoot work came to him—he was not looking for it.  His lab did extensive animal testing for species identification, so maybe it was inevitable at some level.

His interest in the Bigfoot mystery was triggered by an apparent hoax involving footprints near Walla Walla at the end of the last century.  He returned on his own to the tracks in question and made casts of other nearby sets of prints.  With the eye of an anatomy pro, he found unique marks on his plaster casts which suggested the tracks were not part of a hoax.

Then Jimmy Chilcutt, a crime scene investigator from Conroe, Texas, heard the story of Meldrum’s foot casts, and came to look for himself.  Chilcutt was a prints guy, with an expertise in fingerprints developed over an 18 year career.  He had, for several years, been studying foot prints of humans and primates in hopes of developing new tools for distinguishing individual footprint patterns.  After Meldrum turned him loose in the foot cast collection and left, Chilcutt quickly decided that the prints were indeed from some actual primate—not faked.

Meldrum, with a bit of trepidation, started down a serious Bigfoot research path, with Jimmy Chilcutt as a strong and expert ally.  Thus, Meldrum’s very thorough collection of footprint casts and hair samples, as well as some body fluids collected from various sightings and interactions.

In late June, Meldrum was in Portland, raising money for The Falcon Project.  This project involves outfitting an unmanned and highly maneuverable helium-filled airship with a platform of thermal-imaging and high resolution wireless video gear.  The project will feature a sleek, quiet Aurora Mk II airship, able to approach and observe critters with minimal disturbance of their natural behavior.  It can survey in dense forest with a vertical look, and can move quickly enough to keep up with a subject.  The gyro-stabilized camera mounts and remote operation equipment are specifically designed for such tasks.  Given the nocturnal, reclusive and wary nature of the species, Meldrum has high hopes for this novel high-tech approach.

Meldrum has been at his task for nearly two decades.  His book “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” was published in 2006 by Forge Books, with a paperback in 2007 from St. Martin’s Press.  He’s published numerous papers and now edits an online journal, The Relict Hominoid Inquiry (at  He is fully committed to the research.

Others are serious, too.  Professor Bryan Sykes, a human geneticist from Oxford is conducting a critical DNA study of hair samples said to be from Sasquatch as part of the Oxford-Luassane Collateral Hominid Project.

You may recall that, in January of this year, veterinarian Melba S. Ketchum reported on her team’s five-year study of more than 100 DNA samples that she believes are from the elusive hairy beast.  At DNA Diagnostics, Inc., in Nacogdoches, Texas, they tested mostly hair, but also blood, urine and saliva samples.  She is a believer.  Based on the DNA testing, her team concluded that Bigfoot may be the result of a cross between Homo sapiens and some unknown primate—a cross that happened some 15,000 years ago.  The research is now said to be under the scrutiny of independent researchers.  Time will tell.

Robert Michael Pyle speaks seriously of his experience.  A Denver friend tells her Sasquatch story with elaborate detail.

Brother Brad is the coolest person I have ever seen under pressure.  He has been credited with saving lives on mountains and ice that were about to collapse.  He saw Bigfoot crossing the White River decades ago.  I would take it to the bank.

The interest will keep growing, I think.  Check the web.  Happy late summer.