This Is Family Outdoor Time

The Christmas to New Year break seems very open this year. Several homeys have more days off than most years – or so it seems to them. The big question centers around how to use that time getting kids and family outside.

There are plenty of long evenings and nights for games and huddling, so throw together some leftovers and sandwiches and make the most of whatever the Paradise daytime outdoors offers. The principles hold for anywhere you find yourself – get outdoors.

Of course, you know I have to start with finding, watching and photographing some wild critters. (Santa DID bring someone in your family a new camera or cellphone, right?) We are being told to look for prepare for an El Niño winter, somewhat drier and warmer than most. Still, the jury is out on the weather for any given set of days, so be prepared anytime you take yourself and family on a wildlife watching safari. If the forecasts hold, this may be one of the best opportunities to observe and watch wild things in semi-wild places that we’ve had in a couple years. 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.

A couple at-large members (Aren’t we all, really?) of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA) recently raised those “wildlife watching etiquette” questions, and asked that I again pass along the simple guidelines. As chair of our little think tank’s Winter Wildlife Watch Subcommittee, I am duty bound to share the following.

Winter survival is everything, of course, to deer, elk and bighorns. Under the best of conditions, the stress of winter is the major controlling factor for their numbers. Our responsibility is to avoid adding to the normal stresses of winter.

Warm protective coats and limited movement make it possible for deer, elk and sheep to slightly lower metabolic rates and caloric requirements. But even with a decent food supply and limited activity an average winter will cost a large ungulate 20 percent of its fall weight. Disturbed, a large mammal may double its rate of energy burn, and burning away 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 think about Dale Swedburg (retired manager of the Sinlaheken Wildlife Area) and his “Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality!” statement. Even if we think we pose no danger, what matters is what the animals perceive. Causing wildlife to stop feeding, or leave a feeding/resting area, will affect their health and well-being. Be as unobtrusive as possible.

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. As snow arrives, Joe Watt Canyon is a favorite sledding area. You may also find elk scattered from there 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 many consider the ultimate regional 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.

Wherever you wander, take your Discover Pass and watch the wintry roadsides. Hitting 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 2019.

See you next year.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized