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A break from the heat at Camas Refuge provided an ideal climate for some close wildlife encounters

Living the Wild Life

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Photos: Bill Schiess |

Thank goodness for a little rain and some clouds.

This August heat was too much for birds, beasts and man – especially this man. Trying to find wildlife to photograph was sometimes very difficult in the days of 90-plus degrees during July and August this year.

With the late morning temperature hovering at 98 degrees last week, I rounded a turn on the autoroute at Toomy Pond at Camas National Wildlife Refuge and saw what I thought was a dead bull elk.

Only its antlers and part of his head was sticking out of the water. I reached for my binoculars but should have grabbed my camera because he exploded out of the water and ran across the pond. I soon grabbed the right tool and got some shots as it sloshed through the water. He was just trying to get a little relief from the heat.

About a quarter of a mile away, I caught a cow moose bedded down in Camas Creek with water covering part of her body as she lounged in the shade. I did not see any calves with her. She probably had them stashed in the thick willows while she was enjoying the liquid coolness. There are two cow moose on the refuge with one usually trailing twins and the other nursing a single. The best times to see them are in the early morning or late evening.

As I continued around in my air-conditioned truck, I would stop occasionally to listen for sounds of wildlife in the marshland of Camas. At one such stop, I located a Virginia rail hiding from the hot sun in the shade of some cattails with only its head and back out of the water.

At another stop to watch a Red-tailed hawk, I rolled down my window to get a picture. The familiar sound of a rattlesnake came rattling toward me. The large snake was not coiled on the ground but was stretched out in sagebrush. I wondered if the gravel was too hot on its belly and it found the air cooler in the brush. I did notice that part of its body appeared to be wet.

While leaving the refuge, I noticed the wheeled-irrigation lines were also busy. Four sandhill cranes, with their bills open, were walking to one of the lines drenching the thirsty alfalfa while a coyote was cooling off under the other line. A rodent became lunch for the wild dog, as it must have come out of its burrow for what was its last cold shower.

During this hot weather, I have also observed people using every excuse and floating contraptions they can find to get on the water for a cool down. I even saw a couple of young women using some captured flamingos to enjoy a cool-down on a hot August day.

Not for me.

I am going to try to enjoy the wildness of life from the inside of an air-conditioned vehicle until the temperatures hit a civilized coolness. Then it will be time to watch bugling elk from a prickly-pear bed.

By the way, I got pictures of some Trumpeter swans on Toomey Pond that have been collared with numbers and GPS units. Brian Wehausen, manager of Camas NWR, told me that six were collared, two with solar-powered GPS units and four with green and white numbered collars numbered from R-45 through R-48. It will be interesting if they show back up at Camas next spring.