Monday, September 24, 2007

When is Autumn?

Winter is coming to the high desert.

I say that not because summer is over, but because the winter critters of the high desert are starting to move to their wintering grounds in town.

Today while out on safari, I saw and heard a number Townsend's Solitaires on the tops of trees. These birds come to town in the winter. During the summer, they spend a lot of their time in badland areas (areas of scrub, sage and juniper found anywhere outside of towns in the area of where I live).

Something else I noticed was only one butterfly, one dragonfly and few bees. There were a lot of Honey Bees around, but when I say bees, I mean those big, gorgeous Bumble Bee type bees. The last time I passed through the area I went to today, I noticed several large, and I do mean large, Bumble Bees I wanted to photograph. But I didn't have my camera with me that day. Today I did, and of course, I didn't see the bugs. But I didn't see many bugs and I like shooting bugs.

I can only assume the week or so of below freezing temps we have had here lately has taken a toll on the wildlife...mostly the small stuff that flies around. I did notice a Common Raven nest I hadn't seen before and was about to take a photo of it with a couple of birds nearby, when I saw a Steller's Jay. I have only one photo of a Steller's Jay and figured I could go back to the raven nest. I probably would have had I not spaced it entirely.

But I chased after the jay hoping to get a shot of it and it led me to the northern end of the Dry Canyon...and I still couldn't get a shot of it. The bird constantly stayed far enough ahead of me and in the trees making a good shot almost impossible. But after wandering around trying to get close, I gave up and headed back to my bicycle. Just as I mounted my "Specialized" beast, I saw a lizard moving.

It was a young Western Fence Lizard and it wasn't more than six feet away from me. So I brought out the camera and began shooting. I have seen (and photographed) a lot of lizards lately. But I don't care. All the shots are cool (in my opinion). Besides, lately they have been almost all I have found to shoot.

But back to what's coming. One thing I haven't seen yet, is snow in the mountains. That's a sure fire indication of winter here...and probably anywhere mountains and snows meet. I remember when I was stationed in Alaska at Elmendorf AFB outside of Anchorage, you could literally watch winter come down on you.

Elmendorf had mountains to the east...the Chugach Mountains, the northern part of a series of coastal ranges in the northwest. When the first snows would come, it normally blanketed the top portions of the mountains. Days later, another snowfall would drop the snow line lower. As more snowfall came, the line lowered and lowered until it met the ground and snow was everywhere. Then, everyone knew winter had come to Anchorage, Alaska.

It's not that easy here. Snow falls in the mountains, but normally when it does, it blankets the slopes. And it continues to blanket the slopes. Sometimes it will spread to the 3,000 foot level where I live and blanket the ground, but not often (knock on wood). Last winter I think we got less than two inches the entire season. However, four or five years ago, we got something like 60 inches, with several storms dumping 18 inches each.

Generally when the first snows fall in the mountains, the birds which live high in the ranges, move down to the valleys and towns of central Oregon. The most prominent of these birds is the Dark-eyed Junco. They come down after the first flakes fall so regularly, that they are called Snow Birds by the locals. But I haven't seen one of them yet.

But the lack of insects to photograph is a sure sign change that seasonal change is coming. And when that happens, I am going to miss summer. You see, I love the heat of the high desert. The hotter the better.

And believe me, I'll be waiting for the summer of 2008.

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