Reason #843 why I love this place!

Tom and I took a hike off trail the other day specifically to see if there were Black Vulture chicks yet. The hike turned into an adventure as things are wont to do here. We started off well enough, climbing up via “mouse motel” to the top of the ridge. I really like the ridge tops. It constantly amazes me the plants that can grow in the thin dry soil up there. Right away we saw a large area of white wash. We knew that an owl had probably been there. I poked around for pellets, but didn’t find any. A little further down the trail, further exploration by Tom revealed a very large population of Pink lady’s slipper! There were so many in bloom! We counted almost two dozen, plus many other plants that were not going to flower.

We continued along the ridge top looking for the crack to drop down in to look for those Black
Vulture chicks. Once we found it and made out approach, a large Black Vulture flew out of the crack and landed near by in a tree. A good sign! Tom dropped down first, and peered into the recess, “Eggs!,” he said. I gave him the camera, and came down too. There is no nest, just the eggs laid on the sandy soil. There was a foul odor back by the eggs, sure to get worse once those chicks hatch. We exited the crack, and walked along the cliff face a ways and sat down to see the adult vulture return. (Both the male and the female vulture incubates the eggs.) It returned, and we decided to check on the Great Horned Owl nest.

That was way easier said than done! Instead of making our way back to the ridge top and then dropping down again, we cut across – no, we pushed our way through the bottom, then up again to the cliff where the owl nest was. During this trek we got up close and personal with witch hazel, spice bush, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, ferns, poison ivy, jewlweed, greenbrier, multiflora rose, rubus, and unfortunately, lots and lots of garlic mustard.

Anyway, at the nest site it was clear that the owl babies were fledged and long gone. Left behind was nature’s version of a CSI episode! Bones, feathers, and fur were littered all along the ground, cliff and in the nest. We were able to identify feathers from a bluejay, crow, flicker, and brown thrasher.

By this time it was getting very hungry out, so we made for the nature center. Back up to the ridge top, down via “mouse motel”, and out to the trail along the old logging road which is now a mere deer trail. But, we were in for another surprise. A nice patch of four-leaved milkweed was growing right beside the trail. Although we have this species recorded for Wahkeena, we didn’t know it grew in this location.

One last surprise awaited us right by the spring. For whatever reason, I spied a nice Showy orchis, in bloom, right next to the trail. For those of you who have walked the Cassa Burro trail searching for this orchid, you know how hard it can be to find it. So many times have we tried to explain to visitors where to see a particular clump, and can’t take them personally because it’s too far away, and the whole time there has been one seconds away from the nature center!! Arrhhggg! 🙂

So ended that adventure for the day. The really cool thing is, stuff like this happens all the time in nature, you just have to slow down and watch for it!

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