A great, but cool, weekend
It is near the end of March, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the weather around here. We had an ice storm this last week, nothing major where I live, but it was pretty bad farther north. Anyway, I spent the weekend hiking the Howard Christensen Nature Center, the Rogue River State Game Area, and portions of the North Country Trail. It is a great area for hiking, the Howard Christensen Nature Center is really nice, even though the trails aren’t very long or elaborate, that’s where the Rogue River State Game area and the North Country Trail come into play.
On Saturday, I started at the HCNC and headed south, and crossed out of it and into the state game area to bushwhack my way to an un-named trail that runs for over a mile to the south, and ends fairly close to a small trailhead for the North Country Trail. The ground was still covered in hard packed snow, which in turn was covered in ice from the recent storm. The trails were slick in spots, especially the “bridge” over Spring Creek. The bridge is nothing more than a few limbs people have placed in the water and they aren’t secure, or very large. I used a fallen branch to help me keep my balance crossing the bridge, and while it turned out I didn’t need the help on the bridge, I sure did on the hill up from the creek! The ice-covered snow was so slick, I thought I was going to have to turn back, and several times as I was trying to find a firm foothold, I had to use the branch to keep myself from sliding back into the creek.
It doesn’t look that bad in the picture, but it was all I could do to make it up to where I shot this picture. After that, it was smooth sailing for most of the rest of the day. I found the un-named trail with no trouble, it ends in a field which made it easy to find. It was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky, the birds were singing, and the small critters like squirrels were out in full force. I was hoping to see some deer or turkeys, but the snow and ice made the trails really crunchy, and I’m sure the wildlife could hear me coming a mile away, despite my best efforts at being quiet. I walked down the un-named trail to a road, and used that to cross a large marsh to hook up with the North Country Trail. There are many marshes in the area, and there were cranes or herons in the larger ones. I couldn’t get close enough to any of them to get good pictures though, that’s the story of the entire weekend. I saw a lot of wildlife, but always too far away to photograph. That and the marshes, ponds, and small lakes were all still covered in ice, so there were no ducks of any kind to see until I was on the North Country Trail.
It runs along the Rogue River in a couple of places, and I would see ducks in the distance, but I couldn’t sneak up on them. They were skittish, and the woods were noisy, a bad combination for photography. There were several flocks of wood ducks, and I wanted a picture of them, but never got close. There was another bad bridge on the North Country Trail, over a very small creek. The bridge had a solid layer of ice over it, so I didn’t even try to use it, I found a better place to cross just downstream. The North Country Trail uses a road to cross Spring Creek, and that’s where I left the trail to cut cross-country back to my vehicle in the Howard Christensen Nature Center. There are a couple of things about Saturday that I won’t forget, one is not getting any good pics, another is the scent of pine in the air. Where ever there were pines, there were hundreds or thousands of small branches that had fallen from the ice storm. The forest floor was covered in small pine boughs in places, and it was heavenly to walk along in the sunshine with the smell of pine everywhere.
I went back again on Sunday, hoping to sneak up on some of the wood ducks. This time, I went north out of the HCNC to 20 Mile Road, and cut west to hook up with the North Country Trail right along side of the Rogue River. It was cool again, I don’t think it got much warmer than freezing either day, maybe 35 degrees at the most. But the sun was out, the birds were singing, and I was enjoying myself. Almost as soon as I started down the North Country Trail, I was startled by the sound of ice breaking. The Rogue is bordered by large swampy areas on both sides, and they were ice-covered from the cold temps this week. With the slightly warmer temperatures, the bright sunshine, and the falling water levels, the ice in the swamps was breaking up. Sometimes it sounded like a shot, other times it sounded like a herd of elephants run amok. I think it is one of the things that made the ducks so skittish, I know several times I was looking around to see if there was a person or animal breaking the ice, I’m sure the ducks were too. I did see them again, in the distance, I never got close to them though. I also heard a deer snort, but never saw it, the trees were too thick.
When I got to where the trail joins the road to cross Spring Creek, I took a short break, hoping that if I stood still, maybe a wood duck would come swimming along. That didn’t happen, but as I sat on the guard rail soaking up some sunshine, a pair of sandhill cranes came up the little valley the creek flows through, calling the entire time. I was hoping for a repeat of when I kayaked Muskegon Lake and saw a small flock circling and calling, and cranes from the ground joined up with the flock, until they headed north. That didn’t happen, and I had my camera out, setting it to shoot video, when the cranes turned and spiraled down into one of the swamps. Sandhill cranes are becoming a lot like loons to me, loons aren’t particularly pretty birds, but their call is special to all those who love the great outdoors. The weird call of the cranes is just like the call of a loon to me, it means the great outdoors are alive and well. I hadn’t gone very far when they started calling again, this time from the ground, and their calls echoed back and forth between the hills on the banks of the Rogue, and that alone was enough to make this weekend special.
There really isn’t much else to say about this weekend, the weather was beautiful, but on the chilly side, and I am more than ready for spring and some warmer temperatures.