[Tweeters] Moses Lake, Yakima loop

Connie Sidles csidles at isomedia.com
Fri Jul 15 19:40:45 PDT 2005

Hey tweets, Scientists tell us that the human eye sees colors in two ways,
either from emitted light or from reflected light. I think they should add a
third way: from poorwill light. Poorwill light, in case you haven't seen it,
is the otherworldly orange glow of the poorwill's eyes in your flashlight,
surrounded by the velvety dark of a summer night. There is nothing else like

Technically, I suppose you could say that the glow is nothing more than a
light beam reflected by the bird's retinas. But if you do say that, and
nothing more, then your heart must be a somewhat animated though hardly
lively clinker. (My Webster's defines clinker as a hard mass of fused stony
matter formed in a furnace, as from impurities in the coal.)

No, the orange of a poorwill's eyes is the cold fire from a different
dimension, where no humans have ever gone and where only the glow bridges
the universes. It is the soft light of a candle set in the window to welcome
home the lost traveler. It is the jack-o'lantern at Halloween, both friendly
and fearful. It is a true spectacle of nature, put here for who knows what
reason or accident? Certainly not for our enjoyment, but I am glad to enjoy
it anyway.

If you want to see a poorwill's eyes, here's what you do. Drive over to
Reecer Creek Road (p. 286 of Hal's book), arriving before the sun goes down.
Drive past all the ranchettes and head for the hills. At the last house,
there is a cattle guard. Drive over that and start going up, all the way
till the road curves sharp and the pine trees start. Turn around and drive
back down the hill until you come to a pullout that makes you feel happy.
Park and roll down the windows. Before you stretches the Kittitas Valley,
with Mount Rainier just beginning to turn pink in the distance. All around
you, the birds of the riparian zone are singing their last songs of the day.
If you're quiet, the veery will perch on a branch right next to your window
and sing its echoing song-in-a-rain-barrel. A willow flycatcher will answer,
such an unmusical, raspy sound and yet so welcome because how else would you
ever be able to identify the darn bird? Vaux's swifts will pop out of their
black holes and shoot around your car, chittering their success at capturing
hapless insects. Wait for the dark. Bit by bit, the moon will grow brighter,
and the first stars will come out. You can still see the dusky red of the
dying sun along the rim of the horizon. Wait. When it's velvet dark - navy
blue velvet, not black - start your engine, turn on your lights and coast
slowly down the hill. Look well ahead of your lights, at the farthest reach
where you can still see shapes. Look for that unearthly orange glow, almost
always on the ground, almost always at the side of the road. When you see
it, stop and wait. Let the silence catch up to you and pass over you. If
you're careful, the poorwill will look you over - two orangely glowing orbs
- and then turn back to its hunting. You can just make out its body and the
pale pectoral around its neck. Suddenly, with a white flash of wings, it
will spring up into the air, catch a moth and then float away, watching you
with its orbs until it and they disappear. Now you can breathe again.

After an experience like that, all other birding seems almost pointless, at
least for a little while.

That's not to say that I didn't do more birding. The next morning, I
returned to Reecer Creek Road and found two GRAY PARTRIDGES scratching out a
living in a rancher's yard. The yard is located along the last straight
section of road before the road climbs to the poorwill habitat. The birds
were incredibly wary, but I stayed in the car, and they decided that food
was more important than running away from me. They kept a close watch on me,
though, which was great because at one point, the male turned and gave me a
full frontal view of his chestnut belly patch - it was spectacular in the
early morning sun and reminded again about why birding is worth all the

As a matter of fact, I spent three and a half days sweating in paradise,
birding mostly around Moses Lake and then Prosser. I had originally intended
to be gone only for two and a half days, but on my last free day, I found
that I had taken 12 hours to drive from Moses Lake to Prosser - and that was
way too speedy. I could have stopped and birded *much* more often. The dike
at Potholes (p. 358), for example, consumed four hours because I could not
bring myself to leave the glassy lagoons harboring so many BLACK-CROWNED
NIGHT-HERONS I could hardly keep count. I quit counting after 14. They were
lined up like soldiers along the shore in the early morning, and then each
one took off and flew over my head, bleating about where it was headed for
the day. I couldn't make out the words, however, so I just waved. Also on
the lagoon, a small fleet of BLACK TERNS was fishing. Some had already
switched robes to winter white, others were still in solemn black. It was at
this lagoon that I learned that BLACK-NECKED STILTS can be even more
annoying than KILLDEERS when it comes to announcing an intruder alert. Shut
up, already. But they wouldn't, and so the flocks of migrating shorebirds
DOWITCHERS) couldn't settle long enough to feed.

Back on the highway, I saw a hawk launch itself from a field. Luckily I was
right at the pullout near Winchester Lake, so instead of endangering
everyone on the road by craning my neck out the window while keeping one
hand on the wheel, I managed to park, leap out of my car and glom my binocs
onto a picture-perfect SWAINSON'S HAWK. At Winchester Lake, by the way,
there was a CLARK'S GREBE with a baby.

It was hard to leave central Washington, but work and home were calling. I
did manage to stop off at the Umtanum Recreation Area pullout (p. 306) to
greet the YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT that can always be found there in the summer.
It was a memory that carried me all the way back to Seattle with a smile on
my face. - Connie, Seattle

csidles at isomedia.com

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