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Sandhill Crane Festival
Othello, Washington
Cranes, also called "Birds of Heaven"
Click on photos to enlarge

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Sandhill Cranes in Columbia Wildlife Refuge. (Pentax ZX-5, Pentax 400 mm)

The mountain pass across the Cascades had just reopened,
after a late season snow storm in March.
So we decide spontaneously to see the Spring Sandhill Crane
migration and festival in Othello, Washington.
We pack our VW camper, top off the propane tanks, and hit the road.
By dark we reach Snoqualmie Pass, and are greeted by mountains
of snow and violent wind gusts, seemingly coming from all directions.
The road is clear except for some patches of ice.
An hour or two later, we reach Vantage, and the gusty wind has
subsided. Crossing the Columbia River on I-90 heading east, we
arrive at Pot Holes State Park by 11:30 pm.
The park is nearly empty, and non-utility campsites are plentiful.
After selecting a nice site by the lake, we put up the pop-top,
turn on the heater, and feel at home.
Outside stars are twinkling in the freezing cold air, and sometimes
a lonely coyote is howling in the distance.

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Camping at Potholes St. Park      (Pentax Zx-5, Tokina 20-35)
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First morning light at Potholes Reservoir                
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Lonely tree at the shoreline   
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Sagebrush and tumbleweeds by Reservoir Dam

Next morning awake at sunrise to the ďoak-a-leoĒ singing of the
red-winged blackbirds staking their territories in the reeds.
We donít see any fellow wetwesties campers in the campground,
so we decide to head towards Othello and gather info about the
Sandhill Crane Festival and sights to see.
Driving through farmland and orchards, we reach Othello,
a small farming community founded by homesteaders in 1901.
At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Othello, there is a
friendly employee who gives us insights into the spring migration
of the Sandhill cranes, the Columbia Wildlife Refuge, and
other activities scheduled around the Crane Festival.
She also sells us two tickets for the guided evening sightseeing
trip to feeding grounds of the migrating cranes.

On to spend the day exploring the Columbia Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is large with many open paved and unpaved roads
crisscrossing it. Our vanagon camper has no problem navigating
the gravel roads. The Refuge includes many wetlands and creeks,
and is situated below Potholes Reservoir dam.

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Washboard roads through the Refuge.
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Small picturesque pond, in the hills
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Cliffs by lake in the Refuge

The terrain varies from marshland to hilly and rocky desert.
Itís a paradise for trout anglers, hikers, rock climbers,
bird-watchers, boaters, and campers alike.
We are happily surprised to find a multitude of idyllic
campgrounds situated on numerous small lakes and ponds.
While enjoying a picnic by Soda Lake, we hear at first a
strange croaking sound, and then notice a huge flock of
Sandhill Cranes, soaring to the west in the distance.
Excitedly we decide to try to catch up with them.
So we hurriedly pack up, and take the next gravel road
pointing in the direction of the flock.
After parking our camper by a hikers-only access road,
we hike in the direction following the loud gurgling sounds.
After a short hike, weíre awed as we come upon a flock
of hundreds of Sandhill cranes, resting by a small lake in a
marshy meadow.

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Cranes in the Refuge        (Pentax ZX-5, Pentax 400 mm)
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Their wingspan is impressive.
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Graceful in flight
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In formation right overhead
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Coming in for a landing
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Here you can see the distinctive red patch on their foreheads.

We spend several hours watching more cranes soaring overhead
and landing. Thereís much activity, birds cavorting, feeding,
and flopping their large wings.
Itís a wonderful spectacle to be so close to these magnificent
creatures in their natural habitat.
After a few hours, we discreetly make our exit, so as not to
disturb the birds in their rest.
In the early evening we take the bus tour to the crane feeding
grounds in the corn stubble fields, which have been planted
intentionally by farmers in cooperation with U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife to feed migrating cranes.
The bus is crowded with bird watchers, donning scopes and cameras.
If you have a chance to come to Othello during crane migration,
donít miss taking the narrated bus tour and its festive atmosphere.

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Red winged blackbirds. If you look closely,
you can see one Yellow-headed blackbird.
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Sunset over the farmlands.

                               
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© 2002 Harald and Nancy Rust, All rights reserved.
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