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Three-hour tour leads to ... A Catherine Creek Idyll

IN HIS ELEMENT: One of only a handful of registered, professional bird guides in Oregon, Trent Bray searches the banks of the Grande Ronde for the source of yet another call. - Chris Baxter, The Observer
IN HIS ELEMENT: One of only a handful of registered, professional bird guides in Oregon, Trent Bray searches the banks of the Grande Ronde for the source of yet another call. - Chris Baxter, The Observer
“Vaux’s Swift!’’

At first light we pushed the canoe into the swollen Catherine Creek under a still dark and beautifully foreboding sky of gathering clouds.

A swirling swarm of swallows overhead already starting their day, our first aviary sightings of our three-hour canoe tour of a beautiful and relatively isolated stretch of Catherine Creek.

Along for the ride was local bird expert Trent Bray, a local non-bird expert (that would be me) and our guide, local farmer Phil Hassinger, who works some of the land we’d be floating through.



Before we’d even floated a few feet and before any birds could even be seen, Trent was effortlessly throwing out the names of birds as their hoots, whistles and songs filled the still, early morning air.

“MacGillivray’s warbler!’’

It’s obvious this is a trip Phil loves to share with any and all as he describes some of the sights he’s seen along these familiar bends of Catherine Creek.

Like the time he rounded a corner and came upon a calving elk with a nearby bull in the middle of the stream dead ahead.

It was a game of chicken he was pretty sure he was going to lose but fortunately his faithful dog on board caused enough barking ruckus to annoy the elk away.

Nothing quite as exciting as that occurred on this morning, although we did see a big coyote loping across a field.


“Swainson’s Hawk!’’

In normal years that coyote wouldn’t have been noticed from a canoe, but this morning, Catherine Creek is running several feet above its usual level, allowing us to watch the picturesque views of bucolic fields sliding by nearly level with the creek’s surface.


“Great Horned Owl!’’

At one point, near a towering old tree, where on previous trips down the creek Phil had seen golden eagles resting before, the high waters forced a portage around a bridge.

Standing on the bridge was one of Phil’s farming neighbors.

As we worked the canoe around the bridge he told us how there used to be two of these towering old trees right here but one was cut down when the road was straightened.

"They were getting ready to cut this one here too when my dad arrived and informed them that this was his property and told ‘em to stop cutting," said Phil’s neighbor.

Some claiming of some sort of official-type authority ensued but to make a long story short, the other tree is still there.

A towering symbol of the fact that once in a while you actually can fight city hall — and win.

A couple of golden eagles appreciate that.

“Black-crowned night heron!’’

Back in the water again and the beautifully foreboding skies dispense with all pretense and a gentle rain begins.

The creek’s dark, smooth surface is suddenly alive with tiny silver rings as droplets bounce in their centers.

“Cinnamon Teal!’’

And the pretty pictures just keep coming ...

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