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A regular walk on the Quiet Side

A great blue heron watches for fish in the small lagoon adjacent to the Entiat River.

STORY AND PHOTOS

By Marilyn Sherling

Fall was in the air as we stood looking across the river at the pine tree on the far bank.

That Ponderosa looked very strange, and as we lifted the binoculars to our eyes we saw the reason. It was filled with bird nests — very large bird nests — nine that we could see. A rookery tree!

My mind went to the two great blue herons we had seen up river. Could this be a heron rookery?

My daughter, Amanda, and I were standing on the bank of the Entiat River just west of its confluence with the Columbia River. That part of the river was called the Entiatqua (meaning Grassy Water) by the native Americans many years ago.

We were there because of a class we were enrolled in at Wenatchee Valley College. We had signed up to take the Wenatchee Naturalist class taught by Susan Ballinger.

This class takes its students on a journey through the natural world in which we live, here in the greater Wenatchee Valley. It introduces students to a wide range of topics specific to this area, including geology, birds, plants, animals, amphibians, invertebrates, trees, fire ecology and land stewardship, to name a few.

Part of the curriculum calls for students to pick a location where there is a variety of wildlife, native plants and trees and to visit it once a week, with the goal of journaling what we see and observing the changes that occur over the course of the quarter.

Amanda and I became so enthralled with “our” spot on the Entiat River that we continued to visit it during the winter and beyond. In fact, we entered so many bird observations to eBird, the online database managed by Cornell University, that they made it an official eBird “hotspot.”

Susan had several suggestions for places to visit, Porter’s Pond, Canyons One and Two, Horan Nature Area, Juvenile Pond and Rodeo Hole.

So, how did we end up on the Entiatqua Trail?

Well, over the years we have travelled Highway 97A many times and as we would drive over the bridge crossing the Entiat River, we would notice that little undeveloped spot to the west with its riparian habitat and lagoon.

A little investigation revealed that the property is owned by Chelan County PUD and is open to public access, so we decided to make that location our journaling spot.

In fact, Chelan County PUD has created a trail that goes under the bridge and connects to the newly refurbished Entiat Park, just north on the Columbia River.

On a side note, if you walk on the trail going under the bridge, take a look at the top of the wall directly under the bridge, you will notice a very small troll sitting there. One wonders if he is related to the very large troll who sits under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle.

On this day we took a left, just over the bridge, onto the Entiat River Road and found the parking spot about a half mile west of the intersection.

On some days as we stepped out of the car, one of the first things we heard was the belted kingfisher across the river. We could see him diving for dinner and sometimes sitting on the sandbar in the center of the river.

The habitat found within the half-mile expanse of this short trail is surprising.

On the north side of the trail is big sagebrush, antelope bitterbrush, gray rabbit brush, arrow leaf balsam root, snow buckwheat and, in season, the resident sagebrush songbirds.

On the river side of the trail is riparian habitat, with braided channels, river birch, red osier dogwood, cattails, a beaver lodge and a river otter playing in the water.

High in the trees is often a downy woodpecker or a northern flicker. This land was also cultivated by homesteaders for a time, evidenced by a few walnut and cherry trees.

Over the course of the fall and winter we have watched the caterpillars build tents in the alder trees, watched the birds migrate, the leaves fall and animals leave tracks in the snow that we couldn’t identify.

Wandering east toward the lagoon, we have spotted painted turtles just under the water, a great blue heron hiding in the cattails, watching for fish. We have seen up to six American dippers foraging for food along the rocks at the water’s edge.

Down the trail about a quarter of a mile from the parking spot, stop and look across the river. There is the rookery tree. Last fall it was empty and it was completely by surprise that we noticed the nine huge nests in that tree.

This March we noticed a surge of activity as we counted six herons engaged in collecting additional nesting materials and four actually sitting on nests, and by the middle of April, this was a bustling community.

In fact, everything was alive in the spring: new leaves on trees, new plants budding. The river was teaming with ring-necked ducks, common and hooded mergansers, common golden-eyes, buffleheads and a pair of wood ducks sunning on an island.

And, when we lift our eyes to the hillside, across the river, we spotted 19 mule deer munching on the new grass.

When we returned in the first week of May, things had changed in the tree, there wasn’t so much heron activity. Although we could see three nests with a sitting adult in each, it was hard to see if there were more.

But, what was this? Here is a nest that looks different. That’s no great blue heron. The binoculars revealed a female great horned owl and two babies in one of the nests. What a find.

This site is truly a gem hidden right in our own backyard. If you want a quiet place to walk and meditate it can’t be beat.

However… if you are a birder and a nature enthusiast, as we are, that half-mile stretch is a treasure trove. It’s a gem that offers a new facet with each visit.

Marilyn and Amanda Sherling both reside in Wenatchee, where Amanda is completing her two year degree in Natural Resources, and Marilyn recently retired from Chelan County PUD. Both are avid birders and amateur photographers and love being out in nature.

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