Monday, December 10, 2012

The Trail to Niagara Lake

One week from today is the Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count, the count in our own backyard... so to speak. It's just a dozen or so miles up in the scenic forest land above our farm. Today we scouted the forest service roads to make sure they were drivable. Since Niagara Lake is in my sector of the count, we decided to hike into it to see if that would be worthwhile doing on count day. I have not bothered before because it is a very long way and has not had anything on the lake in the past.

It still is and it still hasn't.

But before we reached my sector I spotted a lump in a distant tree in a clearcut just a mile from home on Agency Creek Road. The lump turned out to be an adult Bald Eagle. Cool! The day was starting well.

The start of my sector enters forest service land... and forest road 2283 is full of elephant traps (big ditches to let water drain away). It's slow going. But eventually we made the four miles to the trailhead of Niagara Lake, with only one tree across the road that Johnny had to chainsaw into pieces and remove. So far so good.

It has been a few years since we hiked into Niagara Lake. Okay, more than a few. I do not remember the old 121 road being so long. But it had birds along the way today and that was encouraging. This handsome Red-breasted Sapsucker scolded us as we stood too close to his alder full of sap holes.

After a few million miles, or so it seemed, the 121 road gave out to an old road littered with fallen trees. Both the 121 and the abandoned road were also littered with elk sign: droppings, hoof prints, antler rubs on trees, and scraped patches on the ground where the big animals had uncovered whatever tasty morsels grow under the moss. 

The last few hundred miles of the path to Niagara Lake were suitable only for elk. I do not remember that path being so full of downed trees. If you could call it a path. I called it many things as I wore myself out stepping over logs and crawling under the ones too high to surmount.

But at last we reached Niagara Lake. We didn't realize it at first as it just looked like a clearing full of downed logs.

On closer inspection, it turned into a lake... full of downed logs.

 A pair of Song Sparrows and a Pacific Wren clambered about the floating debris, gleaning insects or something or other.

It felt good to finally reach our destination, although the last time we were there it was a lake not a logjam. I think it should be renamed Log Lake. Johnny, not having had enough exercise, I guess, opted to continue on the old road/elk path to see where it went while I opted to start back in hopes of reaching the waiting van before dark. Johnny caught up with me after I was back on the 121, looking like he still had plenty of energy. He needed it for the long hike back uphill to the van.

On count day, I will walk the 2283 to the 121 and the 121 to the sapsucker tree... and no farther. It was good to see Niagara Log Lake today, but once is enough.

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