Archive for February, 2016

Dancing with Cranes

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 26, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

In three weeks, Othello, Washington, will be celebrating its 19th Annual Sandhill Crane Festival. Thousands of serious and well-it’s-just-too-cool-to-miss birders will be observing, photographing, recording and discussing thousands of lesser sandhill cranes. These birds are among the noisiest, awkward-graceful, and dancingest birds on the planet. It will be something to see; one of my Basin buddies laughs that humans surrounded by cranes are “more noisy and dancy than the birds themselves.”

I was introduced to sandhills along the South Platte River some decades back. Buddy Rick said something like “Hey, let’s forget about hunting and fishing for a few days and take a run up into Nebraska. You’ll see giant beautiful birds dancing and singing and clumsy and graceful all at once. And we can get some pictures and maybe play a little poker in the camper over something on ice.” Having been on several of Rick’s wild goose chases, I had my doubts. Still, a weekend of camping, scotch, and blackjack was worth the risk. We made the three-hour night drive north from Denver.

I can still feel that next daybreak. I was stunned. Within a hundred yards was a noisy, boisterous sea of greater sandhill cranes. Over that weekend, we were within a football field of tens of thousands of them – flying, landing, bouncing, calling, bobbing, dancing and taking off. They were breathtakingly graceful and comically clumsy. They were before us and behind us and around us. A time or two, as they fell awkwardly from the sky, I’d have sworn they were going to land on my head. Raucously, they filled those early spring fields along the river.

And here comes a chance to do it all again.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified three subspecies of sandhill cranes in Washington. A few hundred greater sandhills (Grus Canadensis tabida) breed in Klickitat and Yakima Counties. Somewhere around 35,000 lesser sandhills (G. c. Canadensis) entertain us in eastern Washington during migration. Some 3,000-4,000 Canadian sandhills (G. c. rowani), with perhaps a few lessers and greaters in the mix, will stop on lower Columbia River bottomlands. As many as a thousand of the last group have been recently wintering there, but most of our Washington visitors winter in California. In Washington, sandhill cranes have been listed as threatened since 1981, although numbers have risen greatly.

As Big Bird Information Officer for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I am required to provide the following. Sandhill crane’s scientific name is Grus canadensis. Sandhills are similar in plumage, but vary in size. They are slate gray birds with black legs, commonly with a rusty staining above. Adults have white cheeks with red skin on the crown. (Juveniles are gray and rusty, and without pale cheeks or red crowns). These are large, tall birds with long necks, long legs, and very broad wings. The round body tapers into a slender neck, and the stubby tail is covered by drooping feathers forming a sort of “bustle.” The bill is straight, and longer than the head. Most of our birds are lesser sandhill cranes. Greaters are slightly taller and a bit longer in the bill, leg and wingspan than our birds. Our lessers will weigh in at seven pounds or so and stand just under three and a half feet tall, with wingspans just over six feet. Add three or four pounds body weight and five or six inches to each measurement for the greater sandhill cranes. The Canadians are in between. Cranes fly with their necks outstretched. Once you hear that haunting “kar-r-r-o-o-o, kar-r-r-o-o, kar-r-r-o-o-o,” you will never forget it.

Our lessers are on their way to make babies in the Far North Country, and some greaters will remain in the lower 48 (including nesting pairs at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, south of Glenwood at the base of Mount Adams).Mostly, the larger birds breed in Central Canada and the northern tier of states.

Once the bonded pair settle into breeding country, they will build a bulky nest of dead sticks, moss, grass, reeds and whatever else they fancy and lay two four-inch buff/olive eggs, marked with olive and brown. After a month of incubation, the young cranes will hatch and be following their parents within a day. Like their parents, they will eat pretty much what is available, including aquatic insects and invertebrates, worms, small mammals, young birds and eggs, bulbs, berries, lichens, water plants and grains.

In fall, our lesser cranes will head to California – and a few to Mexico. Next spring, we’ll again celebrate their trip north.

Learn more about these amazing creatures. Find Steve Taylor (and many other) crane photos at, or just put “sandhill cranes” into your search window. Check out Cornell University’s All about Birds site at Find a good nature guide. The “Washington Wildlife Viewing Guide” has places to find sandhill cranes. .

Go to the Basin and the Othello events; check out or call 866-726-3445 for information.

Spring is coming. Go. Find sandhill cranes. Have a noisy, dancing, wing-waving good time.

The 2016 Writing Contest – Short Stories

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 19, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Three stories were selected for recognition from entries in this year’s outdoor adventure writing contest. You read DeVar Gleed’s family fishing memoir a couple weeks back. Today, I thought you might enjoy reading the other two – the Short Stories.

Each of our authors have been awarded passes to the Central Washington Sportsmen Show at the SunDome in Yakima, and will be at the show this weekend. It runs through Sunday, and is well worth the short drive south – you get to see some great photos from this year’s contest, too.

The first story here is Dwight “Lee” Bates’ rather understated tale of The Knockdown.

“In 1999, a friend of mine, who I worked with at Boeing, needed a crew member for a local Anacortes sailboat race.

I showed up at the Cal 25 in the Anacortes Marina. We started the race near the Anacortes water front. It was blowing hard. 20 boats were in the race from Anacortes to Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands.

“As we raced, the wind came up to white caps. My friend wanted to put up the spinnaker, since we were running behind. I said that we were doing just fine and would take a knockdown if we put it up.

“He put it up anyway.

“As we sailed through Thatcher Pass, I saw a big gust of wind coming (I could tell by the black color of the water), and yelled that we were going to take a knockdown. Then it hit. The boat went over on its side and the cockpit and cabin began to fill with water. We were sinking.

“The skipper told me to dive down under water to take the spinnaker sheet loose. We were headed for the rocks as I dove under water. It was freezing. I got the sheet loose, the spinnaker dumped all the wind and the boat came upright.

“Then I noticed my right knee was out of its socket. This had never happened before. I straightened my leg and it popped back in place.

“We took last place in the race, and spent the night sleeping on the boat in Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island. Most of the sailors went to the local pub to eat, drink, dance and tell wild stories…

“At work, I told Red (he owns a 30 foot sailboat) about the knockdown. He kidded my friend, The Wayward Skipper.” Lee Bates

Below is Ed Marshall’s first submission to my annual writing soiree. The judges were certain that you would enjoy his almost-poetic essay. He titled it To My English Teacher Back East.

“There is a Ruby Mountain which flaunts stands of old growth and which overlooks Ross Lake. It is two mountains south of the one upon which Jack Kerouac spent time as a fire lookout, being dangerously distracted during his creation of some little piece titled ‘On the Road.’

‘I have harvested four black-tailed deer from Ruby Mountain over the course of a moss-grown decade. I have spent a hundred hours upon it and relish each and all. I have sweated, slept and had momentous spiritual experiences upon it that I can tell you about only when I am with you.

“I have watched pine martens playing in my footprints made in the snow on my way up a small chute through the big trees. And then, backtracking, I caught them tracking me.

“I almost took one buck a while ago by backtracking my own trail and running across his prints in mine, impressed one into the other, almost two feet below the otherwise untouched surface of the snow.

“He and I decided about his life up on that bench, on that mountain, on that day. He was in my crosshairs, his fogged breath and mine were in cadence.

“He’s still there, having forgotten our encounter only minutes after.

“I still remember it, and recall it to you now.” Ed Marshall

As always, I look forward to reading your stories next year.

In the meantime, take a fantasy break at the SunDome this weekend.

Wild Children

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 12, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

At some point, some weeks back, Diane asked me if I would speak to the Ellensburg Friday Club. I allowed as how that might be fun, and asked, “What would be the topic?” “Oh, pretty much whatever you wanted to talk about – maybe outdoor stuff, families, you know…” I promptly forgot the discussion.

Two weeks ago, Sandy Peterson, the telephone outreach chief for the Friday Club, called. Diane smiled at the confused look on my face, said, “Sandy needs the topic for your talk next Friday,” and gave me the phone. Sandy wanted to send something out to the club members, so… “Wild Children!” I said. “Well,” she said, “You certainly have my attention!” “Yeah,” I replied, suddenly very anxious to hear what I might have to say about such things, “mine, too…”

It was perfect, really. For decades, I’ve been writing and talking about getting kids connected to the outdoors. For several years, we have pushed legislative efforts to establish a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. In the last couple months I have made several appearances talking about outdoor kids, have written about it, and recently spent time in Denver with Scott Sampson, author of the hot new book, “How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.” What else would I discuss with that group of remarkable women?

Among my heroes are a couple leaders in kid outdoor connection efforts. Robert Michael Pyle, on campus for talks from time to time, is author of several books on butterflies and the outdoor growth of youth. Robert has spoken and written for years about the importance of a simple and nearby natural space where a youngster might have an “Aha!” moment of seeing his or her place on earth. Richard Louv is a widely known child advocate and author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” (You may recall the conversation with a fourth grader that spurred Louv’s mission. He asked a boy why he didn’t play outside, and got, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”)

Louv is the driving force behind the now worldwide Children & Nature Network (, involving nearly four million kids scattered through more than a dozen countries in one or another earth-connecting activities. It’s about saving wild children.

I look around at this growing movement to help children play and learn and grow through outdoor connections, and I see another iteration of our ‘60s mantra to “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Can we have a healthy planet without wild places, wild animals and wild children?

This kids outdoors movement is alive and growing at many levels. It is involving adults, too.

The statewide Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Coalition is pulling as many groups as possible together to raise the voices of those who use Washington’s outdoor playgrounds. Outdoor recreation is a $22 billion part of our state annually. Check out for the coalition’s perspective on the value and importance of playing outside.

There is much activity in Paradise, too. We now have a website for Washington’s outdoor kids and families and, one day, our outdoor kids’ bill of rights. That website will be up and operating shortly. Standby.

Parallel to other efforts is the local work of Sybil Maer-Fillo, who established the Roslyn Outdoor School – now the Washington Outdoor School. Sybil is partnering with the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) for regular Friday pre-school programs and for once-a-month-or-so Early Release Friday programs for grade-schoolers. Register your child at!washington-outdoor-school/c1jmy.

KEEN is adding more and more chances for kids and families to connect outdoors. This includes activities like the Second Sunday Nature Walks (the next one is this Sunday) and tree planting days. Connect at

The Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights? As proposed, it says “The children of Washington, in celebration of Washington families’ outdoor interests and heritage, have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Ride a horse; Go fishing or hunting; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water and in the snow; Climb rocks; Develop a relationship with Washington’s great natural resources; and Learn to be safe around firearms and other tools of outdoor recreation and exploration.” Sadly, despite strong commitments, it did not even get into House or Senate Bill form this session.

All this work is important. Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary, tags her emails with: Remember that children are the messengers we send into a time we will not see…

Fishing – It’s Often All About Family

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 5, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

The judges awarded Central Washington Sportsmen Show passes to DeVar Gleed for his entry in this year’s outdoor adventure writing contest. For so many of us, fishing is all about family.

“Getting youngest son Nicholas and his grandpa together fishing was worth another trip to Utah and Wyoming. I figured, he’s in 8th grade – he can miss a week of school. The primary stated reason for the trip was to see my daughter (in her last semester in BYU’s math ed program), but visions of fall brown trout and fine Snake River cutthroats gorging for winter put me to sleep each night before our trip. Friend Ben Jewett couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go back and see good friends in the beehive state, and sharing gas and good company turned into a great road trip. We prayed the car would make it there and back, and off we went. Mom had family dinners and activities planned with my brother and three sisters in Utah. Nicholas, of course, was the center of attention as seemingly dozens of cousins came and went. Mom doted on Nicholas in her typical grandmotherly way – which he soaked up like a dry sponge! Each evening Nicholas and Dad sauntered off to a corner to play their game – Monopoly. Somehow, they both inherited an unexplainable ability to play for hours on end!  Nicholas is denied every request to play anyone at home – but knows Dad jumps at every chance to play. It’s typical back and forth – each trying to outdo the other – with grandma occasionally having to referee cronyism with the bank or sleight of hand cheating. Both hate to lose – but blood runs deeper than Monopoly money every time.

“The trip to Star Valley started early. Mom sent homemade cinnamon rolls, margarine tubs of her famous sloppy joe mix and quart jars of home canned apricot and grape juice. (We were not going hungry!) A quick shot up the interstate to Evanston, then weaving through Utah, Wyoming and Idaho on U.S. 89.  Pronghorn antelope graced us with their presence just outside of Evanston and each small town brought its own character, reminding me of paradise back home. The drop into Star Valley was punctuated by warmth not typical of early October in Wyoming – drought conditions similar to Kittitas County. We made sure our keys still worked in the homestead – a gift my sweet mother-in-law continues to give. She and her sisters, in their wisdom, kept the small home they were raised in, in Grover, Wyoming; population 147. The keys worked, thankfully. As we turned on power and lights we were faced with 100s of dead and dying flies. (Note to self: replace the decades-old windows ASAP!) A sight to behold: Nicholas and his grandpa chasing dying (but still fast) flies with a small shop vac. The flies didn’t stand a chance! We cleaned up the rooms and hit the river.

“The Narrows Bridge was first. We saw a few small fish chase our offerings (worms and minnow rapalas). With two fish on the stringer, we hiked to the first bend and caught one small brown. The water was expectedly lower and trickier to fish. We made our way over to a large culvert through which flowed one of the many small, cold, crystal clear streams originating on the eastern slope of Idaho’s Caribou-Targhee Range and feeding Wyoming’s Salt River. Nicholas, as most limber, crossed the wire fence. Large and small cutthroat darted in and out of the culvert. I flipped the worm into it and handed the rod to Nicholas. Immediately, a large cutt hit the worm. Nicholas was so excited that he didn’t notice the 6lb. test line rubbing the concrete bridge and it quickly broke. (That boy hates to lose a fish!) I grabbed another rod and went at it again. The willing cutthroat hit again and my coaching of holding the rod well away from the bridge worked. Nicholas proudly brought in a hefty, 18” cutthroat – a beauty! He caught his limit out of that small culvert as dad and I rebaited the hook. Evening filled with stories of Dad’s younger years. He might forget where he put his glasses or hearing aids in a moment – but memories of he and his brother on the Malad Dragons Idaho state champion football team and winning a gold watch for best male athlete his senior year were as clear as if it were yesterday.

“The next morning it was Mom’s scrumptious cinnamon rolls and hit the river before sunrise. We drove to our secret spot – with property owner permission. Down a bumpy gravel road, through three fence gates and past 100s of healthy staring angus steers, we approached the riverside. I left Dad and Nicholas near productive bends and wandered off to test a lesser known holes. A few hefty browns later, I tracked down Dad and Nicholas. Mom called Nicholas a few times to make sure dad hadn’t fallen in. He assured her that dad was right next to him and both were having a great time. This giant bend for some reason traditionally has not been productive, but Dad didn’t hesitate, and immediately got a huge hit. I was concerned his drag was set a little tight and that bruiser was headed toward the current, so I encouraged Dad to lead him into a small eddy behind a rock outcropping built to help sustain fish populations. The calm water allowed Nicholas to net his grandpa’s cutthroat of a lifetime! Dad grinned from ear to ear, and true to form, sat back to soak it all in. He encouraged us to get our rods in the water. Nicholas was anxious to get another fish on the shore – he had been skunked to that point. I took him to a fast moving section with slow moving eddies every 20 yards or so – where I once pulled out a 7lb. brown. He must have cast that F9 rapala 100 times…nothing. We rounded the next bend and I gave it a try – bam – a hungry cutt came to shore – not helping Nicholas’ competitive attitude any. He finally hit paydirt on the next bend, just about time to head south out of this beautiful valley. Mom was overjoyed as she thought of the wonderful, tasty trout dinners from the cold, clear waters of the Salt River. We came home with Nicholas’ big culvert bruiser, and left the rest in the freezer for grandma and grandpa. The memories Dad will have as those trout sizzle on the fry pan will last a lifetime and beyond!”