I recently returned from a road trip I had been planning for quite some time. My plan was to visit five individual refuges in Eastern Washington including Turnbull, Little Pend Orielle, Columbia, Saddle Mountain, and Toppenish. I would be using our R-Pod trailer as a base-camp from which to eat, sleep, and prepare gear for each days adventure.
I am not going to write about the details of each refuge, as all of that information can be readily researched on the refuge-specific websites. I will give some brief thoughts on each that may save a photographer some time figuring it out on their own. As well, I am going to break my trip down into three separate blog posts, to prevent each from running on too long.
My trip started by heading out I-84 into the Columbia River Gorge. The weather all week long was absolutely gorgeous; perfect for for wildlife photography with plenty of light and crisp cool mornings. The first stop along the way was Turnbull National Wildlife refuge. Turnbull is SW of Spokane,WA about 10 miles or so in a town called Cheney,WA.
From a photographer’s perspective, Turnbull is a very scenic place and certainly quite a bit of time could be spent shooting scenic landscape images. The week I visited in late summer found the refuge very dry with very little water in the ponds. With very little water brings low numbers of waterfowl. Once the rains starts, that will be a completely different story. I would suspect that by mid-November the refuge will be its normal water-wonderland with simply fantastic numbers of waterfowl present in the midst of Fall migration.
I did have a large amount of various mammal sightings at Turnbull. Everything from Yellow-pine Chimpunks, to Beavers, to Moose made their appearances, although some in not so flattering surroundings or light at the time. Birds were scarce during my visit, partly due to the lack of water, partly do to the time of year. Spring migration would certainly be a more productive time for birds at Turnbull, but most locations along the auto-tour route leave you a fair distance from the water. One thing that Turnbull does allow all year is the ability to leave your vehicle. Now we all know that the vehicle actually does work as a great blind, so you would probably only flush every bird around if you got out and started walking around; a catch-22 I suppose.
As for the auto-tour route, I found that light at most locations was best in the late afternoon. Shooting around refuge headquaters on foot is good both in the morning, and late afternoon. The first pond you come to on your right as you approach headquarters has a nice easy mile long loop trail that goes around it, so at various points along the way good light can be had either in the morning or in late afternoon. Blackhorse Lake in middle of the loop has a good assortment of water birds to photograph throughout the day as well. One of the reasons I visited at this time of year was to try and catch the Aspens in their glorious Fall colors…I couldn’t have hit it more closely; they were absolutely brilliant! The Aspen tend to lie in small bands scattered around the refuge in random locations. You just need to drive around and find some in good light either in the morning or late afternoon when the light is warm and the colors really pop.
In my next post I will talk a bit about my visit to Little Pend Orielle and Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuges. They too were beautiful places, although quite different than Turnbull. Stay tuned!