To add some fun to this freezing New Year, I asked our main blog participants to give their 2021 highlights. What was your favorite trail, favorite reptile, favorite moment? Here are their replies and photos – share your own answers in the comments!
Hike of the Year
Rosey: In June I did an 11-mile hike on the CZ Trail starting from Nehalem Divide. It was so relaxing hiking that far through the woods at my own pace.
Lucas: My favorite hike this year was going up Grayham Creek in October. The creek and springs were beautiful, we were able to get a lot of the targets we were looking for, and the best part was finding Torrent Salamanders.
Matt: Trekking to Carcus Creek Falls. Lots of unknowns and bushwhacking and wrong turns but ultimately successful. Trip is detailed here.
Jon: I have to say Carcus Creek Falls as well. Trudging off trail in remote forest, finding Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes and lots of salamanders, Pacific Jumping Mice hopping around, working out a safe descent into the canyon, and finding that beautiful waterfall.
Best birding moment
Lucas: My favorite bird sighting is this juvenile Bald Eagle I saw low in a tree at Dalton Lake while on an evening walk with my family.
Jon: It has to be the Nighthawk that Lucas startled in a clearcut. The surprised bird made these big swooping loops above us, the most acrobatic flight.
Rosey: My daughter Sophia and I got to watch a mama Barn Swallow and delight every time she returned to feed her eager babies. (unfortunately we didn’t get a picture)
Matt: Seeing my first American Bittern, a very cool looking bird. The bittern was holding pose in a pond at the Scappoose Bottoms of the CZ trail.
Number one reptile
Rosey: It was exciting to find a special, pretty, almost blue garter snake and then find out it was a Western Terrestrial Garter, a species Jon and Matt hadn’t recorded yet.
Jon: I had old memories of finding Yellow-bellied Racers at Trestle Beach when I was a kid, but I hadn’t seen one in decades and wasn’t sure if my memory was accurate until I chased down a young one there this year.
Lucas: A juvenile Western Skink that I frantically grabbed as it was trying to get away down a hole and the only thing I saw of it was its bright blue tail. Then shortly after that finding a small rubber boa a few feet away.
Matt: Finding my first Western Terrestrial Garter of the county was nice but a trifecta Rubber Boa at my house was my favorite. Shortly after moving to the outskirts of Scappoose I placed roofing tin cover around to see what may make a home underneath. It didn’t take long to discover a healthy population of Rubber Boas helping keep the mouse and vole populations in check.
Favorite trail for repeat visits this year
Matt: Bonnie Falls Trailhead CZ Trail. Ended up hiking this one quite a bit, easy access from town with some nice trees and scenery off the highway.
Lucas: The most enjoyable trail for me is the small walk around Dalton Lake because every time I go it feels like I see something new and exciting.
Jon: Camp Wilkerson became one of my favorite trail systems in the area, with its big trees, varied landscapes, and quiet ambiance.
Rosey: I love how many stretches of the CZ Trail are beautiful in unique ways. I couldn’t pick just one trailhead!
Top amphibian find
Jon: The moment I found the first confirmed Cope’s Giant Salamander in Columbia County. Matt and I were in a beautiful canyon creek searching opposite sides of a log jam. Matt yelled, “I found a tailed frog!” and I yelled back “I think I got a Cope’s Giant!”
Matt: (technically December last year but still within a year) My first Coastal Giant in the county was nice looking transformed adult. These huge adults hearken back to a prehistoric time as these salamanders are fitting of their “giant” namesake.
Rosey: Watching Sophie’s delight at holding a little creature in her hands when she was catching treefrogs.
Lucas: My most pleasurable amphibian finds are the Long-toed Salamanders around my house. It brings me joy seeing they’re able to persist through the construction of a neighborhood.
Special mammal sighting
Matt: The river otters detailed in Scappoose Bottoms post. Seeing a whole family was exciting and a joy to watch them play around.
Jon: Coming back late at night after a long day of surveys, I saw a bulky shape waddling across Cater Road. As I came to a stop I was surprised to see my headlights lighting up a beaver on the road!
Lucas: This year my favorite mammal sighting is a long-tailed weasel that was very curious of what I was doing. It felt like a reward to see after going through many blackberry bushes at Liberty Hill.
Rosey: I saw my first beaver in November as I stood and looked out at the river near Dalton Lake. It didn’t mind me at all, just slowly went across my scope of vision until it turned, the tail came up, and it went under.
The year’s single top outdoor moment
Matt: Finding an undocumented big waterfall (post coming soon) near the Clatskanie River. Jon and I exploring a steep forested stream led to a surprise waterfall.
Rosey: I loved kayaking in Scappoose Bay, after getting past the open area into the narrower meandering passages. I loved being out on the water, being part of life around me – the birds, the trees, the turtles.
Jon: I know I’m repeating myself but approaching the waterfall at Carcus Creek Falls was such a big payoff moment on a great day.
Lucas: For an overall favorite moment it was probably the gorgeous Red-spotted Garter Snake at Liberty Hill. That moment kinda sealed the deal with wanting to really get into herping and learn more about these animals. With herping this year I feel like I’ve found something that I have a purpose for and brings me genuine joy.
A merry Christmas and happy New Year to everyone, and I hoped you enjoyed our post a fraction as much as we enjoyed these experiences. Here’s to a great 2022 in the outdoors for everyone in Columbia County!