Seasons of Wildlife

Mule Deer Seasons

You can define Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge by its colors, or more precisely, as it adds colors to its landscape palate.

  • Spring

    Mule Deer Spring

    Green. Spring is when the entire refuge is green, with highlights of the bright yellows of balsamroot, the pale pinks of primrose, the deep purples of lupine, the brilliant reds of blackbird wings and the quick flashes of a million other colors of passing migratory birds in their courtship plumages. But the refuge is not a uniform green; a thousand shades are evident in every direction. Towards the river, cottonwoods unfurl light green leaves, soon to darken with maturity. Coyote willow buds are a soft, pale green. Needle-and-thread grass is more of a medium green, contrasted against the blue-green of bluebunch wheatgrass. Even the ever-present, always hated, barely tolerated cheatgrass is a colorful blanket of green. But cheatgrass leads the procession of the refuge to summer . . .

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  • Summer

    Coyote Summer

    Brown. The spring greens of the shrub-steppe and grasslands have faded with the onset of the dry season into a landscape of brown. Even the colors of the sagebrush have faded, as well as the breeding plumages of the birds that have stayed. But since Umatilla isn't in the middle of the high desert, ribbons of green still persist along the waterways and sloughs, and it is here that you find the focus of life in a Umatilla summer. But even these spots of green soon turn to . . .

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  • Fall

    Mule Deer Autumn

    Gold. The browns and greens of summer linger into the fall, but now the landscape takes on a hue of gold. Part of this is from the sun changing its angle in the sky and many of the short wavelengths of sunlight being filtered through the desert air. The harsh light of the summer is fading. But mainly the new colors arrive with the turning of farm fields and desert shrubs. Rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, currants, willows—all add a touch of gold to the landscape. Other willows add touches of red, as do the few sumacs, while cottonwoods add some yellows. Resident animals are preparing for the coming winter, although the work isn't too hard—winters along the Columbia are fairly easy. Still, beavers are laying in a supply of branches, mule deer take advantage of golden fields of grain, both on and off the refuge, to lay on fat and rattlesnakes head to winter dens. The real 'workers' are the waterfowl and songbirds migrating through from their summer homes in the north to overwintering sites far to the south. But not everything passes through, and as we head into winter, we add . . .

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  • Winter

    Snow Geese Winter

    White. But it's not necessarily from snow. As we said, winters are fairly easy in the mid-Columbia. Much of the white of a Umatilla winter comes from flocks of snow geese—hundreds or even thousands to a single flock. Swans, both tundra and trumpeter, add individual splashes of white. An occasional snowy owl, driven out of the north by an exceptionally harsh winter, is gift of white, attracting the attention of birders from around the region. And while snows don't blanket the refuge for the winter, they are far from rare, just not persistent. A desert snowfall is a special treat, a new perspective, a chance to try out new skills, be it cross-country skiing or wildlife tracking. The dry, crystalline desert air allows the sun to turn the land so brilliant, so dazzling, it's almost impossible to observe with the unaided eye. But apart from its visual appeal, the snows of winter are preparing the land to become the greens of spring once again.

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