Still Lots of Birds at Bear River

What do you do when you discover that half of the refuge is dry? First, you spend a lot of time looking at very, very parched ground since there isn’t much else you can do. If you’re lucky, you spot a bird taking advantage of new habitats, like this Curlew,

and, for the first time, see it fish in a stream.

And when you get back to a wet area you can watch a male Ruddy Duck

trying to attract a mate by blowing some impressive bubbles.

You might even chance on an Eastern Kingbird sitting on one of the few branches to be found around what is left of the pond.

Magically, places like Malheur or Bear River manage to attract wildlife even under extreme conditions.

Another Sandhill Crane

We went to Bear River Migratory Refuge to see Western Grebe and Avocet chicks — we didn’t see a single one. Instead, the highlight of the visit was another sighting of a Sandhill Crane chick, not once twice.

If that wasn’t ironical enough, the best pictures of the chick were taken by Leslie who was using the camera I just replaced and an older, less powerful lens. As it turned out, we sighted the cranes on Leslie’s side of the car, and I had my camera attached to the door mount, making it difficult, though not quite impossible to get a shot. By swinging the door open, I was able to get this shot.

The biggest problem was the high grass between us and the Cranes, which probably prevented them from being spooked but made focusing damn near impossible.

We circles a second time in the afternoon when we had switched sides in the car and we spotted the Cranes again, but this time they were further away.

Leslie shot a lot of shots of the parents and chicks; so, it was difficult to decide which shot a liked best, especially since all of them had technical faults. She fought the same grass I did but was able to catch them when they were less obscured.

Technically, this seems like the clearest shot,

but this was my favorite pose.

If you’re into irony, we probably saw more Avocets in this series of shots than we did anywhere else.

Pictures or no pictures, we both were excited by the sighting. It made the trip worthwhile just by itself.

At Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

When I planned our birding trip, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was supposed to be the main destination and we planned to spend two days, or longer, there. It certainly started out on a high note.

We spotted several Curlews

in the fields on our drive to the refuge.

The ditches leading up to the auto tour were filled with Yellow-Headed Blackbirds,

where we had never seen them before.

We spotted several Snowy Egrets in the ponds

and flushed two or three juvenile herons at the beginning of the auto tour.

Unfortunately, that auspicious beginning turned out to be misleading. Most of the refuge had been drained for “20-year” repairs to the dikes. We only saw a couple of Avocets and not a single Western Grebe with chicks. We drove 6 miles looking at parched, cracked land that revealed what the refuge would probably look like without government intervention.

We ended up circling the refuge twice in one day and would probably have left mid-day if we hadn’t already reserved a room for the next night. Ironically, the day we got to Santa Rosa I got a note from John telling me of the repairs, so we must have both been there at nearly the same time.

Friends of Malheur

I can’t remember ever visiting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge without stopping at the headquarters. It’s a great place to find out where the hotspots are on the refuge, but it’s also a great place to get shots of birds I seldom see anywhere else. Most of the birds are taking advantage of the feeders, like this male Evening Grosbeak

and this female Evening Grosbeak.

The spilled seeds are liable to attract ground-feeders like this male California Quail.

The numerous ground squirrels seem to have attracted a Great Horned Owl family. The refuge had a scope set up on the tree where three fledglings had just left the nest. This little guy looked like he was all tuckered out and needed a little help standing up.

Friends of Malheur , which has just relocated their office, is a great place to stop.