A Quick Stop-over at Malheur

It’s a serious drive from our house to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, so we’ve made it a habit in recent years to stop at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the way. I didn’t have any great expectations about finding birds, but I knew from experience I would see birds and animals I probably wouldn’t see around home.

I was shocked to see how far the lake had receded since we were there at the beginning of summer. Yellowlegs were taking advantage of the concentrated fish.

I didn’t recognize them at first because I’ve never seen so many of Yellowlegs together before.

We got an early start the next morning, heading South on our way to Elko, Nevada. This coyote glanced at us, and immediately went back to hunting in the recently cut hay fields.

A little further down the road, Leslie spotted this deer peering at us through the unusually tall grass.

A small flock of Red-Shafted/Yellow-Shafted intergrade Flickers escorted us through the refuge for several miles, giving me a chance to finally capture a decent shot before it, too, flew off up the road.

Though I would have been disappointed if I’d driven all the way to Malheur to bird and seen so few birds, it offered a welcome refuge from endless miles of nothing.

A Morning Drive through Malheur

Although our main destination was Bear River in Utah, I love Malheur and wasn’t going to leave without spending another morning birding before heading out. Although I couldn’t manage to capture a shot of the Bob-o-link that I look for this time of year, we did spot a Sand Hill Crane in the same field where we usually spot the Bob-o-links.

The highlight of the morning probably came when we spotted a pair of Great Horned Owls

in the small trees than line the Blitzen River,

though I’ll have to admit that I’m particularly fond of the Yellow Warblers

and Willow Flycatchers

that frequent the willows that line the southern end of the refuge.

You never know what you will find at Malheur. This is the first time I’ve seen Cedar Waxwings there.

A Little Bit of Everything

With water levels high at Malheur, I wondered if there would be as many birds on Ruh Red Lane as there had been in years before the recent drought. I’ve gotten some of my best pictures of Avocets and Black-necked Stilts there. It certainly didn’t look very promising as we headed out the road; all we saw for quite a while was this Western Kingbird perched on the barbed wire fence.

With prospects looking a little dim, I was relieved when we actually ran into some water along side the road. There weren’t too many birds in sight, but there was a Black-necked Stilt,

one of the two birds I’d gone looking for.

A little ways down the road Leslie got this shot of as Snowy Egret foraging next to a White-Faced Ibis.

On our way back I managed to get a shot of this male Curlew (or is it a Whimbrel?) that Leslie sighted.

While at the refuge headquarters I read that someone had spotted Golden eaglet, so I decided to check out the nest that I had seen several years before without ever spotting any Golden Eagles. Sure enough, we spotted two eaglet stretching their wings and peering over the nest, a first-ever for me.

I knew that we were too late to see large numbers of migrating birds, but I’m never disappointed by the wide variety of birds I see at Malheur.

Willets in Action

Although I’ve seen many Willets on the ocean shore in both Washington and California, I didn’t have any idea what it was when first confronted by one in Malheur. When I saw one flying by, I got out of the car and tried to capture it in flight. That turned out to be a lot easier to do than expected because instead of flying away as most birds do, “it,” and as it turned out, “they,” flew directly over my head several times, protesting constantly until the first one landed nearby and glared at me. I lost track of the first bird when a second Willet appeared, flying even closer than the first had flown and complained even louder until it, too, landed on nearby sagebrush. At that point it took off to join the first bird as they retreated into the heavy brush. A little online research indicates that Willets spend the winter on the coastline but nest in grasslands and prairies near fresh water.