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.

Think Green

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is much greener this year than it has been for years due to an unusually wet Winter. Still, I wasn’t ready for what we saw on the two days we were there. Page Springs Campground was almost tropical. Red-wing Blackbirds

staked their claim to the ponds at the entrance to the campground.

This fawn nearly disappeared in the tall grass lining the creek at the south end of the refuge,

though I suspect it might have been harder to spot if the grass was its usual brown color.

I’m not sure I would have ever been able to spot this Nighthawk if it hadn’t been for the tall green grass lining the main road.

The creeks that lined the road were emerald-green, reflecting the vivid green reeds and grasses that lined them. This Cinnamon Teal seemed even more striking than usual by contrast.

It wasn’t as green on the northern end of the refuge, though this is the first time in several years there’s been any water there. Like the fawn, this Meadowlark stood out against the green background.

It appeared that the refuge managers haven’t flooded parts of the refuge that are usually flooded, making it harder to predict where to find birds you’ve seen in the past. I wondered if managers were intentionally draining some ponds to help eradicate the carp that damage the habitat. Whatever the reason, wildlife seemed more dispersed than in the previous two or three years because there is more water available, a good thing for the wildlife even if not quite so good for photographers and bird watchers.

A Quick Stop at Malheur (I hate autoCorrect)

Leslie wanted to avoid the long drive straight to Bear River in Utah, so I decided I would take a last chance to visit Malheur before the Fall migration. As it turned out, we got there rather late at night and left rather early in the morning. We still managed to get a few nice shots, like this one of a Pronghorn Antelope MalheurAntlop and this one of swans and two cygnet. 16Swans On our way out in early morning we saw a lot of deer, but this was my favorite shot. MrnngBuck We also spotted favorites like this Night Heron MlhrNitHrn and this male Ruddy Duck. 16Rddy We saw more Eastern Kingbirds EstrnKnmgbrd than I’ve ever seen outside of California. It seemed like an auspicious start for a week-long birding trip.

Before I Leave Malheur

Luckily, not everything that happens in life fits into neat categories. So, as much as the English teacher in me likes to retell my trips in thematic units, it always turns out that some of my favorite photos don’t fit any of my preconceived notions.

I’d never seen a Solitary Sandpiper


at Malheur on my many trips, but this one was impossible to miss.

Nearly all the White-Faced Ibis


I saw on this trip were too far away are too deep in foliage to get a decent picture, but this lone ibis flushed right in front of my camera.

I go to Malheur to see birds, but on this trip I fell in love with these


two wildflowers


on my last stop before leaving for Tule wildlife refuge in Northern California.