On the Way to Malheur

The drive between John Day and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge unexpectedly proved the most exciting part of the four-day trip. THE most heart-stopping moment of the trip came right out of John Day when four deer suddenly appeared on the right side of the road as I came around a corner, until one somehow appeared on the left side of the car. I’m still not sure how I missed hitting one of the four, perhaps because the car was lugging and I was only going 35 mph.

But that moment was quickly forgotten when I happened to look out on large open field as I was motoring down Highway 395 at 60 miles an hour and spotted these Sandhill Cranes. Of course I couldn’t safely stop, but I turned around and circled back. I must have sat there shooting pictures for a half hour, capturing several great poses. Unfortunately those photos turned out grainy because it was 6:00 AM and clouds obscured what little light there was. These photos were taken from the exact same spot in the evening when I was returning to John Day and there was more light.

I’ve only seen Sand Hill Cranes at Northwest Trek, and at quite a distance, so I was enthralled by their unexpected presence beside the highway, especially since they seemed entirely indifferent to my existence.

Sand Hill Cranes

I’m assuming that this pose was part of the courtship ritual, but, if so, the partner seemed more concerned with personal grooming than her partner’s considerable attributes.

Sandhill Crane

I happened to look across the drainage ditch where I was photographing, and what should I see but a pair of Cinnamon Teal, quickly becoming a common theme in this trip.

Cinnamon Teal pair

I was only a few miles down the road when I had to pull over again because I spotted this antelope, the first one I’ve seen in the wild in nearly 40 years.

Pronghorn Antelope

Thirty five miles from the Malheur Refuge I spotted a flock of Bonaparte Gulls, the first time I’ve ever seen them in breeding colors.

Bonaparte's Gull in Breeding Colors

After a great start to the day, I had great expectations for the time I would actually spend at Malheur.

Back to Umatilla

This week’s trip to South-Eastern Oregon began with a stop at the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge in North-Eastern Oregon where I’d had such good luck last fall. Unfortunately, Monday’s visit wasn’t nearly as rewarding, but I was happy to get this picture of a Western Kingbird, a bird I haven’t seen since my son and his family moved to Southern California from Colorado.

Western Kingbird

I also managed to startle myself, and this family of Canada Geese, when I stopped to look out into the Columbia River from an overhang and nearly stepped on the parents and their brood.


As you can see, much scolding took place as they retreated out into the small bay. It was the first goslings I’ve seen this year, but I felt bad that I’d scared them like that since I always try not disturb wildlife when I’m photographing it.

The highlight of the day was watching a pair of Northern Harriers apparently courting each other, though there was actually two males and a single female darting about:

female Norhtern Harrier

I’ll have to admit I was most impressed by this male who made several passes directly over my head,

male Northern Harrier

but that was probably because males seem much rarer.

I was also thrilled when I managed to get this first-ever shot of a CinnamonTeal flying,

flying Cinnamon Teal

while in retrospect it doesn’t seem nearly as special considering other birds I saw during the week and how many Cinnamon Teal I ended up seeing during the week. Despite the fact that I’ve only seen a few of them in the five years I’ve been birding, they seemed to be literally everywhere I went on this trip.

I’ll have to admit that it didn’t seem like a very auspicious start for my trip and I was disappointed that it was cloudy most of the day and I’d fled East to try to get some sunshine after one of the wettest April’s I can remember.

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