On the Way to Malheur

I’ve been planning a Spring trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since last Fall. I even invested in a new heater and a new ice chest to deal with the cold nights and the hot days. Unfortunately, I was unable to go in early Spring when I’d intended to go, and I’d promised to take Lael back and forth to school next week, so that left with me a small window of opportunity. So, despite the forecast for rain four of the five days I intended to be there, I decided to go.

It poured all the way down I-5 and over Mt. Hood, but the rain turned to heavy clouds once I got on the other side of the Cascades. Clouds, particularly heavy clouds, aren’t ideal when photographing, but they’re certainly better than rain when you’re car camping.

As I neared the refuge, I knew I’d made the right decision, no matter what the weather. There were birds I seldom see everywhere I looked. I had to stop the car in the middle of the highway long before I got to the refuge to take pictures of this Yellow Headed Blackbird, a bird I haven’t seen since I was last in Malheur.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I’d never seen so many terns before, and I couldn’t resist trying to capture them in flight,

Franklin Tern

though I would have loved to have had a blue, instead of gray, sky behind them.

There were flocks of White Pelicans right beside the road,

White Pelicans

though the high winds and cloudy skies made it look more like ocean swells than the small, quiet pond I expected.

I had to double back, though, when I spotted a pair of Avocets in breeding colors,

 Avocet in breeding colors

a bird I’ve been trying desperately to photograph ever since I saw it in a brochure two years ago.

I even spotted another target-bird, an Eared Grebe in breeding colors.

Eared Grebe

Though I was frustrated by the bird’s shyness and by the poor lighting, I was thrilled to see that they were here, figuring I get better pictures in the following days.

As expected, I did get some great light while I was there, but the weather was a challenge. Although the clouds cleared out in the evening, high winds made it nearly impossible to get out of the car or cook outside, much less bird. I ended up coming home a day early when afternoon temperatures dropped to 37 degrees and rain squalls made me run for cover several times.

Still, it’s probably a good thing I couldn’t shoot more than I did because I came home with well over 1,000 shots and have spent many hours just trashing the worst of the shots. In reality, most of the shots on this page will probably be deleted before I’m through because I got better shots of all these birds in the days to follow.That’s not unusual because later shots often turn out to be the best shots.

I usually stop a fair distance away and take shots in case I frighten a bird by approaching with camera in hand. More often than not, though, I end up getting a bit closer without disturbing birds even though I quit approaching if I see that a bird is getting nervous. Deleting pictures is an integral part of shooting digitally, I’m afraid.