It’s Still Cold at Malheur

After last week’s auspicious start to my Malheur trip, I stopped at the visitor’s center and received some distressing news. First, the refuge was unusually dry due to last year’s drought and to the fact that the snow hadn’t melted off the nearby Steens yet. Even worse, for me personally, was that the snow hadn’t started melting because night-time temperatures were still dropping to 18°, well below the forecast that I had read before setting out on my trip.

I instantly revised my plans of sleeping in the car overnight. No matter how much money I could save, I wasn’t going to sleep overnight and get up and make breakfast with those kind of temperatures. Fortunately that meant that I had several more hours to bird my first day since I didn’t have to worry about setting up camp and eating before dark. So, after a short stop to capture the shots of these unusual squirrels,

squirrels in ground

I headed out for some serious birding, thinking it was unlikely I would stay as long as I had planned and certainly wouldn’t be heading over the Steens through the antelope refuge.

On my way out to Ruh Red Road I made a quick stop to see if the grebes I’ve seen at the pond outside Narrows in the past were there this year. They were, both a Clark’s Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

and a Western Grebe.

Western Grebe with Carp

With fishing like that, it’s obvious why you can usually count on seeing them in this pond. The grebe seemed to be having trouble figuring out what to do with that much fish.

I’m sure that this White Pelican I saw out on Ruh Red Road wouldn’t have had nearly the problem with the fish that the Western Grebe did.

White Pelican

There wasn’t nearly as much water as there was last Spring when I was there, less than half as much water and less than half as many birds. I was surprised not to see a single Ibis, a bird that was common last year.

Still, I got to see birds I never see on my side of the Cascades, like this Black-Necked Stilt,

Black-Necked Stilt

and this pair of American Avocets who seemed to be flirting,

American Avocets

if not quite ready to tie the knot.

My early start allowed me to get in nearly five hours of birding, not bad after driving 450 miles. Little did I know that I would actually get some of the best lighting of the trip in these early evening hours because it was slightly overcast and the sun was coming from behind me most of the time.