My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Extreme Birding

Extreme Birding [Formerly Sunrise to Sunset]:

The goal of this tour is to view 100 plus species across the Harney Basin. Friday tour participants will have the added bonus of an evening multi-media review of species, including photo highlights of the day during a no host dinner. Travel plans include visiting habitats of ponderosa pine, western juniper, sagebrush, agricultural fields, wetlands, sewage ponds and backyards from Idlewild Campground through the Silvies River floodplain, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Frenchglen. Everyone gets a window seat on this tour! Local biologists will serve as your tour guides for this jam packed day of birding. Bring snacks, drinks and lunch.Birding Intensity III
Friday - 6:00 to 6:00; 12 hours. Fee: $95
Saturday - 6:00 to 4:00; 9 hours. Fee: $80

This is  the description of the trip for which I drove one of the vans on Friday, April 13.  It was a most lucky day, in spite of the bad luck associated with this date. The worst luck I had was in setting two alarm clocks WRONG and then waking up about 20 minutes before I had to leave.  But I had my coffee ready to turn on, and lunch made so I was at the pickup site early.

We first traveled to a site in Malheur National Forest where we saw several white-headed woodpeckers, including getting to watch two of them copulating. We also found a pygmy owl calling with western bluebirds and chickadees harassing it. Then we came back to Hines/Burns - our two adjacent towns and stopped at a yard where there are lots of shrubs, bushes, trees, feeders, and a pond for the birds. We got American and lesser goldfinches there as well as Cassin's finch and house finch. They also have rosy finches, but I didn't see any.

Then we  went to the wet fields around Burns and saw most of the ducks - we only missed blue-winged teal - all the geese, snows, Ross's, white-fronted and Canada, black-necked stilts, avocets, long-billed curlews and sage thrashers. Here is a picture of what we think are a pair of nesting long-billed curlews.

We went on the refuge and on the way stopped to see a golden eagle on the nest which was the size of a Volkswagon sitting on a cliff. We also saw Forrester terns, Clark's, western, and eared grebes.

We saw a few sparrows and a common loon. Also lots of raptors, including Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, a Cooper's, several kestrels and harriers and a bald eagle. And owls- at noon we were watching a short-eared flying and landing on a tiny strip of grass in Malheur lake.  We saw two nests of great horned owls, one built on the underpinnings of the bridge over the Narrows - the strip of water that connects Malheur and Mud  Lakes.  And late this evening, we saw several night herons and two burrowing owls as well as several hundred pelicans.

 A well spent sixteen hours.  The refuge really likes that I don't stop working at 32 hours a week and I really love getting to go on these free tours.

This is Howard, our tour guide and a National Forest employee. The tour had two vans, but we got separated at this point. 

NEWS FLASH!  I just spent 2 hours with a SNOWY OWL  and met two new friends.  The snowy owl is only a couple of miles north of the refuge.  It stayed in one spot the whole time we watched it.  But we did get to watch two short-eared owls flying around several times. This was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hopefully it will stay here.  Kelly, one half of the couple I met, had collected thirty-some of the pellets of the snowy owl that was here this winter and knew everything it had eaten.  That bird was about another twelve miles away and they don't think this is the same bird that disappeared late this past January. And the couple were native east Texans so we had fun chatting while waiting for the owl to fly, which it never did before it was too dark to see it. 

 I came home really tired and was struggling to finish this blog. Then I decided to go look for the snowy owl one more time - it was first seen at 7:20 A.M. and I took my tour past its location on the way to our destination and on the way back to town. I left my blog pictures loading. But after finding the owls - did I mention I also saw three burrowing owls today, one three times? - I feel totally energized again.

 Oh yes, our group saw over 107 species.  I personally only saw about 90. But sometimes I had to drive and couldn't look backwards. The group in the  other van saw species we didn't and we saw some species they didn't. This was a record number of birds for this tour. And several groups saw the snowy owl before the tour ended so he ended up in the festival count.