My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Memories of My Time at Malheur NWR

I wrote the original blog in late summer of 2012, as I was about to take a series of vacations, then come back to Malheur NWR for another few months. Thought it might be nice for you to see what it looks like normally. 

This tower is identical to the one at Sacramento NWR, my last assignment, so was a welcome first sight of Malheur NWR. And it has been  the scene from the kitchen window of Coyote Hollow, and from the living room window of Carp Haven. And when we spot it on the way back from Crane Hot Springs - our Tuesday night out place this summer - we know we are only a few miles from the refuge and bed. It has been declared unsafe to use, but a pair of owls raise their kids in it each year. 

Several species of animals were always entertaining  us all over the refuge headquarters. The Belding ground squirrels have gone back into hibernation after their grass dried up.  They spend up to nine months hibernating, but have been out most of the time since I arrived. One squirrel trained me to leave bird seed near his burrow by coming towards me and whistling every time I brought the seeds around to fill the feeders. And another would climb my yard willow tree to eat oranges and peanut butter. 

The California quail are also always present and usually cheering for Chi-ca-go. They often distracted me from my computer work.  I had to stop work to take this picture out my window. Now most of their children are full grown but I saw one pair with little babies a few days ago.

The Donner and Blitzen  River brings the refuge the water it needs to maintain the wetlands before filling up Malheur, Mud, and Harney Lakes. This part of the river has been rehabilitated to make it a better habitat for the local redband trout. This view of the river from near P-Ranch, is my favorite river view.

Owls played a huge role in my bird life at the refuge. The late afternoons and evenings were enhanced by the flight of short-eared owls over the golden fields. A burrowing owl family raised a family of five, only a few yards from the highway  to Burns. I stopped to look for them almost every time I went by. And a snowy owl passed through our area in early April and I got to get a life look at it.

A pair of great horned owls  has lived in the fire tower for several years. I often fell asleep listening to their conversation. They raised two babies.  A few nights ago, I heard the youngsters calling for their supper and found them sitting together. The last time I had found them, they still had baby grey feathers on their heads.

Willows are an important tree on the refuge. The Civil Conservation Corp planted non-native golden willows at Benson Pond. Today they provide holes for tree swallows and produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen that attract all kinds of bugs. And the native coyote willows are found along the Blitzen River and various canals. They too, support insect and bird life and are the best place to find yellow warblers, vireos, raptors, and owls.

The land here is a wonderful mix of desert, volcanic outcroppings, and wetlands. The beauty is doubled by the shallow waters when it reflects a sunset or a cloud-strewn sky.

The late afternoon sun turns the low hills to gold.

One of the reasons I wanted to be here in the late spring and early summer was to see breeding ducks and waders. This avocet built her nest only a few feet from the road.  I took this picture from my car. A few weeks later, the pond that was just behind her dried up and I never did see the avocet babies. But I have seen lots of black-necked stilt babies.

One of my big jobs here was to collect bees so we could get a baseline idea of the species that occur here. I'm also working on a display that will have dried flowers, bees, and butterflies from the refuge in it. This was probably the first bee I saw up here.

One of the birding hot spots on the Refuge is Krumbo Swamp.  It is just where the road to Krumbo Reservoir is gated.  There is a great overlook where you can set up a scope and enjoy birds for a half hour or more. And the hill above Krumbo Reservoir held the most wildflowers this spring.

The refuge has the westernmost breeding population of bobolinks.  When the males arrive in June, the immediately start singing from every shrub, post or fence available to them.  But soon they are living most of their lives down in the grasses of the wet fields.

As soon as part of the Steens Mountain Loop Road opened, I went up to Steens Mountain Campground and camped for a few lovely days. Later I got to drive the entire loop but still haven't had time to do some of the hikes I would have like to do.

A beautiful valley along the Steens Mountain Loop Road.

We are always excited when we find black-crowned night herons.  This one was near one of my bee transects and flew a short ways, then stopped to watch me take his picture.

Life here depends on the water from the snow melt off Steens Mountain. And the mountain dominates our landscape from much of the refuge. This was one of the first pictures I took of it and is one of my favorites.

This blog was written just before I went on a series of vacations from Arizona to the Boundary Waters. Then I came back for a few more months at this magnificent place, leaving after the first snow storm of the season. 

For more blogs on wild birds, click on the picture.