Posted by: atowhee | October 10, 2009

Heading to Malheur

“These northwestern lakes, hemmed in on all sides by mountains and forests and deserts, are abottleneck where birds must stop on their way south.”  –Roger Tory Peterson quoted in ROGER TORY PETERSON’S DOZEN BIRDING HOT SPOTS by George Harrison.  1976.

It was over two decades ago that my eldest son took an ornithology class at University of Oregon and that class took him to Malheur for a field trip.  Dad, he told me, you’ve got to see Malheur.  Well, finally, I have.

HOW LONG TO GO FROM ASHLAND TO MALHEUR: It was a 21 Magpie trip.  Those would all be Black-billed Magpies.

After I drove east out of the Klamath Basin I was in land I had never seen.  In Lakeview I saw my first definite Woodhouse Scrub-Jays should the AOU go ahead and split that species. Two were at the gas station where I filled up the car’s tank.

 The first major “wow” was Abert Rim northeast of Lakeview.  The rimrock is the exposed portion of a fault scarp, now an exposed cliff face hundreds of feet high overlooking a vast gently bowled valley.  ABERT RIM W SNOAbert Rim apparently is home to Bighorn Sheep which I did not see.

At the low point in the declevity:  Lake Abert which is a large and shallow remnant of ancient Lake Chewaucan. Now Abert has no outlet so it ‘s salty and breeds brine shrimp. LAKE ABERT1

  The lakeshore was a feeding spot for Avocet, Stilt, Canada Geese, GW Teal and a lone Killdeer. IMG_0174 Here’s my best Avocet shot:

In late summer there would have been thousands of Wilson’s Phalarope as well.  On the sagebrush hillsides above the lake: abundant WC Sparrow and YR Warblers. The latter seem fitted to even more habitats than the American Robin.  The north end of the lake is bordered by broad salt flats and the lakeshore shows salt crust in many places.L.ABERT SALT FLATS

HEADING EAST From Ashland you leave behind the damper forests with Oregon grape, big leaf maple, Madrone and Douglas-fir. You climb into the Cascades where Ponderosa, manzanita and white oak dominate the west facing slopes. Madrone disappears. Maples are found only in canyons with water. After the crest aspen appear and the undergrowth is sparser than in Rogue River Valley. By the time you get to the Klamath Basin sagebrush has become regular and juniper begins to appear. As you cross the Klamath Basin much of the habitat is altered by farming and irrigation. Once you leave agricultural land, juniper, Ponderosa and sagebrush dominate. Aspens seek out higher and wetter spots.aspens on Sprague River

Aspens in fall color along the Sprague River.





West of Bly an irrigated valley held this big raptor:FERRUG FRONT

There was a white-tailed Ferruginous Hawk circling as this guy sat on the irrigation equipment and I think this was Ferrug #2. 


Here’s a picture of his back.




By the time you pass Bly the Ponderosa plays out as does aspen. Cottonwoods are now confined to narrow riparian strips. The willows species are desert-adapted with pale silvery leaves.  Moving eastward, the land becomes ever more sparsely covered by vegetation, more open surface, even some dunes northeast of Lake Abert.    Solitaires were singing at rest stop 18 miles west of Burns. TONWSEND'S SOLITAIRE They winter where there are good juniper seed crops for their dining pleasure.

That rest stop has a nature trail (Sagehen Hill Nature Trail) that goes through the sagebrush and up a slope topped by juniper.WESTERN JUNIPER  The picture below is one of the elderly western junipers along the nature trail.  I did get one state lifer that first evening at Malheur, but that is for a later blog.

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