Posted by: atowhee | October 13, 2009

Malheur: Day One

“Malheur” means roughly “bad times.”  And for early explorers around this high elevation salty lake surrounded by rugged rimrock topped fault scarps and sagebrush steppe, it would have been bad times, both coming and going. There’s a nearby Malheur River, and even a Malheur County.  Though Malheur NWR is in Harney County.

For birders these days “Malheur” means “Bonne Terre.”  Good land.  Thanks in no small part to our first serious conservationists President, birder Theodore Roosevelt.  He made it a protected place over a century ago.  Since then Malheur has expanded to over 185,000 acres.  Some of it lake, some seasonal wetland,some sagebrush country, some steep uplands.  Altogether as rich a  cross-seciton as you can find anywhere in the American Great Basin.

I arrived in late afternoon, but the birds were immediately visible.  Most abundant must have been the White-crowned Sparrows.  These are a hearty race down from the Arctic, bigger than the coastal variety I am used to seeing.  Ravens and Black-billed Magpies were both plentiful.ROADSIDE RAVEN BEST

BUENA VISTA OVERLOOKThis is the view from a rimrock, looking down on Buena Vista Ponds.  The rim’s at about 4300 feet.   Here were several species of waterfowl, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marsh Wren, a Harrier or two.  And here’s the Blitzen River Valley.  It brings water down from the Steens Mountains to th eeast and south.  They rise almost 10,000 ft. & so sweep significant moisture from winter storms in most years.  The river’s official name: Donner und Blitzen River.IMG_0206










Two animals active until sunset:



Here’s the Malheur official website.IMG_0199

My visit was aimed at familiarity.  This is not the high season for birding.  The best times for mor plentifulspecies: April-May, then mid-August through September.   I had missed the crowds of both people and birds.  The sageland sparrows had withdrawn, Wilson’s Phalarope, any breeding flycatchers–all had gone south.  But my real goal was to figure out birding routes for a trip planned for next May, driving times, distances, facilities.  Never plan a birding trip where you can’t locate the next toilet!

A trio of lingering Sage Thrashers not far from the Field Station where I stayed were a happy bonus.  I had feared they would all be gone.  Oregon lifer #261. The resident birdman is Duncan Evered who manages the field station and birds in every spare hour.  Evered is a professionally trained ornithologist.  He says in spring there are dozens of thrashers where now I would find one or two that hadn’t migrated, yet. 

Location:     Malheur NWR
Observation date:     10/8/09
Notes:     Thrasher was an Oregon lifer for me
Number of species:     29

Canada Goose     X
Gadwall     X
American Wigeon     X
Mallard     X
Northern Shoveler     X
Green-winged Teal     X
Canvasback     X
Bufflehead     X
Ruddy Duck     X
California Quail     X
Pied-billed Grebe     X
Great Blue Heron     X
Northern Harrier     X
Red-tailed Hawk     X
American Coot     X
Greater Yellowlegs     X
Long-billed Dowitcher     X
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)     X
Common Raven     X
American Robin     X
Sage Thrasher     X [Oregon Lifer]
European Starling     X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)     X
White-crowned Sparrow     X
Golden-crowned Sparrow     X,  Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)     X
Red-winged Blackbird     X
Lesser Goldfinch     X
House Sparrow     X

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