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Posted by: atowhee | September 21, 2018

HARNEY COUNTY IN LATE SUMMER

MALHEUR FOR ROAD SCHOLAR, SEPT. 2018

Sept. 14: Today I drove from McMinnville to Malheur…actually I drove most the way…there was the short ride on the Wheatland Ferry in the pre-dawn dark.

Best birding came at Chickahomony Reservoir. [Note, one sign at the reservoir spells it “Chickahominy”] Hundreds of ducks and coots, of course. One Pectoral Sandpiper, four Baird’s plus snipe, Least Sandpipers, Horned Larks and pipits galore.  Waves of White-crowned Sparrows are passing through…they seem to be behind every bush.  At least two dozen Sage Thrashers are headquartered now at the Malheur Field Station.

Saw no eagles anywhere today, one Yellow-rumped Warbler at Dry River Viewpoint in Deschutes.  Many Western Bluebirds on power lines along Hwy 20 in eastern Deschutes County.  Townsend’s Solitaire at small pond two miles south of Hwy 20 on Double OO Ranch Road between Sage Hen Rest Area and Burns…eating juniper berries naturally.

Headquarters pond at Malheur is now shallow puddle, dozens of quail at HQ…towhees bullying the White-crowns.

Sept. 15:  We began the day at NWR headquarters where we found tanagers, young Great Horned Owl, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Warbling Vireo, three Lewis’s Woodpeckers, a passing Peregrine, numerous Turkey Vultures and Ravens.  At one point nearly one hundred White Pelicans soared high above us , demonstrating the carrying capacity of their nearly nine-foot wingspan.  When the sun hit the white wings they gleamed with a near blinding purity.

Along Sodhouse Road we saw harriers, ravens, magpies, many Savannah Sparrows.

We were at Sage Hen Rest Area for lunch.  There we were treated to a wave of birds: Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Bluebirds, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Warbling Vireo, MacGillivray’s Warbler far from his usual damp, brushy habitat.

Chickahominy Reservoir: low on water but high in avian content.  One birder estimated 987 coots.  He was being quite conservative.  Highlights included Red-necked Phalarope spinning, Eared Grebes including a few in breeding plumage as well as many juveniles, Horned Lark, pipits, Baird’s Sandpipers (3), meadowlarks and several dabbler species including pintail.  Waves of barn Swallows passed over, similar to flocks we encountered numerous times during the week, though not in the Steens.

Sept. 16 At Malheur Field Station at dawn the Sage Thrashers (couple dozen) and Barn Swallows (dozens) were all about us.  We head south from The Narrows (now a pasture, not lakeshore) on Hwy 205.  .  Great Horned Owl in the west-facing cliffs south of Diamond Loop turn-off.  Buena Vista overlooked almost now water.  Rock Wren at the overlook.  A Prairie Falcon gave us a demonstration of purposeful speed as it passed.  There was a pair of cranes near the only pool of distant water.

On the Central Patrol Road between Krumbo Road and Benson Pond we saw a kingfisher but no Long-eared Owl.  There were pheasants along the road side, a common sight whenever we were on CPR or later the East Canal Road.

Lunch at Krumbo Reservoir.  Many diving ducks including Redheads, Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Duck and Bufflehead.  One the road in a pair of Golden Eagles soared overhead, one adult, one juvenile with the white tail band.  A Say’s Phoebe was working the hillside above the picnic tables.  Marsh Wren were in the tules near the boat ramp.  Here we saw our first western fence lizards, one less than two inches long.

Benson Pond was a mudflat—Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers were plentiful in the a ancient willows along the north end of the “pond.” We also found a bright green mantis in a blooming bush, waiting for some unwary bee or butterfly.

At Diamond Craters we found a Rock Wren, at the south end of Lava Beds Road, two more Golden Eagles, one young and one adult.  Did I mention that we saw thrashers crossing the roads                  wherever we went in the basin?

At the French Barn Visitors Center we found a dripping hose on the north side of the parking lot—a sparrow magnet.  Vesper…savannah…chipping.

 

Sept. 17 Our Road Scholar group had

At NWR HQ: Nashville Warbler, Western Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Hammond’s Flycatcher, RC Kinglets, Fox Sparrow, Rufous Hummigbirds.  Dozens of California Quail beneath the hanging bird feeders.

A large, fresh badger burrow on the edge of the visitors’ parking lot.

Tern Island (limited access, by air boat only): many shorebirds inc. both yellowlegs, LB dowitcher, avocet, stilt.  One lone Tree Swallow among the barnies.  Malheur Lake at about 10% capacity.  Water very shallow all around island.   Only gulls were Ring-billed.

En route to Tern Island on Boat Launch Road we passed numerous remains of carp, explaining the large number of black birds about—TVs and ravens.  A young Black-drowned Night-heron was our first sighting of this species.  Also sparrows around the boat ramp included a Brewer’s among the many savannah and song.

East end of Sodhouse Road, Princeton: 2 Golden Eagles

Hwy 78 between Princeton and Crane: Golden Eagle, Ferruginous (6), MacGillivray’s Warbler in sagebrush.

Crystal Crane Hot Springs (admission charge) at wildlife pond: Common Nighthawk in flight, Blue-winged teal and numerous other dabblers

Hwy 205, MP 7–juvenile Great Horned Owl hunting from fence post along highway, not a safe pursuit for the kid. Posed nicely for pictures.  Two snipe in the mud hole next to the ppower sub-station around MP6.

Sept. 18 Spent morning with biologist Teresa Wicks or Portland Audubon Society.  She took us south to Boca Lake and Dredger Pond in the southeast portion of the basin.  Both accessible only behind locked gates.  Our first pair of Trumpeters Swans on Boca. Got our first good looks at Gadwall.  Both yellowlegs sp. there.  Young White-faced Ibis close to the levee where we were.  Sora sneaking along the tules lining the canal Long-tailed weasels which captivated our photographers.

From there south along gated portion of East Canal Road—numerous pheasants, two more Trumpeters just south of the last gate, on Mud Creek Pond.  Another Great Horned Owl.  We missed a young Red-shouldered Hawk that Teresa spotted in lead car.

Lunch at Page Springs:  Cordilleran Flycatcher.  Another Great Horned Owl. Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers in the willows.  No chat was found.  House Wren, Lesser Goldfinches (the only ones all week), flickers Spotted Towhee, loud crowd of magpies. There we had both Virginia Rail and Sora.

On lower, north end of Steens Loop: Mountain Bluebirds and a lone Purple Finch plus scads of yellow-rumps and white-crowns.

 

Summary posted on 9-18: So far: Malheur NWR HQ will have no water fowl, lake dry. Benson Pond is dry…Chickahominy Reservoir is best public access lake with dabblers and shorebirds, Krumbo Reservoir has the common diving ducks and some grebes but no shorebird shoreline nor dabblers, but we got a pair of Golden Eagles up that box canyon…or you can pay to access Crystal Crane’s “wild lake” which has dabblers at least…the best lake is Boca (Trumpeters and dabblers and shorebirds), not accessible without help from the Portland Audubon biologist is you with a group…we also got NWR biologist to take us to Tern Island but that was mostly shorebirds…there are two Trumpeters on Mud Creek Pond accessible from Page Springs then north to end of East Canal Road but view is distant and other waterfowl difficult to see

We have seen two nighthawks and three flycatchers: Say’s Phoebe, Hammonds at HQ, Cordilleran at Page Springs, only phalarope (RN) At Chick…no curlew, no willet, no bobolink nor oriole, no Sagebrush Sparrows, a few warblers inc. MacGillivray’s and Nashville but no Wilson’s or orange-crowned, one waxwing…struck out on all owls except Great Horned which we cannot get away from, not even a Barn…tomorrow the Steens.  Aspen already turned yellow above 6000 feet where we went at end of today for great Mountain Bluebird pics.  Yellow-rumps, Barn Swallows and White-crowned Sparrows everywhere you go right now. Two Common Nighthawks only.

 

Sept. 19  We do the Steens Mountain Loop after failed attempt to find Sagebrush Sparrow at Saddle Butte on Hwy 205.  We begin from south end.  Tree line is at about 8000 feet elevation.  There has already been night frost and the aspen are golden.  Some late summer wildflowers continue to bloom.
In the open juniper scrub we found Western and Mountain Bluebirds, solitaires, yellow-rumps and white-crowns.  The westerns were up to 6000 feet elevation.

At the col just before the trail to the peak we watched two Prairie Falcons in aerial combat.  Then we saw a third one sit on a rock and dine.  There were elusive Horned Larks above the tree line but they ran off before we could get a good photograph. At the East Rim Overlook after lunch: high wind, 53 degrees.

We stopped briefly at Page Springs after leaving Steens Loop, an evening  visit with our local Great Horned Owl and the campers beneath his perch who were pleased and proud of their neighbor, despite his nightly hoots.

110 bird species altogether.
The Malheur Field Station is back in business and many conveniences added, good working showers in E Dorm, yahoo!

Sept. 20 home via US 20.   In eastern Deschutes County–west of Hampton ghost town–the irrigated fields drew in the predators:  Golden Eagles, Ferruginous and Red-tailed Hawks, ravens, a magpie.  Then around metro Millican, some bluebirds on the wires, western by persuasion.

At Fisherman’s Bend off Hwy 126 in Marion County_ Hairy Woodpecker and flicker greeted me the moment I got out of the car, then BC Chickadees and white-crowns.

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