Posted by: atowhee | June 7, 2022


This was the fourth and final day of our Malheur Field Station June birding trip.  The birders discussed our options & had opted for a north to south to north run.  South to Page Springs for morning birding, north to Buena Vista for lunch overlooking the basin.  Then north further for a raptor run, Princeton Bluff to Crane.  Then a race home back south to the Field Station for dinner.  We took the Lawen Road shortcut from Hwy 78 to Hwy 205, crossing the parched river bed of the Silvies of yore.

At Page Springs the color today was yellow.  A golden Monday morn.  There was the fresh new golden band at the end of each waxwing’s tail.  Each had crimson and salmon and subtle shades that drew your eyes.  The golden finale was the ultimate design quirk that said, “Can’t top this!”

There were frequent blazing flights of burnished yellow as the namesake warblers chased, posed, hid and dashed about.  The chats continued to entertain and their golden breasts were often sighted atop a willow or dead twig atop a dead tree.  There were tiger swallowtails, a sulphur butterfly, bright wild flowers buttering the grassy patches.  And yet the eye-smack of the black on gold of the male orioles was the most impressive role of yellow on this day.  Chattering as they flew around it felt like the orioles left a visual contrail of shimmering golden fairy dust.

Along the Blitzen River Trail we found a foraging family of Bushtits.

Along Hwy 205 we re-visited the cliffs where we’d been seeing a Great Horned Owl family.  Today three were visible—further north than they’d been before.  We saw an adult owl and two fledglings still mostly fuzzy white, but obviously capable of short flights to reach their current ledge of repose.

At Buena Vista the blue sky was inverted on the mirror of the lake below.  A Rock Wren deigned to briefly appear on the rocks at the overlook.  Coots and other waterfowl below us were deliberate and unhurried in their movements—almost as if the bright sunlight had stunned them.  There was one moment of passionate springiness—a male Lark Sparrow flew about the sagebrush next to the overlook, fanned his fine tail feathers—each with a bright white terminous.  His rapid wing flutter accompanied displays of the fanned tail.  It worked.  We soon saw male and female fly off together toward a bush-concealed assignation.

From BV we drove north and the east across Sodhouse Road.  Near the east end we saw a Ferruginous Hawk on a power pole.  It was only a first moment of Ferrugenious, to be repeated.  At the Princeton Bluff the young ravens were gone.  Two adult-appearing Great Horned Owls were in adjacent crevices.  The two presumed fledgling Osprey were still along the cliff face but now on separate ledges and still exercising their inexperienced wings.  In the nearby fields were red-tails, a Golden Eagle, numerous ravens and a Western Kingbird.  Cliff Swallows in number, and I have come to believe they may be the most numerous  species in the basin.  Certainly their mosquito cuisine is abundant and on the wing also.

This raptor run was rapturous.  From the bluff we went east, then north up Hwy 78 to Crane, north of the store.  One irrigation pivot presented four Bald Eagles, three adults and a first-year bird.  Red-tails abounded.  A Swainson’s Hawk weas aloft.  Ravens galore.  Then as pole percher had us puzzling as it jetted off and gave us glimpses of sharply-pointed wings and speed.  The n it perched on another pole and returned the van around on an empty highway and followed.  We soon saw the dark streak down the side of its face, the brown back, the clarity of its slender if powerful profile—our best views of a Prairie Falcon over the four days.  We were setting up for a scope-based study when a presumptuous red-tail swept in and drove our falcon into the sky.  The PF circled, rose, circled more and rose further, finally vanishing into the blue distance.

We bravely struggled on, more stops, more turn arounds, more raptors.  Three Golden Eagles including one youngster who showed us his black and white banded tail, the tiny white patch on each wing.  Then a distant adult with the lion-colored main.  North of the Crane store Hwy 78 turns westerly toward Burns and the field there had a busy pivot, including a Ferruginous near the highway.  This bird dropped from the pivot numerous times to check on possible meals in the field below.  This well-named Buteo regalis performed swoops and dives, legs-down landings, quick flaps to rise back to pivot.  As it sat, glowering across the field (“Where are those blessed ground squirrels?”) we watched in the scope.  The bird’s giant gape with its bright yellow lining made us realize it is fortunate to be born to a species too big the Ferruginous to hunt.  To close our raptor run a kettle of birds formed right before us—red-tails, ravens , a Turkey Vulture all circling in a rising air current as the late afternoon sun heated the pavement.

On to Crystal Crane Hot Springs where we birded the large man-made pond in the desert: stilts, phalarope, Gadwall, and close views of a new trip species: two Forster’s Terns.  Orioles were nesting in one of the resorts small trees while a nighthawk slept on one of its horizontals.

Our trip list closed out at 109 bird species, about a dozen mammals.  Next trip is in September.

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