Posted by: atowhee | September 13, 2022


A bit of review of the Malheur Field Station Birding Expedition, Sept. 7-11, 2022.

We saw only one Marbled Godwit—at Knox Pond.  We saw a single Wood Duck (female) at Benson Pond.  We saw a single Cassin’s Vireo at Sodhouse Farm.  There was one Warbling Vireo at refuge headquarters one morning.  Our only junco came huffing up the near vertical side of the East Rim Overlook on Steens Mountain.  Elevation over 9500 feet.  We had one Chukar sighting—a covey climbing the rock face of a road cut near MP45 on Hwy 205.  We saw one flock of crows—dozens at Frenchglen.   We saw a lone Loggerhead Shrike (they are almost always alone) along Hwy 205 between Greenhouse Lane and Hotchkiss.  We saw one phalarope species—hundreds of red-necks in the Burns Sewer Ponds Avian Resort.  We had our only Dunlin there as well.  We found Burrowing Owls in only one spot—a farm field on west side of Crane-Buchanan Road less than a mile north of the Crane Store. We saw just one species of non-flicker woodpecker–two Lewis’s at headquarters. One birder down from Montreal was there looking for that specific species to photograph.  We got all our meals in one place—the brilliant Malheur Field Station cafeteria!




These quail ignored the stop sign and kept running.

Posted by: atowhee | September 12, 2022


Back to Salem today from Malheur. Terrible smoke in the air east of the Cascades. Bend AQI over 150.

Click here for story on smoke in the air in western USA.

Young Bald Eagle near Hampton:


Top row: magpie, pronghorn, Mountain Bluebird. Then Pygmy Nuthatchery at Sawyer Park, Bend. Last: Willow Flycatcher at Sawyer as well.

Posted by: atowhee | September 12, 2022

From Chukar to Lewis’s Woodpecker to East Rim Overlook

Sept. 11, Harney County.  Smoke and dust and not-so-good air.
We began our final day of the Malheur Field Station birding trip at refuge headquarters.  The feeders and the trees were busy.  Among species we saw: Lewis’s Woodpecker (one birder had come from Montreal specifically to photograph that species), Gray Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Anna’s Hummingbird, House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrow.

At HQ there were at least two dozen Turkey Vultures waking up from, sleep in the tall trees.  Later at Buena Vista we again saw TVs in a rising kettle.  Then at P Ranch there was a kettle surrounding their beloved roost on the old lookout tower.

Thence south on Hwy 205.  Just south of MP 45, north of Krumbo Lane we drove through a road cut with shallow rock cliffs on  both sides. I saw a chicken-like bird run across in front of us.  “Can’t be a quail here,” I thought.  It took some maneuvers to turn the van around.  Speeding back we found a flock of Chukar, at least fourteen.  Parents and young clambering up the rock face.

One wag said, “Collective noun would be Upp Chukar.” 
“That’s sick, nauseating,” said Wag #2.

At P Ranch there was some bird business along the Silvies River trail.  Both species of goldfinch were there and a Lincoln’s Sparrow…most by the Long Barn.

At Frenchglen we walked the first part of the Barnes Spring Trail.  A solitaire passed overhead.  Dozens of crows crowded around the Frenchglen Hotel.

In the afternoon we did the Steens Mountain Loop, starting at the south end.  Mountain Bluebirds were our first reward.  Sparrows were numerous at several spots, especially Vesper.  More Horned Larks.  At East Rim Overlook above 9500 feet elevation a junco came up the canyon wall—our only one this trip.  Then a Chipping Sparrow.  Mountain Bluebirds decorated the craggy cliff face.  At least two Golden Eagles soared below our feet, and ravens and a red-tail.  Heading back downhill a couple of Prairie Falcon performed overhead.

Heading north through Frenchglen we passed a large flock of feeding Barn Swallows.

Among the fine insects today were a green mantis who flew on pale wings, and a metallic green dragonfly at Frenchglen, one among many.  The pronghorn were in a field north of Sod House Farm. 

I believe the planet next to the full moon is Jupiter. I was wrong–Venus, says somebody who knows.

Our trip list from four days topped 110 species.

Posted by: atowhee | September 11, 2022


Sept. 10, Harney County.

Bright sun and mild temp.  Little wind and a very blue sky.  Migration is a-wing (the avian version of being afoot).  Sparrows on the move were especially obvious today.  We also saw Bushtits at Page Springs, an ordinary occurrence, to go with our unexpected sighting of a flock near the intersection of Central Patrol Road and Krumbo Lane two days ago.

Page Springs was lively in late morning: California Quail, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, wood-pewee, Marsh Wren, Sora and Virginia Rail, Western Tanager.  Topper in bird division was a Sharp-shinned Hawk who flew in and perched on post in clear view at top of the rim rock over the springs along eastern cliff face.  Overall prize for performance went to a quartet of mammals—family of river otter performing dolphin arcs and tail slitherings in pool just below the dam on the Blitzen River—clearly viewed from the  bridge downstream.

We began our day along Harney Lake Road with nothing of note.  At Buena Vista we overlooked a landscape of dry places.  A group of Rock Wrens did come out onto some rim rock and dance around for us.  Here we saw no other new species but get to watch TV.  These Turkey Vultures were kittling at the face of the cliff, using the updrafts from  the morning sun heating the black rocks.  To warm on a chill morning, some of the TVs would turn opened wings to the sun.  There were at least forty of the big birds.  When they rose to the desired height they would peel off and go search for fresh roadkill.

Later at the rock rim along Hwy 205 at MP 46 we saw even more rock wrens.  Then an obliging Prairie Falcon cruised rapidly along the top of the rim face in front of us, soaring several hundred yards by simply manipulating feathers on  wing and tail, never flapping, maintaining a close but safe distance from the black rock rim.  It was the finest form of falconry by one who knows it best.

After lunch at Page Springs, we headed up the north arm of the Steens Loop, going as far as the Kiger Overlook.  Aspen are starting their yellowing.  Mammals we saw: Belding’s and golden-mantled ground squirrel, deer, cattle  As soon as we reached the elevation where scattered juniper dominated, we saw Mountain Bluebirds.  There was an Osprey at Fish Lake, naturally.  Fish, get it?

Then at Fish Lake campground a young Cassin’s Finch ran around a barren latch near a campsite, picking seeds from dried grass stems.  Whatta beak!

Above the tree line the grassy slopes of Steens were populated by many sparrows—chipping, vesper, white-crowned.  We also saw Horned Lark.  At the Kiger Overlook we were looked over by…Rock Wren.  Third location of the day for that species that seemed to compete with ubiquitous Sage Thrasher and red-tails for “Can’t Miss Us” species of the day. No rosy-finches seen.

Groundling is the Cassin’s Finch. Click on any image for full screen–last three show various aspects of the Buena Vista TV congress.

In several places on Steens Loop and in the basin blooming rabbitbush drew crowds of colorful butterflies.

Posted by: atowhee | September 10, 2022


Sept. 9, Harney County.

We began  our birding day at Sodhouse Ranch which is only open to the public for a shirt season in late summer and early autumn.  Some of the willows and cottonwoods there are 130 years old.  Forest birds are drawn there on migration—some we saw today were Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager and Yellow-rumped Warbler (myrtle).  The ranch gave us a good run of sparrows including three new for our trip: Spotted Towhee, Lincoln’s and vesper Sparrow.

Next we headed north along Hwy 205.  There were two groups of pronghorn north of The Narrows.  The famous juniper at MP17 was still standing, but the ferruginous’s nest there had collapse and fallen to the ground.  Will they rebuild?  North of greenhouse Lane we saw our first Ferruginous Hawk of the trip.

The Burns Sewer ponds were busy.  Must-watch were the busy 500 Red-necked Phalarope dining on surface servings of edibles,  There was a single Dunlin, three Least Sandpipers, dozens of Killdeer.  Besides shorebirds there were cormorant, shoveler, Ruddy Ducks, Eared Grebe.

We went north on US395 to lunch at Idlewild Campground–elevation c. 5000′.  No other people and our group out-numbered the birds seen.

After lunch at Idlewild, we drove back down to the basin. At Burns [fishing] Pond on Hwy 78 we saw our first Snowy Egret.

At Crane Hot Springs their big pond had stilts and coots and stuff.  We added two land birds to our trip List: Loggerhead Shrike and Brewer’s Sparrow.  Thence eastward to make our raptor run through Crane.  Our first Golden Eagle and two Burrowing Owls were along Crane-Buchanan Road.  South on Hwy n789 we saw two more Golden and a single Bald Eagle, another ferrugy, numerous red-tails and a kestrel.  Beneath some of the water-misting irrigation pivots were hundreds of Brewer’s Blackbirds.
As we hurried home along Sodhouse Road we saw a field full of curlew west of refuge headquarters, another new shorebird for our list.  Some were youngsters with beaks yet to reach full length.

Out trip list now tops 90 species.

Click on any image to see it full screen. Though we had already seen dozens of thrashers, the third before final pic shows one deigned to mpose for us in good light. Last one–young robin at Sodhouse Farm.

Posted by: atowhee | September 9, 2022


Malheur, Sept. 8.

Often here in the desert dawn begins with a dust-inspired color show.

At refuge headquarters this morning we saw two female hummers; an Anna’s and a broad-tailed.  Male Western Tanagers were in the large trees.  A kettle of White Pelicans circled high east of the HQ.  There were also cranes seen and heard.

On County 414 northwest of Buena Vista we checked out a manmade watering hole for cattle.  Here was as flock of Horned Larks (40 or more), Sage Thrasher, Say’s Phoebe.  While birding along that road we watched a Prairie Falcon speeding along the ridgetop.

We bypassed Buena Vista which is bone dry, the “marsh pools” have been mown and their hay baled!
Krumbo Lake had fishermen, coots galore, the three species of small grebe and our first bittern of the day.
Benson Pond had a pair of Trumpeters who had not nested successfully, many Mallards and some other dabblers, coots, Sora, Marsh Wren and Yellow Warblers.
South of Benson the willows of Central patrol Road were alive.  We saw several pheasant, at least a half dozen  quail coveys, a full mischief of magpies, two Great Blue Herons, hundreds of blackbirds in mixed flocks, a wood-pewee, a juvie black-headed grosbeak, a bittern, some robins and yellow warblers and hundreds of migratory sparrows—lark, savannah, sagebrush.  As we passed, clouds of them would rise from the willows and currant shrubs.

At Knox Pond we saw our assortment of shorebirds, two Ring-billed Gulls and a small cluster of White Pelicans STANDING in the middle of the shrunken pond.  White-faced Ibis, Great Egrets, both large grebes and uncountable hundreds of dabbling ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canada Geese and our second bittern made for our richest and final birding stop of the day.  Shorebirds were both nesters (avocet, stilt, Killdeer) and passers-by (Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and one Marbled Godwit, not a usual species out here). The single crane was unusual for at least two reasons. It was an adult with no companion mate, no off-spring. That did not bode well. Also, the single ibis. Most birds we saw today that ever flock were flocked. It is flocking and flying time: TVs, sparrows, shorebirds, waterfowl, Horned Larks, any and all Icterids–flocking.

Bittern aloft

Top to bottom: bittern, pelicans, dowitchers, Lark Sparrow on Central Patrol Road, one of scads.
Sora heard but not seen, ditto Marsh Wrens at Benson Pond. Swallows were mostly barn, a few rough-winged and tree. We saw all five locally breeding grebe species. One one-day count was over 75 species.
Mammals today included mule deer, least chipmunk, two big brown bats the night before, coyote.

Posted by: atowhee | September 8, 2022


Sept. 7, Harney County.   Along the roadside I passed coveys of quail three times even as youngsters did the dumb squirrel act in the middle of the road.

I explored some parts of Harney County I didn’t know well.  More of Catlow Valley than just the highway to the Steens Loop.  From there down to Fields, up to Alvord Lake, south to Cottonwood Creek.  This included a stop at Roaring Spring Ranch oasis.  Though I saw four good-sized bodies of water along the base of the Catlow Rim, all spring fed and green, green, green…in that same area I ate dust.  And breathed it.  Just before 3PM a thunderstorm rolled across the valley, west to east.  It brought strong winds and splashes of rain.  It motivated tumbleweeds to tumble, each was so scrawny, bleached white, and desiccated they were crushed beneath the van’s wheels.  The storm was at its worst while I passed Hwy 205 MP 68, but it roared on until I was north of MP53.  That’s well north of Frenchglen.  Near there one ghostly tumbleweed bounded through the air and across a marsh as if it were a harrier.

South of Fields I found an alfalfa field being mowed.  It was full of crows and ravens, more of the latter, the larger.  Dozens, perhaps well over 200 on a field of eighty acres.  I can CORroborate that estimate.  They were feasting on all the minced tidbits the mower served up.  Not a single little cousin magpie!

Our birding group gathered for our first dinner, then  off to bird sunset at Malheur NWR Headquarters.  The adult great Horned Owls duetted, then the male went to hunt from the top of nearby utility poles.  At the same time several Turkey Vultures and red-tails came into the tall trees there for evening roost.  Down on the flats north of the HQ were many cranes.  We heard them bugling while flying past.  I saw some pairs, which indicates they were unable to nest successfully or there be a third, the young crane.

I have seen two migrating monarch butterflies so far–one near Fields, one in Bend. Below: Home Creek Canyon cut back into Catlow Rim, from Hwy 205. Then pond at Roaring Springs oasis.

So is the above sign deliberate bureaucratic humor? Of merely nature having one on us? Or somke sign-makers revenge on his customer? Certainly a piece of found humor, intentional or not. Andf many oif the roads are as bad as this sing–once then pavement stops 14.7 miles north of Fields-Denio Road intersection as you drive toward Alvord Desert…no washboard was ever that much of a washboard.

Here’s a bit of that corvid field near Fields:

Posted by: atowhee | September 7, 2022


Tuesday’s trip was from Salem to the Malheur Field Station.  And some side roads.  Over 300 miles with some birding thrown in.  First birdy stop was Sawyer Park along the Deschutes River in Bend.  A local birder told me the dippers were rarely seen that far downstream these days…but other birds were busy.  Pygmy Nuthatches chasing Yellow Warbler from a willow.  In the willows and cottonwood thickets were Anna’s Hummer, Cedar Waxwings, Cassin’s Vireo, and…WILLOW Flycatchers.  The nutty-hatches were everywhere, one even giving me the eye while it gleaned goodies out of the dirt.

Once inside Harney County I checked out some roads north of Riley where I had never birded before.  Mountain Bluebirds were hunting along both Silver Creek Road and Best Lane.  Along Best I also saw the largest magpie flock I’ve ever found.  Over thirty in one field.

I saw over forty pronghorn today—all in irrigated fields.  One at Hampton, the rest north of Riley.

Sage Thrashers evidently had a very successful breeding season—they are abundant and obvious in sagebrush habitat.

Other sightings: Bald Eagle near Hampton surveying an irrigated field; a Ferruginous Hawk in a green hay field along Silver Creek Road.

Most creeks and reservoirs are dry.  Agricultural irrigation was seen in numerous hay fields.  Nearly all of it involved spraying water through the air—this is not drip irrigation.

Click here for my summary of avian flu effects on wild birds in Oregon…so far.

Posted by: atowhee | September 5, 2022



That last photo is so emblematic of this season. There is an annual spider population explosion in late summer and autumn. Webs galore as we don’t use poisons. The seasonal web captures a tiny jay under-feather, product of the seasonal plumage molt. Pure September.

Posted by: atowhee | September 5, 2022


I am reading The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson. One of the first things he tells his readers–don’t just look. Yes, we’re visual animals, but there is so much more than merely meets then eye. I sit late in the afternoon in our back garden. Purple plum and birch branches hang down near my seat. Am occasional gust comes through, drawn in from the ocean by hot air rising against the flank of the Cascades–these breezes come from the west move to the east. These are soft-leafed trees. The sound as their outer parts vibrate in the breeze is a soughing, a soft and distant murmur of a crowd. This instance a crowd of leaves, soon to fall but not yet. I suspect the plums and the birch is like the local crows, the housecat–trim e to shed. Old feathers plucked, old summer fur combed out or, worse, licked off to be the next puked hairball. The trees soon to leach the chlorophyll down to the roots, the leaves shed and the bare branches open to the air and frost.

This sound of the plum/birch consortium compares to other tree sounds I’ve noted. The thunk of walnuts hitting the ground. The screech of cottonwood limbs rubbing against bone another. The rumble of large Doug-firs as gales blow down through Lithia Park in Ashland Creek Canyon. The wind-inspired rustle of eucalyptus leaves in Golden Gate Park, a sound resembling the sound of hundreds of sheets of cardboard slapped together. From childhood thunderstorms in the Ozarks the loud creaking of oak branches, though few ever fell. The leathery slap sound of leaf against leaf in those oaks, and a late summer storm brings the pebble impact of acorn on roof or car top.

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