Posted by: atowhee | June 19, 2019


We saw a nice variety of tyrant flycatchers at Malheur and environs.  There was a Gray Flycatcher on Steens Mountain, above 5000’.  There were Eastern and Westerns Kingbirds, the latter more widespread and at home both in marshy areas and among the sagebrush.  There is a pair of Western Kingbirds nesting in Dorm F at the Field Station. Willow and Western were at headquarters, Central Patrol Road and Page Springs.  We missed the Olive-sided that was seen at HQ.  On our trip up Devine Canyon, US 395 north of Burns, we found Ash-throated and Dusky both of which breed in their respective habitats.  The Dusky prefers tall, shading conifers, nicely space.  The Ash-throated actually was on a cliff face in the canyon but near a mixed stand of cottonwoods and conifers where there was more sunlight than the Dusky finds comfortable.

Below: Eastern Kingbird near Benson Pond; Willow Flycatcher at Page Springs. They were also seen regularly at headquarters and along Central Patrol Road…in willows.EAKI-CPR2 (2)WILLFLYSay’s Phoebe, spurning the camera:sp on rok (2)Here is Say’s Phoebe nest built on last year’s model which used more mud.  Both Say’s pics were taken at Sage Hen Rest Area:sp nest-sage (2)Ash-throated Flycatcher in Devine Canyon, north of Burns.ATF ON ROK (2)


Posted by: atowhee | June 19, 2019


Mountain Bluebirds in sunlight are sure to draw exclamations.  Bluer than blue. Sky, water, azurite, blueberries, jays, Indigo Bunting, Lazuli Bunting, damselflies, bluets, camas blooms, some lupine—nature presents us with many shades of blue.  But adult male Mountain Bluebirds shine forth with a color that could force John Lee Hooker to find another tone for his music.mbroof (2)This metal gate post was on Steens Mountain South Loop, at the first gate after you head east from Hwy 205.  The Mountain Bluebirds were nesting inside.mbb nest box (2)Young bluebird on Steens Mountain:MTN BLUE juv (2)At Sage Hen Rest Area we found both bluebird species.  As the climate warms the lowlander Westerns are moving up.  It is the first time I have seen Western here, over 4000 feet in elevation. Not happy news for his montane cousins.  There are still Mountain Bluebirds there as well.  That male photo at the top of this blog was taken on the roof of the toilet building at Sage Hen.wbbox1 (2)

Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


Corny, cliche, cute–all at once, and a scene right out of some Disney fantasy..but at Frenchglen hotel it was real. See the pictures.

At the Frenchglen Hotel we stopped to lunch on the picnic tables.  And then found we were near a House Wren nest.  The adults were coming and going with food for nestling.  They were nesting in an old boot…how’s that for a kick?


Nearby see saw a Western Bluebird! At 4100 feet elevation.  There was also a Say’s Phoebe nest near one of the hotel’s new bunk houses.

Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


The height of tern season at Malheur–for me–is when the Black Terns re-tern and start catching insects over pond and marsh and meadow.

Bouyant, elegant, shimmering—there is no simple, single descriptor for the Black Terns.  They criss-cross fields and shallow waters.  The bounce about in flight as if they were puppets but it is their long wings and negligible wright that makes them prone to sudden moves and swerves.  Sunlight reflecting off the terns’ kaleidoscopic shades of gray and black can produce shiny metallic tones or deepest jet or flashes of color that aren’t really there when the bird stops. Second image shows one tern picking prey off water surfaced like swallows do.

The Forster’s Terns seem more prosaic than their smaller, dusky cousins. I cannot imagine a Black Tern sitting on a fence post, but sometime they must rest…fortern line (2)Biggest of the insect catchers–Swainson’s Hawk aside–are the handsome Franklin’s Gulls:f-gull (2)

Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


There are five species of owl that are present at Malheur and the nearby open space every year.  We found three of them on our June trip.  We missed Long-eared and Barn.  Here are some images of Great Horned, Short-eared and Burrowing.
This burrower is nesting along Potter Swamp Lane.  His nest is just below the bush whereon he perched, and we saw him fly-catch and then deliver prey to the nest.buro-swamp2
buro-swamp1There were a trio of Great Horned Owlets at Malheur Headquarters, and they were often perched near one another in daylight.  Sometimes we could find one or both adults as well.ghowlets (2)ghowlet-one

Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


There are several shorebird species that breed in the Malheur Basin: Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe and Wilson’s Phalarope.  Ironic as Alexander Wilson himself never got further west than the Mississippi River Valley.  The snipe name is fairly new after it was made a separate species from the Old World’s Common Snipe.  Wilson did draw some species discovered for science by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, but then had died before Thomas Say went across the Great Plains with the Long Expedition.CURL CURVE (2)avo float (2).JPG



Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


Here are three images of “Specks”, the leucistic robin.  He was worming one of the lawns in front of the congresswoman’s office in one of the old homes on the campus of Fort Vancouver, town of same name, Washington.

Earlier we found this leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove at the headquarters at Malheur NWR:leuc ecd (2)

Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2019


There is a natural fact that becomes evident on the dry western slopes of the Cascades.  From there the fact pertains across thousands of miles eastward and southward.  Across grasslands, sagebrush steppe, arid brushlands and unforested valleys that fact is the alpha predator, the Golden Eagle.
Many are the creatures that fear the eagle and some of those will take the chance to harass or mob the bird.  The Golden Eagle can soar easily on sunny days when the hot air rises to produce thermals.  His eyes can see for miles, his large wings carry him across open miles in search of prey.  I often wonder: does he ever bother to savor the view from up there? Does he enjoy the feel of soft warm air riffling across his stiff feathers, perhaps tickling a bit the taut muscles that control flight and tail feathers so adeptly, so precisely?

One thing I know for sure, he often soars with others.  Maybe other eagles, often some buteos and a scad of hopeful ravens, around to see what is killed and what is left behind. And it is not rare to find another raptor or even a swallow that decides to dive onto the back of the eagle in flight.  Yet I have not seen actual contact by the attacker.  There is a perfectly good explanation.  No bird whose training or instinct is intact could be ignorant of two corollary facts.  1) The eagle is neither swift in changing flight direction, thus easy to attack, or is it very fast in a straight line unless diving; 2) The talons of this bird can and do bring agony and death to those they crush.

I once watched a testosterone-crazed male Osprey attack a Golden Eagle that soared too near the Ospreys’ nest, according to the attacking male.  He made three dives, accompanied by his high-p;itc screams.  Each time as he neared the eagle’s back, the eagle simply rolled over, his talons raised toward, sky, osprey and a certain osprey death.  Three times the Osprey had to veer away at the last instant to avoid those talons.  Last week at Malheur, near the Princeton Bluff, we saw the same pattern.  Attack by smaller raptor, eagle flipping over to offer a pair of ready talons to the oncoming attacker.  This time it was a Swainson’s Hawk. It is the third image below that shows the eagle flying belly up:

Below, a Golden Eagle peacefully perched on a utility pole:

Posted by: atowhee | June 15, 2019



There is no clear way to determine ownership of the air.  Possession or passage en route can often be nearly the same as ownership.  Surely profit-mongering corporations want the air to be free, so they can dump their chemicals and discharge without charge—legal or financial.  Airplanes use the air like fish use water.  Clouds, weather, wind, storms—the air is their current and currency.  When we come to zoology it gets even more complex.  All plants and animals depend on the oxygen and CO2 in the air; many also need the nitrogen.  Without it there could be no proteins…and it is inconceivable that earth would have much life without proteins, certainly no creatures that can move of their own volition.

In the avian world ownership of the air takes many forms, mostly ephemeral, none uncontested.  Sometimes it is breeding territory at issue.  Sometimes it is competitive hunting, maybe not even for the same potential prey. Like kestrel angry at red-tail. This season it can often seem to be simply testosterone poisoning–Brewer’s Blackbird versus the mail person walking down the sidewalk, or junco attacking an image in the car mirror.

The most possessive of small territories are the American kingbirds. Ferocious, they defend any nesting site against all other flyers they perceive as dangerous. Hence “tyrant flycatchers”.  Raptors can be found contesting air space, especially during breeding season. Usually the smaller after the larger as size decreases the aerobatic flexibility of the bird. Long-billed Curlews will chase away harriers and over hunters found near their ground nests. Swallows will also, sometimes in tight groups. Then there are our western American icterids, especially Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbirds.  They will attack larger birds from kestrel up to cranes.  Cranes are assaulted as they stroll along but the attacks all come from above. Not often is there actual physical harm.  But when harassing a Golden Eagle no other creature wants to get within talon reach.  That would likely prove fatal.

During our Malheur Field Station birding trip last week we found aerial combat all around us.  There was even some evidence that the Common Nighthawks were warning us off with zoom-bys and vocal threats.

Eastern Kingbird, frequent aggressor.  At Malheur found along Blitzen River mostly.EAKI-CPR2 (2)FERRUGINOUS NEST AND NETTLESOME NEIGHBORS
Here is nest north of Wright’s Point, west of Hwy 205; at least two youngster could be seen from the highway.

ferru nest-no2 (2)
Here is nest between Wright’s Point and The Narrows along 205.  We counted four young.  The mother was nearly always at the nest, and the presumed father was on a roadside utility pole, then flew pursed by Brewer’s Blackbirds, those nasty neighbors.

ferru fly-a (2)

Posted by: atowhee | June 14, 2019


One of the most exciting moments for spring birders at Malheur: your first annual sighting of Bobolinks.  In May we missed them entirely.  This population in Harney County may be the most westerly breeding Bobolink population on earth.  So we made them a priority on our first day of the June trip.  And at P Ranch they showed off and taught us a bit about bobolinkage.

Look closely at this sequence of two males facing one another.  The display of the velvety golden crown is clearly a masculine dominance performance.  The male showing off his nape ended up with the female Bobolink flying after him. Both males gave us some song.

Two days later we were in Diamond Canyon and with help from our own Bob we found the Bobolinks there, as well:

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