Late Spring Snow


A late spring snow can happen in the high desert of Harney Basin any year. It certainly did in 2017.

Page Springs Campground, 6 AM, May 13, 2017

Page Springs Campground, 6 AM, May 13, 2017

Happily, WC and Mrs. WC had seen the weather forecast and had come prepared for the possibility: winter sleeping bags, the heavier tent, layers of fleece. The critters of the high desert, unhappily, do not read the weather forecasts. They just have to cope.

Western Meadowlark Singing on Territory, Malheur NWR

Western Meadowlark Singing on Territory, Malheur NWR

Despite the gloom and the continuing light snow, the Meadowlarks were going about their business, singing on territory, looking for a mate and chasing off the competition.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Dealing with the Snow, Malheur NWR

Yellow-rumped Warbler Dealing with the Snow, Malheur NWR

Yellow-rumped Warbler – here the Audubon subspecies – are a short-distance migrant and less well-equipped than Western Meadowlarks to dealing with the challenge. This fellow was looking for insects in the snow-covered leaves.

Ring-necked Pheasant Cock, Malheur NWR

Ring-necked Pheasant Cock, Malheur NWR

Pheasants are an Old World species, introduced as a game bird. It’s hard to tell if they have displaced the native game ground birds, Greater Sage Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We saw a lot of Pheasants; no Sage Grouse of Sharp-taileds. The Pheasants are a year-round resident; unless the snow jeopardized their eggs, the weather wasn’t anything unusual for them.

Pronghorn, Malheur NWR

Pronghorn, Malheur NWR

Pronghorn, with Mule Deer and the long-extirpated American Bison, were the biggest ungulates in the Harney Basin in historic times. The Bison were gone by the mid-1800s. Pronghorn survived by being very, very fast and dispersing into much smaller groups than Bison. This handsome fellow was just starting to shed his winter coat; presumably a bit of snow was a walk in the park to him.

These kinds of late winter snowstorms and sub-freezing temperature don’t happen every year, but they happen often enough that everyone has adapted. If they didn’t adapt, they’re likely gone. It’s probably toughest of insect-eating species like Swallows and Flycatchers; there weren’t any insects around that morning. But within those limits, species hang on in response to natural events. In the worst case, they are extirpated in the area and gradually re-introduce through range expansion.

It takes an unnatural event – humankind and the Anthropocene – to create an extinction.

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One thought on “Late Spring Snow

  1. We spent our honeymoon 38 years ago in the Steens. Wonderful! The prong-horn were fantastic! There is a book out called Child of the Steens Mountains. It is a gem!

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