Notes from Malheur NWR


WC was able to spend a couple of days at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week. The good news is that the Refuge has a lot of water have several years of low water conditions. Steens Mountain, at the south end of the Refuge, and the source of maybe two-thirds of the water, still has enormous amounts of snow, and the Blitzen River, the primary southerly stream putting water in the basin, is running bank-full.

WC grants you that it was a little early for the full suite of birds that breed on the Refuge. But there were enough to give WC some photo opportunities, and to keep the birding interesting. Here’s a sampling.

Sage Thrasher, Malheur NWR, Oregon

Sage Thrasher, Malheur NWR, Oregon

The Sage Thrasher is an iconic species of the Sage Steppe. While WC usually prefers his birds to be in the open, this photo seems to better capture the nature of this elusive species. Reportedly, the males perch on tops of the brush to sing. You couldn’t prove it by WC. Surrounded by the thorns of a dead greasewood (?) shrub, he’s still watching WC carefully, even in a car 75 feet away,

As WC mentioned, a lot of the spring migrants hadn’t arrived yet. But the Yellow-rumped Warblers had, in impressive numbers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Page Spring Campground, Oregon

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Page Spring Campground, Oregon

This handsome fellow was enthusiastically hawking mosquitoes, and there were lots of skeets for as early as it was. All that water, WC supposes. Yellow-rumps are short-distance migrants, so commonly arrive ahead of their longer-commuting cousins.

Perhaps best of all, WC found a Burrowing Owl nest.

Burrowing Owl at nest, Harney Basin, Oregon

Burrowing Owl at nest, Harney Basin, Oregon

The nest WC knew about was abandoned last year; it was on Oregon Hy 205, the main road to the Refuge, and may have simply attracted too much attention. So WC will be vague about the location. It’s also further back from the road it is on, harder to discover and, perhaps, the owls will be less bothered.

A final bird. WC was almost too early for White-faced Ibis, a favorite species. But, happily, as WC was photographing a few Franklin’s Gulls, a flock of Ibis arrived, flying in from the southeast, and WC was there to greet them

White-faced Ibis, outside of Diamond, Oregon

White-faced Ibis, outside of Diamond, Oregon

Sure, they’re unavoidably backlit, but it’s rare for WC’s timing to be good rather than awful. WC will take the photo, backlit or not.

It’s shaping up to be a good year at Malheur NWR after a series of dry ones. WC looks forward to getting back.

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