Sunday, June 5, 2016

More of Malheur

After our first partial day in Malheur NWR, we were ready for another full day. The day started with lovely views of low-lying fog over the wide open marshes, and a Sandhill Crane starting its early morning foraging for its breakfast. We also saw a large herd of Pronghorn prancing up a hill after taking a quick glance down at us.

We drove through the country roads searching for some grassy sparrows, particularly Sagebrush Sparrow, which would have been a lifer for us. But that lifer would have to wait. Instead, we saw a number of White-Crowned sparrows, the dominant sparrow of this whole trip, which is funny since we hadn’t seen any when we visited Malheur last year. But the timing was a bit off as we were here mid April this year versus the end of May last year. But some birds we did see again, and gladly so - like Swainson's Hawk.

Swainson's Hawk

Cabbage White Butterfly

Old wagon at Frenchglen

We did manage to see more of our other sagey friend, the Sage Thrasher. We even found one that had a bill deformity. I had been watching it with my naked eyes trying to figure out if it was the one singing because the sound was coming from that direction, but I couldn’t see its bill move. And then once I looked at it through my bins, I could see that it was indeed opening its bill to sing, but it barely looked like it since its bill was crisscrossed. I thought out loud, “Oh, that poor guy is never gonna land a mate looking like that.” He obviously survived this long to feed himself, but I don’t foresee any females cozying up to him. We also saw another male Sage Thrasher doing some really cool wing displays, likely to either attract a mate or deter competing males.

Sage Thrasher with bill deformity

Another view of deformed bill

Sage Thrasher doing wing display

We saw some other usual suspects as we rounded these back roads, including a lovely pair of California Quails. I never get tired of seeing these anxious little pudgies scooting around – the male with his distinguished head plume and the subdued female with her stylish little top knot.

Male California Quail 

Female California Quail

Majestic looking, curious horses running towards us to check us out

As we kept driving past field after field on Ruh Red Road, I suddenly shouted out, “STOP! I think I see a Burrowing Owl!” We had to back up a bit, and I was right! I knew that silhouette anywhere. And right before the owl ducked down into his hole, I noticed a second one! They both gave us that “I’m not feeling it” staredown, but we giggled in delight for finding not just one, but TWO Burrowing Owls on our own. I recall scanning every field in Malheur last year with no luck, but we got them this time!

Burrowing Owls

Northern Flicker
We rented a Tamron 150-600mm lens for this trip, and it had paid off well so far with the great shots we got of the Mountain Bluebirds on our way to Malheur. And now we were also able to capture the brightest shades of yellow on the demon-sounding Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, the adorable, mischievous-looking Horned Larks, and the sing-songy Western Meadowlarks. Malheur seems to be the optimal location for getting great shots of Western Meadowlarks, as was evident last year, too. 

Yellow-Headed Blackbird among yellow flowers

We also got our best looks at Canvasbacks and Redheads swimming around a flooded field. These are definitely some of the prettiest ducks with their glossy red heads. Canvasbacks especially have such a commanding presence about them with their large bodies and long, tapered bills. Oh, and just for good measure, we got an awesome glimpse of a Wilson’s Snipe at eye level sitting up on a pole right off the road. Surprisingly, he stayed there a good minute to let us snap pics of him.

Pair of Canvasbacks

Pair of Redheads

Wilson's Snipe

After a nice full morning of birding in Malheur, we headed down to Fields, OR – population 7. This tiny town is known for being a literal tiny oasis in the desert, and it can turn up a number of crazy migrants in the little stand of trees. On our way down there, we saw a Badger scrambling among the rocks as we drove, which was super awesome! She disappeared so quickly that we didn’t get a shot of her, but what a cool, unexpected surprise. Another surprise was all of the free-roaming cattle. At one point they caused a bit of a traffic jam.

Old-timey looking photo of a traffic jam between Frenchglen and Fields

Cow Close-up

I think we were still too early in the season and late in the day as we didn’t see much more than a few Yellow Rumps and a Killdeer, as well as a cool little lizard – likely some type of Whiptail. And we also got to enjoy their well-known milkshakes. EVERYONE we met who suggested to come here said we had to get the milkshakes. Not knowing that each one was about 2 pints of ice cream each, we mistakenly each ordered one. And no, we did not finish them.

We got back to our tiny hotel in Frenchglen and wandered around a bit after dinner time. We enjoyed more good looks at a couple of birds we saw quite a bit this trip – Black-Billed Magpie and Say’s Phoebe. We also kept hearing a couple of Great-Horned Owls hooting at each other, and we finally turned them up – one in a tall tree and the other on top of a school building. This one we captured as his throat puffed up while hooting across to his likely mate. I was so glad to finally see this pair after not being able to locate the hooting owls at P Ranch the evening before. It was a great way to end another great day at Malheur. 

Sunset view

Finally capture a good pic of a Black-billed Magpie

Say's Phoebe

Great-Horned Owl hooting


  1. Just wonderful to read your blog as I'll be coming to OR to bird in September. It sounds so wonderful!

    1. Thanks, Beth! Oregon is supremely beautiful - I hope you have a great time!