Saturday, July 2, 2016

Go East to Go West: The Wallowas, Part 1

In the two years we've spent traveling around Oregon, there remained one big corner of the map left unexplored: the northeastern portion of the state, along our shared border with Idaho. This area is justifiably famous for its beautiful mountains, and Travel Oregon considers the Wallowas one of our "7 Wonders". The funny thing about Oregon is that the farther east you travel, the more it feels like "the West", and, in fact, several Westerns were filmed out that way, including Paint Your Wagon. But this wasn't a movie tour trip (that will have to wait until Astoria, e.g. The Goonies, Point Break, Kindergarten Cop). There were lots of birds on our list, starting with a quick stop in La Grande for Great Gray Owls.

The owls are known to nest every year in the Wallowa-Whiteman National Forest in the Spring Creek area. Spoiler alert: we didn't find any, but there were plenty of beautiful wildflowers to entertain us, along with Variable Checkerspots to pollinate them. After promising ourselves we'd be back for the Great Grays next year, we explored the larger La Grande area where we picked up awesome year birds like Western Kingbirds, and nesting Bank Swallows.

Variable Checkerspot

The lush meadows of Wallowa-Whitman NF, chock-full of wildflowers

Large-flowered triteleia (Howell's triteleia) Triteleia grandiflora

Western Kingbird

Bank Swallow colony

The Wallowas are a legit mountain range; probably the first I've seen in America. The Cascades have some great standalone behemoths, like Mt. Hood, Mt. Ranier, Mount St. Helens, and others, but to see several peaks contiguous with one another, all pushed together shoulder-to-shoulder, was a new experience altogether. Definitely deserving of the "Wonder" moniker. We set up camp at our home for the next few days, at Wallowa Lake SP.

Behold: the Wallowas!

We woke up a tad before 5:00 a.m. to the irregular drumming of a sapsucker against a nearby utility pole. This would be a lifer if only we could stir ourselves out of the tent quickly enough to confirm that it was, as we suspected, one of the Red-napeds that breed in the park grounds. We weren't quick enough this time around, but he would return shortly to repeat the circuit around his territory. His drumming post of choice was a wooden utility pole, and the sapsucker went straight for a big crack where he'd get the best reverberation. 

Red-naped Sapsucker

Our first destination for the day was the town of Enterprise, where we picked up some good birds at the local Wildlife Management Area. According the eBird, our best find was a flyover Great Egret - strangely, the first time it ever occurred to me that they're range doesn't extend everywhere. Better birds, in my own opinion, were the two fledgling magpies sitting just off the ground. There were also a good number of Bank Swallows nesting near the water, and California Quail overrunning the yard across the street, where they perched on and walked all over the mailbox, light fixtures, fences, etc. They were in total command.

Fledgling Black-billed Magpie

Bank Swallow

Cedar Waxwing
California Quail

We stopped at McCully Creek, which is reportedly one of the best places around for Spruce Grouse. It was already past noon by the time we started, and was mostly quiet as a result, except for the quick-three-beers of some Olive-sided Flycatchers that we could hear well, but weren't able to track down.

Warbling Vireo

Pacific Forktail

We did, however, hit the jackpot for butterflies, especially a group of hairstreaks with which we were previously unacquainted: the elfins. We quickly picked up Hoary, Brown, and Western Pine Elfins, along with Green Comma, Juba Skipper, and a flyby Stella Orangetip. We've still never seen an orangetip, any orangetip, sit still for even a moment.

Hoary Elfin

Western Pine Elfin

Brown Elfin

Green Comma

Juba Skipper

Back at Wallowa Lake SP, the river that cuts through the park was chock full of American Dippers and Spotted Sandpipers. Maureen and I are so popular with these birds, that they literally lined up for us to see them! One sandpiper was so excited it couldn't figure out whether it wanted to preen or wiggle its butt.

Spotted Sandpiper (front) and American Dipper


  1. Some good leps. Especially like your Checkerspot and Elfins.

    1. Thanks, James. The butterflies were great out there, and we were lucky to see so many cool new ones