Written by Cheryl Hunter & Larry Hill
We have just experienced our first volunteer stint with the Crane’s Nest Nature Center & Store at Refuge headquarters. It was great fun learning more about Malheur and its wildlife, making new friends and, most importantly, welcoming visitors to the Refuge and sharing our love of this special place. The store is operated by the Friends of Malheur. Janelle Wicks, Executive Director of the Friends, welcomed us warmly on our arrival. She shared necessary information for working at the store and gave us tips to share with visitors about what birds were currently being sighted and where best to find them. We are newer birdwatchers, but Janelle provided resources that immediately helped us answer questions for store visitors. After a first day of training in the store, Janelle made sure to schedule us and other store volunteers so that we had plenty of time to really explore the refuge and surrounding area, adding to our own knowledge and giving us firsthand information to share with people coming into the Center. We quickly began to feel confident!
Accommodations for volunteers are modern and comfortable. Coming from Eugene, we stayed in our trailer in the RV area provided for Friends volunteers. The kitchen and community room gave us the luxury of cooking and eating inside as desired, and even a chance to do our laundry! Bathrooms and showers were up-to-date and impeccably clean. Using these facilities was also a great way to get to know other volunteers and share knowledge about wildlife sightings each day. Everyone was friendly, easy to get along with, and enthusiastic about sharing current and past experiences as well as some fabulous photos of birds and nesting places! These facilities provided by the Refuge make it possible for us to stay for extended visits, giving us a chance to really get a feel for the Refuge and increase our knowledge as volunteers.
Our experience as volunteers for the Friends has been a wonderful combination of contributing to the work of the Friends and the Refuge and having a chance to spend time in a beautiful and unique part of Oregon. Working in the Nature Center & Store includes fun conversations with visitors, sharing knowledge and learning more, as well as helping to sell all the fun products and books that visitors take home with their memories of Malheur NWR.
Exploring the Refuge during our free time is always unforgettable, seeing hundreds of familiar and new birds as well as other wildlife and wildflowers. Our sightings included Great Horned Owls (nesting with chicks!), Golden Eagles, Northern Harriers, Sandhill Cranes (one pair nest-building and another already nesting), Great Egrets, White-faced Ibis, American Avocets, Western and Pied-billed Grebes, Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Curlews, a range of ducks and geese and many more besides. We saw a shy, elusive Virginia Rail at Benson Pond and a Great-tailed grackle, a rare visitor at Malheur, at feeders near the store. Malheur is a world that is constantly changing and seems to provide, every day, a unique and sometimes rare sighting of a bird or of certain bird behaviors. At the end of our volunteer experience, we returned home, full of new knowledge and greater awareness of the vibrant world around us! We are already scheduling our next visit as volunteers for the near future!