My Volunteer Time at Malheur


By Suzan Wells, Friends Volunteer October 2021

On my last day living at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there was not a sunrise nor a sunset that had any color or even much light.  The clouds and rain had set in.  So, on this gloomy morning, I say with sadness, that my time here has come to an end and I will leave taking all the wonderful experiences and memories with me.

I have done a lot of volunteer activities but never one that required me to live some where different for an extended period of time.  I decided I would give it a try and when I received an email explaining the need for volunteers with The Friends of Malheur I thought that might be very interesting and right up my alley.  While traveling around southern Oregon in April 2021, I stopped in and chatted with Janelle Wicks, the Executive Director of The Friends.  I decided I would volunteer but then needed to figure out a month that I could be away from home without too much rearranging of my schedule.  After the appropriate interviews and conversations it was decided that I could be a volunteer and that October would be the month for me to spend at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

I understood that my duties included working at the store, helping with stocking, cleaning, inventory etc.  I might also help with education or public programs.  I arrived, had my training and went ‘to work’.  I took great pleasure in working in the store.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting visitors to the Refuge.  People came from many different states traveling through the area.  Talking with them and sharing suggestions for touring was extremely rewarding.  Working in the store was a good experience that required all sorts of skills.  I was quite impressed with myself.  I learned and was exposed to many new computer programs and was asked to do some projects which I managed quite easily. I thought it was great to have the challenges and complete projects that had caused me to use new skills or utilize new and unfamiliar programs.  This old lady still has skills!  

On my days off I found myself entertained by nature.  Wildlife, plants, geology and especially birding kept me very busy.  There were badgers digging up the grounds around the Refuge Headquarters.  They were making a mess of the place.  I really (really) wanted to see a badger.  I was permitted to put up a trail cam.  After one cold morning when I had come upon a fresh badger hole (with steam coming out!) I decided to point the camera toward that hole.  What fun!  Not only did I get some good photos of the badger, I also caught deer, bunnies, coyote and another unknown animal (feral house cat??) in photos.

Then there was Owen the great horned owl (of course I named him!) who hung out around the store all the time.  He did not always let himself be seen but was not really hiding.  He frequently hooted at me as I was leaving the store.  I made a real point of saying good bye to him on my last day at the store.  He just stared and watched me walk away.  I spent a huge amount of time walking and birding.  It was very enjoyable and relaxing.  I also took a few drives around the area looking at the sights.  Exploring the Refuge, Steens Mountains, Alvord Desert, Diamond Crater Outstanding Natural Area, Frenchglen, and Crystal Crane Hot Springs were just a few of the areas I enjoyed.  So much geology to discover!  So many different birds to identify!   Relaxing in the hot springs.  Let’s just say that my days off were spent in a very pleasant manner.

I had some regular encounters.  There was a large group of deer that came around my van every night – sometimes during the day.  Lots of rabbits around and a pretty constant chatter of the Flickers and Magpies.  The coyotes made themselves known almost every morning and every evening.  As I am packing up to leave on my last morning the coyotes come close.  They are all around but not seen.  They yip and howl and I say farewell to them as I am sure they are saying good bye.

Every morning I would wake up in time to check and see if there was a beautiful sunrise, since there nearly always was.  I took way too many photos of sunrises.  Every evening I would time things so that I could watch the beautiful sunsets.  The vast horizon made for lovely colors in the sky. 

So, with one last walk around, I leave my lovely volunteer accommodations and get in my van to head home.  

To all I say – until we meet again…

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