Written by Blake Nolan
Blake’s Malheur Video on YouTube
Relatively speaking, I’m a rather recent admirer of the Malheur NWR. My first visit to the refuge was in November of 2021, which also happened to be my first bird-photography focused trip. Despite quickly learning that it was far from peak season on the refuge, it was still a very memorable visit, highlighted by an abundance of raptors, most notable of which was an encounter with a Long-Eared Owl. I left Malheur with the idea that I would return again, in a future Spring or Summer season.
Sometime shortly after my initial visit to Malheur, I got in contact with Harry Fuller, a long-time birder, who leads a guided tour at Malheur (based out of the Field Station) three times a year. During our first chat over the phone, Harry told me “the best bird photography Oregon offers is at Malheur during the first week of June.” A short time later, I had my second visit to the refuge planned, and when would I make way there next? You guessed it, the first week of June!
It goes without saying, but wildlife in Harney County in June is very different than in November; my birding mentor (Mr. Fuller) did not lead me astray. The first notable migratory visitor I encountered upon arriving to my rental that Summer evening was, of course, the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (better looking, than sounding), followed shortly by Western Kingbirds and Pewees. Over the next few days, I would encounter countless Common Nighthawks snoozing on barren branches, dozens of flycatchers snatching their prey mid-flight, hundreds of white-faced Ibis squawking about and taking to the air as “Sky-bis”, many owl pairs (Great Horned and Burrowing) tending to their young, as well as flocks of Avocets and Black-Necked Stilts demonstrating their delicate cat-walks on natures aquatic runways. As striking as the fiery-orange plumage of the Bullock’s Oriole is, it was the bubbly notes of the whimsical Bobolink that really captured me. For any Oregon birdwatchers, Malheur in June really is a must-see!
The five-day trip was both memorable and inspiring. Although bird watching and photography are still new passions of mine, they’ve already cemented a new era of discovery in my life. The lived experiences are what’s rich and adrenaline-inducing, but the photography is what allows me to capture those moments forever and get to share wildlife encounters with others. From the refuge headquarters to the quaint town of Frenchglen, Malheur is a special stretch of country which offers millions of birds residency each year, making it an unmissable offering for nature enthusiasts. And one thing is for certain, I’ll be returning there again next June!