Written by Lynn Fox, FOMR Volunteer
There is nothing more exciting than springtime at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Driving from Portland during the first week of April, this year’s excitement started with icy roads on Mt. Hood and a dusting of powder that blew me into Burns as I drove my old RV, Maxine, east from Bend. Maxine is a 1985 Toyota RV that is generally reliable and safe as long as I peg the speedometer at about 55 mph. She no longer has a functioning heater fan motor, so I happily bundle up for my drive to the refuge where high temperatures can be in the 30s if we’re lucky.
This being my fourth year of volunteering, I approached the refuge slowly, circling around Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes, surveying the farm fields for my first sighting of Snow and Rosses geese. They take off with a whoosh and a cacophony of honks that thrills me and tells me I have arrived!
Then as I cross the rim rock at Wrights Point, I spot a flock of cackling Sandhill cranes headed for a few patches of grass just east of Highway 205. I carefully slow Maxine and ease into a turnout across from a perfect lineup of cranes with mist rising off of the snowmelt in the background. They form a Japanese woodblock print before my eyes! How could I resist pulling out my camera and capturing this beauty?
Finally at the refuge, I find friendly faces at the volunteer compound – new and old friends who will share with me the joy of giving their time to an avian wonderland we all treasure. And there are so many joys – the excitement of the first Yellow headed blackbirds to arrive at headquarters, sighting a Western bluebird on Ruh Red road, discovering a mink living under the Crane’s Nest Nature Store, or finding Great Horned owl nests hidden in the lava caves at Diamond Craters Natural Area. A full month at the refuge gives me time to visit each special place more than once, to see new life that surprises and delights me, and many opportunities to share my discoveries with visitors and with other volunteers.
A month at Malheur delivers so many gifts, and one of the best is the gift of time – time to listen, time to look, time to make friends that will last a lifetime, and time to see changes that happen too slowly to reveal themselves over a weekend or even a week-long visit to the refuge. A month was just enough time to catch a glimpse of a blue-eyed filly harassing her brother on another snowy day south of Frenchglen. I’ll hope to see them again all grown up as full members of the Hollywood herd during my future volunteer stints at Malheur, where there is all the time I need to savor each moment of high desert wildness.