Malheur Midsummer


Malheur Midsummer

Written by Sharon Vail, FOMR Volunteer 

We arrived at the Refuge in July, usually considered a slow time, to find Marshall Pond full, and water everywhere it should be. This abundance of water also brought an overabundance of mosquitoes. When we set up camp at the volunteer RV pads, the skeeters enthusiastically welcomed us, although the sentiment was not mutual.

While most of the migrant songbirds had moved on, a lot of waterfowl decided to take up summer residence at the Refuge. Some called Marshall Pond home this year, and they provided me with several “firsts.”

I saw my first Ruddy Duck – the cartoon character of the duck world – and my first Blue-winged Teal, keeping company with Cinnamon Teals.

A pair of American Coots nested at the pond, and they successfully became parents. While I’ve seen many, many Coots in the past, I felt lucky that I arrived in time to see the babies still in their “ugly duckling” stage. Even from a distance, I could see their red beaks and wild feathers standing straight up on their heads.

A white tern flew over the pond too quickly to identify it, and a visitor photographed a black tern that same day.

One evening I saw dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving over the pond in an intricate choreography of feasting on mosquitoes and other buggy delights.

At the Nature Center, I watched a family of Bullock’s Orioles sipping from the hummingbird feeder. The resident mink we observed in April must have moved on because the Belding’s ground squirrels were flourishing.

We drove down to the Steens South Loop, and everywhere I looked along the way the land was green and alive, so welcome after the brown drought landscape of previous years. Lupines lined the loop road as we made our way to the Riddle Brothers Ranch. The history and seeing what the brothers built on the banks of the Little Blitzen River made the long trek worthwhile, and it made us want to return to spend more time there.

Every afternoon, thunderstorms ringed the Refuge, and provided panoramic cloud formations and sunsets in a seemingly endless sky.

A slow time at the Refuge? Perhaps for the number of visitors, but this year, July filled the Refuge with sights and sounds that were too good to miss. It’s such a privilege to volunteer here.

I’ll borrow the title of Alan Contreras’ wonderful book – this truly is the “Edge of Awe.”


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