Written by Linda Craig, FOMR Volunteer
Photos by Dan Streiffert
I’m at Malheur volunteering for the Friends of Malheur Refuge in their Crane’s Nest Nature Center and Store. Generally, I’m scheduled for three days a week, so I have time off to bird and explore.
Yesterday (8/2), I set out to check out the Center Patrol Road (CPR). It is a 42-mile gravel road that runs through the center of the Refuge’s Blitzen Valley from Headquarters to P Ranch, near Frenchglen.
An Auto Tour Guide, offered as a brochure, CD, or downloadable podcast, describes various stops along the Center Patrol Road, from #1 at the hill just south of Headquarters, which affords a view of the distant Malheur Lake, to # 19 at P Ranch. The Center Patrol Road can be driven in two sections. The north section mostly travels through grasslands with less water. The south section includes stops along many of the Refuge’s and marshes. In past seasons, I have often told visitors, if they had limited time, to skip the north section by taking Hwy 205 to Krumbo Lane, joining the CPR at stop #11. In the spring and early summer, when the ponds and marshes have lots of water, visitors can maximize their viewing of ducks and shorebirds in the south section.
Yesterday, I decided that I should check out whether this is sound advice at this time of the year. (I really enjoy telling visitors to the Crane’s Nest where they can find lots of birds or specific birds that are on their wish list.)
I set out about 8 a.m. Visiting the north section was a good choice. I was stunned by its beauty and the number of birds I found along the way. Although there isn’t much visible water in the north section at this time of the year, and hence, few ducks, there were a jillion passerines. Lots of sparrows that I couldn’t identify, but also many bird families that were slower or more obvious. For example, I saw at least 12 Loggerhead shrikes (pictured left) including 7 in one group. Usually, one is lucky to find one or two. Were there so many because they were a family? Or are they grouping before they fly south for the winter?
There were also bunches of cute little California quails, the young not quite as colorful, and their topknot not so well developed, as their parents. And I saw one large family flock of Ring-necked pheasants. I had never seen youngsters with this stage of partially developed plumage. The young don’t have a long tail yet. The females are speckled brown like the adults, but the males, mostly brown, look like clowns with the beginnings of their signature red faces.
So many other sightings…flushed a short-eared owl (pictured right), natty Eastern kingbirds, Yellow warblers, Northern harriers, Bank swallows, and 42 total species by the end of my trip.
On the south part of the CPR, the vegetation was too tall to see much of the remaining water, but I did see an adult Sandhill crane strutting along a distant pond with a half-grown chick trailing along. Flocks of White-faced ibis were common. Also, one of my favorite birds, a Black-crowned night heron, flew over the road just in front of me. Benson Pond had a couple of Great-horned owls, a family of Northern flickers and a Virginia rail. And I found Cedar waxwings and a family of Lazuli buntings at P Ranch.
All day, I had the Center Patrol Road entirely to myself–no other vehicles on the Road from Stop #1 to Stop #19.
It was a day to bask in a golden landscape, solitude, and lots of birds. What a beautiful day and time of the year to be at the Refuge!