Our Month at Malheur


Our Month at Malheur

Written by Jay Williamson/Photos by Bailey de Iongh, FOMR Volunteers

My wife and I recently completed a month of volunteering for the Friends of the Malheur in September. We volunteered at the Crane Nest store selling all the wonderful merchandise there as well as doing projects given to us by our fabulous Executive Director Janelle Wicks. We enjoyed meeting all the visitors to the shop to answer questions about Malheur, talk about birds and explain who Friends of the Malheur is—and to sell things! One of the best parts of the work was enrolling many of these visitors as new (or renewing) members of the Friends. We treasured getting to know Janelle and her family, Ron and Sharon (long time volunteers who worked at the store on the days we had off), Cathy (Refuge Visitor Center volunteer who consistently encouraged visitors to check out our store!)

As new volunteers we were asked to volunteer for a whole month which we gladly did. We stayed at the Robins Nest RV campground for volunteers, alongside Ron and Sharon. The facilities include two bathrooms with showers, a fully stocked kitchen, a lounge area, ice machine and several washers and dryers. Located a short walk to the store it was an ideal situation. The Friends also has a great trailer for volunteers who do not have their own campers. We worked at the store Friday through Sunday with a couple of Mondays thrown in giving us ample time to explore this phenomenal Refuge.

We have so many wonderful memories of our explorations. Perhaps best were the incredible sunrises and sunsets, easily viewable from our campground. I will always remember the two Great Horned Owls who hung out in a tree next to the campground serenading us with their hoots many evenings and mornings. As we slept, we were also treated to coyotes howling in the distance. We did have a bit of rain during our stay which resulted in the pungent aroma of sage everywhere. We also ventured to Steens Mountain several times enjoying the incredible views from the summit, the aspen trees changing color and on the south road wild horses roaming the range. While we made full use of the kitchen facilities, we ate several meals out at the Narrows Cafe just a few miles from the campground and twice treated ourselves to a family style dinner at the Frenchglen Hotel. Several times during our explorations we got a good look at pronghorn antelope and once we were able to watch a coyote exploring for something for several minutes. We also enjoyed the Crystal Crane Hot Springs for a relaxing soak several times.

It would be impossible to list all the birds we were able to see during our stay. Very memorable were the huge flocks of White-faced Ibis for the first several weeks of our stay. The list would also include:

the Northern Harriers patrolling on their low altitude flights,
the beauty of the singing of the Western Meadowlarks,
seeing my favorite bird the Western Tanager right at our campsite,
seeing Ring-necked Pheasants scurrying along the Central Patrol Road,
being a part of the excitement caused at Headquarters with the unusual siting of a Bay-breasted Warbler far from its normal range,
the immature Coopers Hawk bathing right outside the viewing windows of the store,
the immature Bald Eagles visiting Headquarters,
the numerous California Quail and Red-winged blackbirds at the feeders put out at the store, 
and last but not least the Sandhill Cranes.

Toward the end of our stay these magnificent birds starting showing up ultimately starting to gather in flocks. We were able to see quite a few close to the road on our journeys but it is their indescribable melodious song filling the air at sunset and sunrise as they fiew in flocks in front of the colorful sky I will always remember.

Bailey and I hope to volunteer next year. If you have not volunteered before I encourage you to consider doing so. You too will have an experience filled with lasting memories.


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