Species Spotlight: Pallid Bat

Written by Alexa Martinez, MNWR Wildlife Biologist

Pallid bats are one of the twelve species of bats found at Malheur NWR. Known for their distinct appearance with large ears and hog noses. They also have larger eyes than most species found in North America. These unique features not only give this bat its attractive look, but helps with their ground hunting style. Unlike most bats, they will catch food on the ground versus in the air. Besides the use of echolocation to help find its prey and maneuver through the air, they also use passive hearing to hear their prey move on the ground. Their diet consists of eating large beetles, crickets, grasshopers, cicadas, centipedes, and scorpions! That’s right, scorpions. What about the venom you ask? This species of bat appears to be immune to the venom of scorpions. Talk about a super power!  

Because of their hunting behavior, this exposes the species to predators both in the air and on the ground, such as, coyote, foxes, owls, raccoons, snakes, and cats.

The geographic range of a pallid bat extends from Canada, throughout western America, all the way to Mexico. They can be found roosting in caves, rock crevices, mines, hollow trees, and buildings. Water sources are usually close by. Pallid bats do not migrate, except for short distances to winter hibernacula (a place where a creature seeks refuge, to overwinter).

Because this species is highly social, their colony roost can vary from 12 to 100 individuals. These bats tend to breed in the fall and have their pups in the spring. Pregnant females will most likely give birth to twins, but can have between one or three pups.

This species definitely adds to the unique quality of Malheur NWR.

If you’d like to see a pallid bat eat a scorpion, CLICK HERE to see this amazing creature in action.

A Spring Surprise, or Two

Written by Rick Vetter/Photos by Rick Vetter, Dan Streiffert, and Richard Schwieren

A change in weather always seems to be an invitation to bird. Having just returned from birding warm Arizona, a trace of snow and much cooler temperatures in Harney county provided that stimulus. 

This is just a partial summary of the bird activity on Sunday, April 25, 2021 in Harney County, but captures some highlights. 197 bird species have been observed in the county this year so far and that number changes almost daily now as new migrants arrive almost daily now. 

We woke up to a trace of snow and 32 white crowned sparrows and a record 78 Cassin’s finches in the backyard at feeders. Not one house finch, as Will Wright and Joan Suther helped me count. 

Joan and I drove south from Burns, noting the Black-bellied plovers that were present on Hwy 205 just south of Hotchkiss lane had moved on, but they were replaced by long-billed dowitchers, dunlins, western sandpipers, and a peregrine falcon that had a high altitude encounter with possible second one. The Peregrine we watched continued hunting and kept shorebirds on guard while frequently flying between feeding areas. 

One mile before Malheur National Wildlife Refuge HQ we encountered 27 willets in a small area feeding in the short green grass pasture and a great-tailed grackle. Or, were there two? Since one was reported at Refuge Headquarters. 

We tallied 51 species at HQ, with the most notable species being a blue-winged teal and a great-tailed grackle that appeared late in the stay. I drove back to the first sighting location of that bird to see if we had two, but could not find the first one. I was leaning towards one for the notes until a birder said he took a photo of two at Crane’s Nest Nature Store feeder! 

We pointed out a few notable species to out of area birders and spotted a short-eared owl hunting over the distant wetlands. This made their day. 

A few days before this storm hit, reports of several Nashville warbles, and a handful of other early migrant warbler species were noted at HQ, but not today. The best we could do were just 4 yellow-rumped warblers and 1 ruby-crowned kinglets.

The Cranes Nest Nature Store at refuge headquarters is now open most days depending on volunteer help. The visitor center is partially open, again depending on volunteers. About 6 vehicles and 12 people were birding during our 3 hour stay. They decided a virtual bird festival, while vaulable, was not as good as the real thing. Some came from distant Ohio. 

On to Krumbo reservoir for a possible common loon as a large storm cell approached. Surprisingly, the water at Krumbo was flat and glassy. Not a bit of wind for awhile. The calm before the storm. 

At the dam I spotted a common loon about 400 meters out and then Joan spotted two more to the far left. Not bad for 10 seconds of birding. But for a thorough survey of water birds we knew a view from the sagebrush point at the boat landing was needed. It was there that things got exciting. 

We could see the 3 loons we spotted near the dam and as we scanned the water to the east, 2 more and 2 more and 2 more and finally 1 more near the boat dock!  For a total of 10 common loons from one spot! 

Two of ten common loons observed at Krumbo Resevoir on Sunday April 25th

To my knowledge, the record for common loons was 7 by M. Archie on November 3, 1985. And the refuge record (and most likely the county record) is 24 on Boca lake, way back on May 11, 1964. (Data from Birds of Malheur by CD Littlefield). Ebird high count data does not capture all historical high count data and it can be misleading for the numbers that do exist. 

While enjoying the reservoir view, dark gray clouds with bulging white edges approached from the SW as thunder rumbled over the Steens. Then the rain, sleet and snow hit about 5 pm as we drove back to Burns. 

P Hill above Frenchglen had more than 1/2 inch of rain over the weekend while Burns had a trace. The drought continues and the Narrows remains dry. There is a chance that the snow on the Steens will provide water to the Narrows, maybe in June and if so hopefully it will remain into the fall for good shorebird viewing. 

Idlewild campground is open because of the lack of snow. 

We did notice that waterfowl numbers were low on the wetlands south of Burns including Snow and Ross’s geese. But diversity was good. A lack of flooded fields is most likely the reasons birds are not lingering here.   

And a significant lack of black-tailed jackrabbits may be the reason the Golden eagles not nesting at the iconic nest just west of the Narrows. 

Bald eagles are nesting at sodhouse and P-Ranch on the Refuge and may have an easier time catching waterfowl and the plentiful American coot. 

This is always an exciting time of year here in the basin as new migrants and rare birds arrive daily from this point on into early June. Ebird is an excellent way to track new arrivals and numbers. 

Burns had a near record high number of Covid 19 cases a week ago, so be safe and smart on your travels. 

On another note, smash and grab theft is now occurring in Burns, even at well known motels. One birder lost some electronics while parked at one of well know hotels. And business break-ins are part of the weekly news lately.

The best advice: don’t leave valuables in your vehicle. All the theft that we know about is in Burns and Hines, and not at birding spots. Just be aware and safeguard your belongings. 

Safe and Happy Birding, 
Rick Vetter and Joan Suther 

A Few Spring Sightings

Recent unique observations have included great-tailed grackles, a Bewick’s swan, semipalmated plover, a female ruff, and a calliope hummingbird. Don’t forget to check eBird for recent sightings. You can even sign up for rare bird alerts!

An Incredible Friend Remembered

Written by Gary Ivey

To Commemorate a great Friend, Cal Elshoff (1928 – 2021)

Cal Elshoff left this world in late March. He was married to Alice, for 62 years. Cal spent his career as a biology teacher and maintained friendships with many of his students. After retirement, he spent about 12 years as a Malheur Refuge volunteer and has been a member of Friends of Malheur Refuge since we founded in 1999. His wife, Alice, continues to serve as Vice-President of the FOMR Board.

Cal loved nature! He fished, hunted, birded, and he loved natural things. He was a regular volunteer on our Friends work parties, accomplishing many things, including removing unnecessary wildlife-threatening barb wire from the refuge, cleaning up the local refuge highway, installing refuge signage, maintaining trails and landscaping. After moving back to Bend, Cal also became an active volunteer at a local golf course where he took initiative to install bird houses.

If you knew Cal and have a memory of of him, please share it with us so that we may all celebrate the impact he had on our lives. We will miss Cal deeply and know that if he touched your lives, you will too.

Alice’s wishes are that any contributions towards Cal’s memory be made to a conservation group of your choice, or to Partners In Care, a Bend Hospice group.

2021 Youth Art Contest

Virtual Gallery for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival

Text is an excerpt from the article in the 4.21.2021 issue of the Burns Times Herald

Each year, the bird festival’s membership dues and the Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge fundraising efforts support the AiR program, that ultimate reaches every elementary school classroom in Harney County!

In addition to the AiR program, the festival hosts a Youth Wildlife Art Contest which encourages students in kindergarten through high school to create a unique art entry for competition. Students are provided an opportunity to artistically express their knowledge of the diversity, interdependence, and beauty of wildlife.

This year, a total of 50 entries were submitted for the contest.

“The artwork submitted portray native North American bird species most likely to be seen in Harney County,” said Carey Goss from Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The contest was judged in four grade-level categories: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. First, second, and third place entries were selected from each group by a voting process within the bird festival committee, local government, and non-profit groups, using elements of art such as visual components of color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value. Scholarships were awarded to the 12 winning artists, including a $100 gift certificate for each first place finisher.

Malheur & Me: A Love Essay

When I moved to Wisconsin in 1975, I fell head-over-heels in love with its lush green pastures, rolling hills and woods. Maybe it reminded me of the Western Pennsylvania landscape where I grew up. Aldo Leopold died the year I was born, but he left Wisconsin love letters in the form of essays. In 1999, I moved to Puget Sound and joined the local birding group. People would ask me if I had been to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon. It was an incredible birding destination, they said. To me, though, it was an amorphous place in an arid corner of the state. It held no allure.

A few years later I moved to Forest Grove, west of Portland and decided I would use some of my vacation to visit Malheur in late May. As I turned south onto 205 just east of Burns, still 30 miles north of the Refuge, I was surprised to see flooded farm fields with wading birds foraging. Yellow-headed Blackbirds dotted the same fields and wire fencing, scolding me with their screechy, territorial call. A flock of White-faced Ibis flew overhead. Cinnamon Teal, along with other ducks, swam in the ditches on either side of the road. Sandhill Crane pairs walked in the fields a little further south. I was intoxicated. As I drove over Wright’s point, I saw Steens Mountain, the largest fault block mountain in the Great Basin. While the flooded fields around Burns owed their temporary abundance of water to the Silvies River, the Refuge was an oasis in the high desert thanks to the snowmelt from Steens. It took me two hours to drive that 30 miles to the northern edge of the Refuge, simply because I had to stop so often to see birds and take in the varied landscape.

In the years to come, I would spend a week or more camping at Page Springs at the southern end of the refuge where I could wake up each morning ready to explore, slowly making my way to Refuge Headquarters.

On the last day of one trip, I woke up to the sound of Canyon Wrens, their sweet descending calls filling the air as they left their nests in the canyon wall just across a creek from the campground. Soon, I had walked the mile or so to the beginning of the North Steens Loop Road, still closed to cars because of snow even though it was late May. I sat on a large rock about knee high, looking out across the south end of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The sun hadn’t begun to peek above the mountain yet, but it was close, casting a pink glow to the desert hills to the southwest. The peace I felt was palpable. Here, I always remembered this land was the home of the Northern Paiutes, even if they’d been relegated to a small reservation north of Burns for over a century. The sun rose above the mountain behind me, and I lingered. Certainly I came here each spring to witness the migration of millions of birds. But it was more than that. Here, I felt the connection to the land so strongly.

Restored, I walked back down to the campground where other campers who had come to watch birds or to fish were stepping out of their tents or RVs. It didn’t take long to put my tent, duffle bag and small cooler in the car. I looked around, satisfied I’d left the site ready for the next visitor and got in my car. 

I drove slowly on the gravel road between Page Springs and the paved highway at Frenchglen. There were Western Tanagers, a Bullock’s Oriole, a Wilson’s Snipe. Once out of Frenchglen, the speed limit on 205 increased. Though I would still stop at a few places to see more birds on my way home, I was usually ready to return to the other side of the Cascade range where I lived and a hot shower awaited. This time, though, perhaps my seventh or eighth annual trip to the high desert since moving to Oregon in 2002, there was something welling up inside me just as I came to a pullout. I parked the car and looked out over the wetland. Suddenly I was sobbing. I didn’t know where all the tears and emotion came from. Surely I would be back again. I wiped away the tears and stayed a little longer before getting back on 205.

In the beginning, still working, my trips to Malheur were limited by vacation time that I portioned out with other birding destinations. Later, I would volunteer for weeks and months at a time.

The spring of 2018 was the first migration I missed since moving to Oregon. Instead, I drove to radiation treatments every day. By late July, the treatments were over, and my strength returned. I told my daughter I was going to Malheur. “But Mom, it’s July. There aren’t any birds there now.” But I knew it was as much about place that drew me. And of course there were birds, the ones that had nested, including Bobolinks and their happy song. That fall, I volunteered again, and the following spring as well.

Now I am in Hawaii, with its own magic. Yet I am confident my next trip to the mainland will include a trip to Malheur.

I wish I’d written multiple love essays about Malheur as Leopold had about Wisconsin. I invite you to write yours.