Malheur refuge is a grand place in scale, habitat complexity, and natural beauty.
Countless locations for Wildlife viewing
In its vastness of nearly 190,000 acres, you will encounter secretive habitats and picturesque vistas. The Refuge’s diverse combination of basaltic rim rock, sagebrush and greasewood uplands, freshwater marshes and wetlands, and riparian habitats are home to more than 340 species of birds, 58 mammals, and a number of amphibians and reptiles. This is the reason many birders and other wildlife enthusiasts call Malheur Refuge a “Gem of the Pacific Flyway”.
Here are just a few of the wonderful wildlife areas you can experience on a visit to Malheur Refuge. Be amazed and enjoy!
Refuge Headquarters, as it exists today, was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corp and encompasses approximately 5 acres. HQ, as it is referred to, has been planted over the years with many trees and shrubs so today the area is characterized by large stands of old-growth cottonwoods, other tree species, and many types of shrubs. The outcome of this historic development is the establishment of a premier birding and wildlife area. Birds and other animals are observed here year-round, but the highlight is the peak bird activity during the Spring and Fall migrations. Many species of migrating birds are present here during that time and particularly during the Spring months from mid-March to mid-June.
The Narrows is the connection between Malheur Lake in the east and Mud and Harney Lakes to the West. But the Narrows is a trickster. Depending on seasonal water conditions, The Narrows may be dry and thus lack much interest from Wildlife. However, in good moisture years, Malheur lake will fill and overflow into Mud and Harney lakes by way of The Narrows. When this happens, the Narrows attracts numerous shore and wading birds and becomes an excellent birding location. You may even find a herd of pronghorn loitering in the area. The bridge is also home to several species of swallows. In wet years this can be your first stop upon arriving at the Refuge.
The CPR was originally constructed as a major Refuge service road. Today, it is the primary public access route that traverses the Blitzen Valley portion of the Refuge from Refuge Headquarters in the north to the historic P Ranch in the south. As you venture along the CPR, you will encounter a wide range of habitat types from the upland shrub community to wetlands and river riparian areas. These diverse habitats provide an opportunity to view many of the 340 species of birds that are on the refuge at various points during the year. Besides seeing sandhill cranes, bobolinks, and a multitude of other bird species, you may also encounter coyotes, mule deer, badgers, long-tailed weasels, marmots, and several of the other 58 mammal species that inhabit the Refuge. Pack a lunch and spend a rewarding day exploring the CPR and the many birding spots along the way. Don’t forget to pick up a FREE audio CD or download the Guided Blitzen Valley Auto Tour Route before you hit the road. (LINK to that download or more information about the AutoTour?)
The Buena Vista area gets its name from the CCC era buildings that serve a Refuge substation. There is a large complex of ponds and wetlands in this area that attracts a variety of waterfowl and wading birds. Western and Clark’s Grebes are common here, but you may also observe Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers, and the elusive Marsh Wren or Common Yellowthroat. To get an excellent elevated view of the ponds and surrounding wetlands be sure to visit Buena Vista Overlook. The overlook includes interpretive panels that provide cultural history, wildlife, and habitat information about the south end of the Refuge. A visit to the overlook will also reward you with a panoramic view of the south Blitzen River Valley and Steens Mountain.
Benson Pond is named for George M. Benson who was the first Refuge game warden. During his tenure at Malheur, which began in 1918, Benson and his wife spent a period of time living in an old ranch house that once stood in the cottonwood grove south of the ponds. Because of this area’s varied old-growth tree habitat and wetlands, anchored by Benson Pond, it is a favorite of birders and the first important wildlife stop as you drive the south leg of the CPR starting at Krumbo Lane. During the spring and summer, this is an excellent area to observe all six of the swallow species that are found on the Refuge. As with many of the Refuge ponds, waterfowl are abundant, and herons and egrets are often seen wading in the Benson Pond shallows. Resident Trumpeter Swans typically nest here, protected by the tall cattails and bullrush. The tree stands located on the pond’s north and eastsides attracts Bullock’s Orioles, Western Tanagers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and many other songbirds. This is also an excellent area to observe roosting Common Nighthawks and Great Horned Owls. Great Horned Owls frequently nest in the cottonwood trees along the entry road.
Besides offering excellent birding and wildlife viewing, the P Ranch is also of significant historical importance. This was the headquarters for the historical 1880’s French-Glen Livestock Company which encompassed the entire Blitzen River valley from here to Sodhouse Ranch, the northern ranch outpost, which is located near Refuge Headquarters. The Blitzen River which flows adjacent to P Ranch headquarters has a birding trail that runs north along the river. A walk along the trail can reveal flycatchers, warblers, Spotted Towhees, and a variety of sparrows. Occasionally a Common Egret or Great Blue Heron can be spotted along the river. A major historical attraction of the P Ranch is the Long Barn. Both Barn Owls and Great-horned Owls have been found roosting in the rafters of the barn.
Although Page Springs, which includes a BLM campground, is not officially part of the Refuge, it is an excellent birding location. It sits south of and is contiguous with the Refuge. The Blitzen River, originating on Steens Mountain, courses through the campground on its way to the Refuge. The diverse vegetation in this area includes Juniper woodlands. This varied habit attracts upland bird species such as California Quail and sparrows as well as the usual cast of characters such as flycatchers, warblers, vireos, and sparrows that are drawn to the willow thickets along the river. Because of the river’s riparian corridor and associated wetland areas, wading birds such as Sora and Virginia Rails can occasionally be observed just as you enter the campground. There is no better spot for lunch and a little wildlife watching
The Double O Ranch unit anchors the northwest corner of the Refuge west of Harney Lake and is accessed by way of the Double O Ranch Road. This Refuge area is a bit remote, but access is on a county all-weather gravel road suitable for all vehicles. Most of the drive to the ranch area is through shrub habitat so be on the lookout for Common Ravens, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Northern Shrikes, Sage Thrashers, and several sparrow species. In the Spring, as you near Double O Ranch, you will encounter shorebirds such as Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, and Killdeer feeding in the swallow pools along the road. Once you are at the ranch, there are several marsh habitats you can explore. After exiting Highway 205 and heading west it is approximately 14 miles to Double O Ranch. It is recommended that this be a morning trip when birds and other wildlife are most active.
Be a Malheur Refuge Advocate.
You can become a Malheur Refuge champion by joining the Friends of Malheur and together we can advocate for a secure and more prosperous future for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and our national wildlife refuge system.