The next morning we got up, packed up, and said goodbye to the Wallowa Mountains and hello to the Starkey Experimental Forest.
Say, what? Into the fenced-in wild we went.
I’d read information about a Flammulated Owl study performed in this forest. Unfortunately it was from the 80s so I had no idea what possibilities it still held but it was worth a shot. According to the paper, flammies like large diameter Ponderosa Pine snags with cavities at least as large as made by a Northern Flicker (though preferably by Pileated Woodpecker) located on east or south facing ridges and slopes. It was a starting point.
The Starkey forest is 40 square miles completely fenced in with easily navigable gravel roads so we explored all over the place.
And only got one flat tire.
We passed coyote traps, bear traps, strange elongated nest boxes, and several game “cleaning stations” as besides research, the other main use of the forest is elk hunting in the winter. The Starkey Project researches combinations of forest management for elk, timber, cattle, deer, recreation and nutrient flows on National Forests. We couldn’t find any information about camping, but we passed a car with grad-students/employees inside that said it was okay.
They were pretty chill. The whole place was. There were no other people camping or otherwise. It was a nice break. Even if it did make me think of the Hunger Games arena.
The odds were in our favor. We found Mountain Bluebirds.
The worst view ever of a Northern Goshawk.
A sneaky sparrow I think is a young Vesper’s Sparrow.
And so many Pygmy Nuthatches.
It was near this nuthatch’s nest where I spotted the perfect suspect snag. Large diameter, on a high ridge, a great hole, and I’d seen a Northern Flicker in the area. Maybe this could be it? Near sunset Tomas and I waited and watched the hole. Until…
Out peeked a Northern Flying Squirrel! No way. It climbed out for a brief moment and then scurried back into it’s hole.
Not an owl, but still a great find.
We settled back in to camp hoping to hear owls in the night, but I slept too soundly and didn’t hear a hoot. Sad to leave the forest we packed up for the trip home. Oddly enough we hadn’t seen any deer or elk in the Starkey Experiemental Forest, it wasn’t until we were beyond the fence boundary that we bumped into a herd of elk.
This is also when we saw a coyote run across the road carrying a big hunk of a deer carcass. I managed one terrible photo.
Neat. So much excitement outside the fence perimeter.
On the way home we made a point to stop at Philippi Canyon because there’s always something good to find and this time did not disappoint.
The biggest surprise was a Chukar that didn’t run away! At least for a brief enough moment.
Another fabulous trip to eastern Oregon with much to sing about!
Tweets and chirps,