I have been a busy birder this spring.
Two weeks ago, I joined Portland Audubon on a highly anticipated trip to Harney County to visit Malheur National Wildlife. It was my first time traveling to this part of southeastern Oregon, and the first time the area opened since the illegal occupation. I was so excited not just to see thousands of migrating birds, but to support Harney County, show love for public lands, and to be part of a positive influence in the area.
Our fearless birdy leaders
We were greeted with mixed reviews from the locals. On one side was the biker gang yelling obscenities at us, and people in big, loud trucks passing aggressively and flipping us off.
Gate sign visible from public road. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.
But that was just the first day. On the other side were welcome signs, friendly hellos, and locals with an obvious sense of humor.
Thank you, good-humored landowner. (Black-necked Stilts behind the flamingos!)
Despite the local tension, we nature-lovers piled into two vans (that we named White-rumped Yeti and Bobwhite), traveled and explored Harney County over three days, spread the bird love and had an amazing time. I think we represented birders well. Here are some highlights:
Ferruginous Hawk. We saw two, and a nest!
Van-birding – lean right! Photo by Linda “Zelda” Saari; Portland, Oregon.
Swainson’s Hawk (dark morph) that had moments before swapped places with a Rough-legged Hawk.
Burrowing Owl (!)
50% of the world’s population of Ross’s Geese stop here.
Long-billed Curlews on every corner
At one point, we watched two (amorous) American Avocets interact in a mating display. They washed each other’s head, swooping water up, then she shook her head “no-no-no”, and he hopped on top. Seconds later they divided and quickly went their separate ways.
Such a pretty bird
It was almost as romantic as watching Sandhill Cranes dance. Almost. Spring love was clearly in the air. Or at least hormones were. One of the most magical moments of the trip was an evening spent watching two Great Horned Owls hoot, nod, and bow, courting each other under the moonlight. Now that’s romantic. Fun-filled video here.
What an experience.
Birders at Buena Vista Ponds Overlook
Malheur is a vital habitat area to birds and wildlife. Threatened in 1898 by ignorant plume hunters, its preservation importance was officially recognized in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt gave the executive order, establishing Lake Malheur Reservation.
It’s part of an inland lake system on the Pacific Flyway called the SONEC (Southern Oregon-Northeastern California), and millions of birds stop here during migration, and many, including 20% of North America’s entire breeding population of Cinnamon Teal, use this wetland complex to nest and breed.
Today, collaborative groups work hard to manage this vast landscape for wildlife and visitor usage. [Learn more: watch Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger’s presentation, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Past, Present and Future.]
This trip was not just about seeing my first Black-crowned Night Heron or Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Not a plastic bag
But both of those things happened.
Forest-birding, Idlewild Campground
It wasn’t just about the bluebirds, pronghorn, or Say’s phoebe.
This trip was about appreciating public lands. As much as the birds need this habitat to live, we need these lands to thrive too.
Happy travelers. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.
Since I first heard about Malheur (on day two of birding), and now that I’ve visited, I feel super protective of it. Protective of all our public lands. I’m incredibly thankful to those who have fought in the past, and to those who will continue to fight to keep these lands available to all of us.
Not taking anything for granted.
Photo from Audubon Society of Portland
Tweets and chirps,