Thursday, May 31, 2012

Malheur NWR Trip

I don't normally post notes and photographs from the field in this blog.  (Perhaps I will create a dedicated page for that at a later date.)  But with migration movement being minimal here in Western Oregon, my yard is as dead as a doornail at this point.  So I figured why not share some photos from my recent trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  And, heck, it's pretty much impossible to not take a ton of photos of interesting birds at Malheur.

Malheur NWR is located in the high desert (elevation of over 4000 ft) of southeast Oregon, approximately 25 miles south of the town of Burns and roughly 100 miles north of the Nevada border.  The refuge is roughly t-shaped, with the northern end consisting of Malheur, Mud, and Harney Lakes, and a relatively narrow strip of land extending approximately 30 miles to the south, ending near the town of Frenchglen.  Much of this area consists of small lakes, ponds, and marshes.  (Being that this is desert region, I'd imagine that at least some of the marshland is seasonal.)  The abundance of water in such a dry area attracts ridiculous number of birds (over 320 species recorded), particularly during spring migration.  And the birds attract nerds such as myself.

The Yellow-headed Blackbird is one of the most common migrants at Malheur.

Not surprisingly, waterfowl and shorebirds are big here.  As I drove past Malheur Lake and the surrounding marsh area on my drive into the refuge on Sunday afternoon, American Avocet, American Coot, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson's Phalaropes, White-faced Ibis, Great Egret, Killdeer, Forster's and Caspian Terns, sandpipers, pelicans, and several species of duck were prominent.

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt

White-faced Ibis

Wilson's Phalarope

Forster's Tern

Long-billed Curlew

Great Egret

Fledgling Killdeer

While traveling through some of the marshland south of Malheur Lake, this ostrich-looking individual was observed in an adjacent field...

It shortly revealed itself to be a Sandhill Crane...

An abundance of water means an abundance of insects.  And these insects attract vast numbers of insect-eating migrants, such as swallows and flycatchers.  Swallows were in such high abundance at times that they reminded me of the swarms of insects that I used to encounter on summer evenings in Indiana.  (Thankfully, no swallows were killed by my windshield.)  Tyrant flycatchers such as kingbirds, phoebes, pewees, and a few species of the Empidonax genus were also abundant (though not nearly as numerous as the swallows).

Barn Swallow

Tree Swallow

Bank Swallow.  Widespread, but in small, isolated populations that are not readily observed.

Western Wood-pewee

Eastern Kingbirds are not common in Oregon, but a small number do breed in the Eastern portion of the state.

I stayed with three other birders at the Malheur Field Station (MFS), which was also very flycatcher-happy.  The Western Kingbird below is a big fan of MFS.

Our mobile home was equipped with small platforms under the awnings, wich made for convenient nesting spots.  A pair of Say's Phoebes took advantage of the nesting spot next to our front door, and didn't seem to be bothered by our presence.

One Say's Phoebe hawks insects around the parking lot...

... while the other tends to nest duties.

Common Nighthawks can also be found in the area.  These birds aerially forage for insects and are most active at dusk and dawn.  During the day, they can often be found resting/napping on horizontal tree branches, fences, signs, etc.

 A Common Nighthawk rests on a fence.

Warblers enjoy insects as well, and it was difficult to not see Yellow Warblers on the refuge.  Several dozen of them could be seen in relatively small areas, and it was getting to the point where I could hear their songs in my sleep.  Some of the brushier habitats were also good for Yellow-breasted Chat.

A male Yellow Warbler sings atop a small tree at Benson Pond.

This Yellow-breasted Chat pops up for a second.

Malheur is also home to many small rodents (mice, voles, etc.), which attracts raptors and other predatory birds...

Great-horned Owls

Immature Red-tailed Hawk

Nestling Golden Eagle

Loggerhead Shrike

The raptor-heavy grassland habitats were also good for species such as Bobolink and Horned Lark.  We even spotted a late migrant Lewis's Woodpecker in this unexpected habitat.  Black-billed Magpies were abundant in areas closer to human habitation.


Black-billed Magpie

An uncooperative Lewis's Woodpecker keeps its distance from us.

One of Malheur's big attractions is the refuge's headquarters.  Located on the south end of Malheur Lake, its large oasis of trees act as a magnet for migrant passerines (perching birds).  Headquarters was jam-packed with Western Tanagers, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Bullock's Orioles, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos, among others.

Malheur NWR Headquarters

Western Tanager, male

Warbling Vireo

Bullock's Oriole (appears to be a second-year male)

Cedar Waxwing

California Quail, male

Lazuli Bunting, male

Hummingbirds were also abundant at the nectar feeders at Headquarters.  Male and female Black-chinned Hummingbirds, shown below, were omnipresent:

As the migratory movement of the "regular" Western birds begins to taper out in late May, vagrant Eastern species sometimes begin to appear.  We were fortunate enough to observe a few...

Baltimore Oriole, male

Black-and-white Warbler

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

We also observed a female Northern Parula.  I was not able to get a good photo of it, but Portland birder Diana Byrne obtained both a good photo and a video.

I'd like to thank Alan Contreras and Vjera and Eddie Thompson for letting me stay with them, as well as for their ID assistance, cooking, and camaraderie.  I'd also like to thank Alan for carting us around all day Monday, and for making frequent stops to allow me to obtain many of the photos shown above.

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