Saturday, May 04, 2013

Windy Days Fail to Derail Enjoyment of Visitors to the MNWR 

May 5, 2013

Despite two days of sand-driven winds across Harney County, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I declared our recent four-day trip to Burns/Hines and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a total success.
We observed  American avocets, white-faced Ibises, giant sandhill cranes, tiny pied-billed grebes and fluffy American white pelicans.

We spotted  antelope and coyotes at a distance and more deer within whispering distance than we could count.
We ogled panoramic scenery while scoping fields and slopes for elk, deer, antelope and coyotes all along the drive to Burns.
We took one arrow-straight, 50-mile detour west on Highway 20 to Glass Buttes and found small hunks of obsidian. We saw a white-colored coyote near the buttes.
Mainly, however, we ambled along various auto routes and loops south Burns, where we also looked for birds, deer, antelope and coyotes.
When I say “ambled,” I don’t exaggerate.
After a visit to the Diamond Lava Beds, for example, we turned south toward Frenchglen, and  a sheriff who had followed half-a-mile pulled us over with Christmas-tree lights blazing.
As I rolled the window down, Nora leaped onto my lap. With tiny tail wagging furiously, she shinnied onto the window sill to lick the officer’s face.
Darlene puckered her eyes and whispered.
“Oh, oh!”
She clutched the camera with the big lens on her lap.
No Problem, however.
A very pleasant, professional officer said he thought I had been drinking because I kept slowing down, angling to the right and driving at about 30 mph.
“Obviously, you haven’t been,” he said after I explained we were looking for antelope, cranes and coyotes to photograph.
He wished us good luck and left.
Ironically, the sheriff’s car was the only one we had seen in two hours, and I thought he wanted to pass.
Speaking of irony, the majority of our good bird photo opportunities on this trip came on two roads that go directly east from our Best Western motel in Hines to Highway 205: Hotchkiss Road and Green House Road.

Each time we left on Hotchkiss in the morning, we stopped often for shots of yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, black-necked stilts, avocets,  ibises, cranes, willets, dunlins, sandpipers, sanderlings, dowitchers, coots, snipes and such.

Then, along Highway 205, we saw two antelope each morning and afternoon on the north side of Wright’s Point.

On a morning with no wind rippling the waters, Avocets, stilts and American white pelicans stood or floated with their shadows on the water near The Narrows of the MNWR. And terns circled close overhead.

And, of course, we drove the MNWR Auto Route road directly south from the MNWR headquarters toward Frenchglen.
One great white egret foraged along the south side of Benson Lake, but I missed the photo.
A few ducks and two pied-billed grebes floated on roadside sloughs. Dozens of glossy-feathered ibises dined with jerky eagerness in flooded fields beside the road to Steens Mountain.

Accidentally on purpose we timed that trip to lunch at the Frenchglen Hotel. We both had BLTs so thick that I stretched my maw to the limit and squeezed with fingers on both hands for each bite.
Hours later, we stopped again at the MNWR Headquarters.  Hummingbirds had not arrived yet, but I snapped photos of yellow warblers, a male and a female.

And, surprise, those cute little Belding's ground squirrels swarmed all over the place. I say “surprise” because on a visit last fall, all of the little critters had been removed from the headquarters grounds.
The volunteer at the headquarters’ gift shop said they were back now “in full force.”

They’re called “sage rats” and considered major pests  by many locals, especially those raising crops. And shooters visit the area and pay several hundred dollars each for guided trips to shoot sage rats (For a YouTube video Google: Shooting Sage Rats).
So, despite a bit of a breeze, we had a really good trip.
Beside two calm days out of four is a .500 batting average, either way, and that’s a glass half full.

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