Images of Snowy Egrets and a White-Headed Woodpecker Highlight Another Visit to Burns, Frenchglen and the MNWRby Don Davis
Saturday, May 31. 2014
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I had never seen a White-Headed Woodpecker.
Neither had Darlene.
Nora the Schnauzer has remained notably silent about that particular bird.
I assume she still hasn't seen one.
Either that or she has but considers it insignificant.
Nevertheless, Darlene and I saw one on our first stop at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters this spring.
On Saturday, May 24, we drove the 237 miles to cross Highway 20, a mile or so from Burns, in under seven hours.
As usual, we enjoyed the drive.
And the stops.
When we headed downhill after leaving the state park on Battle Mountain, I spotted an elk among the sun-splashed trees on the left. I continued a two-block distance to turn around.
Maybe two minutes passed before, reversed, I stopped adjacent to the vague light-brown form among the scrub pine trees.
“Look, the elk has just dropped a calf,” Darlene said.
I slipped from the truck, fetched the camera (which I should have asked Darlene to hold in her lap) from the back seat and aimed it across the tonneau.
Tangled limbs and and gnarly tree trunks complicated my locating the two vague forms and managing a focused shot.
Alas, they trotted away as I pressed the release button and captured an image of two bustling elk behinds cluttered with trees.
One looked much larger that the other.
I had better luck 10 minutes later. Darlene spotted the three antelope, two pregnant does and a full-racked buck, in the valley before the turnoff to Ukiah.
I stopped, she handed me the camera, and I snapped a bunch of images.
Darlene also spotted the three young bull elk that loped ahead of us, leaped the fence, crossed the road, leaped another fence and strutted off across a meadow.
Alas, I missed shots of them leaping the fences but caught them from behind as they crossed a knoll.
More images of elk butts bounding away.
Then, for a long way, we wallowed in East and Central Oregon’s wonderful jagged scenery.
As we approached Highway 20 at Burns, Darlene spotted two Great White Egrets at the edge of a flooded pasture.
I worked my way close enough to snap photos for five minutes or so.
A few minutes after 2 p.m., since we had dined at McDonald’s in John Day and since we could not check into our Best Western digs for two hours, we continued south on Highway 205 toward the MNWR.
Seconds after we crossed another road, Highway 78, I spotted a badger leaning from the sage bushes on the left as if waiting to cross the road.
I braked hard and it panicked. It raced along the road, out of Darlene's sight in the drainage gully, with a chubby, rolling gate. Its furry back and sides rippled with fleshy determination.
I followed, reaching for the camera, rolling down my window and bracing the steering wheel with my knee until Darlene took over one-handed and guided our direction.
The moment I caught a fleeting image in the camera's viewfinder, the badger veered sharply left and disappeared into the sage.
I did not even snag an image of a badger’s butt disappearing in the foliage.
I did capture a fuzzy image of sage.
So, we drove 30 miles south to the refuge. We paused at The Narrows pullout between the radically dry mudflats of Malheur and Harney lakes.
I snapped images of an American White Pelican sailing on the limited choppy water and of a Common Tern (I think) swooping and diving above the road.
Then, as we unloaded the big camera and a tripod (in preparation for photographing hovering hummingbirds), a man walked by with a huge (600 mm) Cannon lens on his camera.
He wore a grey buttoned shirt, grey pants and a wide-brimmed hat.
“I deduce, from your lens, that you would be interested in seeing a White Headed Woodpecker,” he said.
I did not know that such a bird should be special, but I had a catchy answer.
"Huh?” I said.
“I don’t understand?”
He explained that the bird was dining in a tree at the headquarters, and that his girlfriend kept tabs on it while he fetched the camera.
I mustered meaningful enthusiasm and, along with Darlene and Nora, hurried after him.
He was right.
I gathered a bunch of woodpecker images.
Yes, and Nora had a happy time running to the end of her leash at the many Belding's ground squirrels at the site.
Locals call the ground squirrels “sage rates” and pests that damage land and farm equipment.
As a result, the squirrels provide a very profitable injection into the area economy.
Guides and land owners provide folks who enjoy shooting sports with live-animal targets s to shoot.
As a 2013-14 Harney County Information Guide reports in a quote from Justin Aamodt, co-operator of Diamond A Guides):
“Landowners will get about $30,000 this year and a total amount coming in from the whole community’s support and businesses will be about $500,000.
“That’s just for an eight-week period.” .
“Ratters” as some call the shooters may pay $400 a day to attend Rat Camp, similar to Elk Camp, and for the privilege of firing off about 500 .22-rifle rounds a day from a safe and comfortable platform atop a trailer at ground squirrels standing upright with forelegs hugging their chests beside their dens.
We enjoyed the entire trip, and highlights included, in no specific order: (1) the Snowy Egrets (with black bills) and the Great White Egrets on Diamond Road;
(2) the Turkey Vultures drying their wings at the P Ranch Tower near Frenchglen and dining on carrion along DR;
(3) the White-Faced Ibises flying and feeding above and along DR;
(4) the Mule Deer doe Darlene spotted with the two still-wet fawns along DR;
(5) the side-blotched and the fence lizards, the jackrabbit and the scenery at Buena Vista Overlook;
(6) the synchronized dredging by American White Pelicans at The Narrows;
(7) the hummers (which I especially enjoyed photographing with a tripod in the shade) at the MNWR headquarters;
(8) the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that sang on many fence posts beside many roads;
(9) the Curlews circling above grasslands once covered by water near The Narrows;
(11) the Barn Swallows, Meadow Larks and the Snipe along Hotchkiss Road;
(12)and the Sphinx Moth at the MNWR hqtrs.
So, I spent four days collecting nearly 2,000 (actually 1,997) images (some good, some not so much) at the MNWR near Burns, Oregon.
Of course, the two most unexpected subjects for me were the White-Headed Woodpecker and the Snowy Egret. But Darlene will especially remember a Cow Elk licking a just dropped calf on Battle Mountain and a Mule-Deer Doe with two still-wet fawns in the shadow of a crumbling shack on the road to the Peter French Round Barn built largely of local juniper tree material and where during the winter cowboys trained hundreds of horses to work with cows.
I tried hard to photograph some of the hundreds of White-Faced Ibises in flight over the Diamond Road, and I enjoyed sneaking up on lizards at the Buena Vista Nature Trail and Overlook. The curious Jackrabbit there added spice to that pause.
And because it proved convenient, we lunched daily at the Frenchglen Hotel. I still salivate when remembering the Ham and Bean Soup with cornbread the menu featured on our first meal there. And the subsequent two grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches tasted fine, too.
And, if all goes well, we may dine there again in the fall.