Malheur NWR: The first half

To celebrate Jacob's birthday this week we took a three day camping trip to Malheur NWR in the high desert of southeast Oregon.  Jacob had never been and I was excited to show him why people love this place so much.  We left early Monday and made it to the birdy Sage Hen Rest Area just outside Burns by late morning.

Mountain Bluebirds love this rest area

We continued on through Burns and Hines, then headed south on Highway 205 towards the refuge.  This can be a tough road to bird if the birds aren't lined up perfectly with the few pullouts but we stopped where we could.

 Classic Yellow-headed Blackbird pose

Our first trip Long-billed Curlews

 In this same spot a raven flew in and angered the blackbirds and Killdeer.  I thought it was walking over to raid a Killdeer nest, but it found something else to chew on.

I can't tell for sure but it really looks like the head of a Yellow-headed Blackbird. 

We pulled over at the big pond next to the substation where we were excited to find a couple of Black Terns.  Lifer for Jacob and a bird I had thought we'd be too early for. 

Along the fence by the pond this flower was growing that I think is native Hesperochiron pumilu, or dwarf hesperochiron.

Back on the road we headed to Malheur NWR Headquarters to make sandwiches and bask in the birds.

The first of five Great Horned Owls at HQ

Even though it was early afternoon there were still tons of birds around.

This vireo was so dull I thought it could be a Plumbeous at first but photos proved it to be a super dull Cassin's.

Bold nuthatch

On our way out Jacob noticed three owlets with another adult Great Horned.

Fuzzy buddy

From Headquarters we began the long drive along the Center Patrol Road which is basically a super long auto tour.   Larkspur was looking gorgeous at the beginning of the road.

A closer look revealed some excitement.

 We didn't get far before we found a coyote and then a Short-eared Owl!

There were plenty more birds to find along the road:

Ruddy Duck displaying to a lady friend

 Flyby Ferruginous Hawk

Sandhill Cranes

Swainson's Hawk

And our second gopher snake of the day:

 After driving over four hours along the Center Patrol Road we were getting hangry and headed to Page Springs Campground to eat some chili and relax by the fire with a beer and a deer.

 I had been hoping to hear Common Poorwill at night here but it never happened. 

In the morning we got up, made coffee, and headed back to headquarters, stopping for a pronghorn along the way.

Pronghorn not pictured.

 Lark Sparrow 

 At HQ, Say's Phoebes are nesting on the lights by the door to the museum.

Yellow Warblers were probably the most abundant and most vocal bird of the trip.

We checked out the hummingbird feeders where we picked up Black-chinned Hummingbird.

 A Great Horned owl adult and owlet were doing all sorts of cute things to each other.

 We walked up the overlook trail where we had nice views of a Prairie Falcon zipping around, but also learned that the mosquitoes LOVE the sagebrush. 

At some point we ran into my friend Dwight who gave us some good tips on Burrowing Owls, Diamond Craters, and more, which I will save for the next post.  When we left HQ that morning we had seen 88 species in Harney County so far!  More to come soon.  Good times!! 


  1. Wow! I agree that looks like a YHBL head. Did you see the Raven do the carnage, or did it just pick it up off the ground? Cool either way.

    1. We saw the raven fly in, walk right to it, and snatched it up.

  2. I felt like I was right there in camp as Jacob was surprised by that deer wandering in..Wanted to be a fly on the picnic table..lovely post. I'm waiting for part 2. I bet a Hawk did that damage to the Yellow headed, because when I used to work at the BOP rehab, the hawks used to bite the head off right away...and toss it aside, (of the frozen/thawed mice we fed them) And you know how crows mob hawks, he probably flew off with the body and left the head behind for the crow.

    1. Oh interesting! That definitely could have happened.

  3. Wow the Bluebird is really an amazing colour! And you always seem to see so many owls - looking forward to the Burrowing Owls!

    1. Yeah those Mountain Bluebirds are dazzling!


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