Road Trip: Union County to Malheur County

 Last week Jacob and I took a six day road trip to eastern Oregon with stops in Union, Baker, Malheur, Canyon (ID), Humboldt (NV), Harney, and Crook Counties. Here is the section I will try to cover in this blog post, courtesy of google maps:

Day One.

Our first stop was at Hilgard Junction in Union where our target birds were Gray Catbird and Veery. We had catbirds singing as soon as we got out of the car. 

As we walked through the campground area we heard a Veery singing across the river. No views but still a success. We also had our only dipper and Red-naped Sapsucker of the trip here. 

The next stop was Farewell Bend State Park in Baker County.  It was pretty warm by then but I still got five county birds. 

Western Tiger Swallowtail on showy milkweed

Great Horned Owl hanging out with the common folk

Just south of this park we crossed into Malheur County, a county neither of us had birded before. Our main stops were Ontario State Recreation Site (hot and fairly quiet) and Beck-Kiwanis Park (birdy!).

Why have water-filled ponds when you can have pea soup-filled ponds?

Pied-billed Grebe child


Great-tailed Grackles, no McDonald's in sight

 From Ontario we drove east into Idaho where we had reserved a hotel in Nampa for the night. After checking in and eating some burritos we headed down to Deer Flat NWR, a place that looked very promising in eBird.  The first trail we checked out was quiet, very windy, very sunny, and mosquito-ey. A field adjacent to the trail was being watered and you could not pass without also getting watered.

It didn't feel too bad really

We decided to check out another spot on the lake the refuge surrounds and quickly realized our mistake. We were at a lake in Idaho on a hot Saturday. It was basically spring break at every other location. Yet still a wildlife refuge. It was weird and we gave up. 

Day Two.

We got on the road early the next morning to drive back into Oregon towards Leslie Gulch near Lake Owyhee. The sunrise was top notch.

The gravel roads to Leslie Gulch were full of distractions and it took us awhile to get there. 


Sage Thrasher



Entering Leslie Gulch

In case you are like I was five minutes ago and don't know the difference between a gulch and a canyon, let me explain with some info copy/pasted from the internet. "When used as nouns, canyon means a valley, especially a long, narrow, steep valley, cut in rock by a river, whereas gulch means a ravine-like or deep v-shaped valley, often eroded by flash floods." Wikipedia has a nice cheat sheet for all of the similar terms at the bottom of this page.

Say's Phoebe at beginning of Juniper Gulch Trail

Gulch Wren

We were psyched on all the wildflowers blooming but this was one of my favorite finds, clustered broomrape:

The trail was definitely a bit of an adventure with some scrambling and narrow spots, one place we had to kind of crawl through a hole between rocks. 

 Bird-wise it was nothing shocking, typical birds of the gulch world, though I was surprised by the abundance of Black-throated Gray Warblers. 

View from our turn-around spot

We drove down to Lake Owhyee where the road ends. There were quite a few families out and about fishing, boating, hanging out, but it wasn't bad. We set up a good snack station in the shade and relaxed for a bit. 

After snacks we made our way back out of the area stopping for wildflowers here and there. 

I thought this was a new wildflower for me but it turned out to be scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) in a striking hot pink color. There were some white ones nearby also. 

I was psyched on these giant evening primroses:

Oenothera cespitosa

Our next planned stop was Chevally Reservoir, not too far from 95 on Mahogany Gap Road. It only had two eBird checklists but water in the desert is always worth a stop. 

Cinnamon Teals

It turned out to be a nice stop with a variety of ducks, a pelican, Forster's Terns, Sandhill Cranes and more. 

Back on 95 we headed south to Jordan Valley where we drove Dinwitty Lane to look for Bobolinks.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

We saw a Bobolink briefly (lifer for Jacob!) but it flew off and disappeared as they like to do. We kept going and turned around near a series of puddles that a Killdeer and a Wilson's Phalarope were sharing. 

As we drove back towards 95 the Bobolink was out again and on my side of the car. 

Our plan for the night was to camp at either Cow Lakes or Antelope Reservoir. First we drove up to Cow Lakes which was a hot, windy, hazy mess of nothingness. No humans, few birds, lots of grasshoppers. No shade either. We got our county Caspian Tern and got the heck outta there. 

Antelope Reservoir turned out to be great and we snagged one of the first camp spots we saw.

View from our picnic table

We set up the tent, scoped the lake from there, ate some chili, and tried to chase off this cute kitty that would not leave us alone. I'm pretty sure it belonged to the sprinter set up a couple camp spots away from us but they did not seem to care that it had wandered off. Even when camping you can be annoyed at your neighbor's cats. :(

It tried to follow me into the tent but I can be a fast zipper when necessary. 

Day Three.

Despite howling winds when we went to sleep the morning was totally chill. And chilly. I was sitting and watching the hundreds of gulls flying in front of the lightening sky when a nightjar zipped by at eye level. I got my bins on it and followed it from the lake to the sage to the north. It was stocky and didn't have white wing patches like a nighthawk. Poorwill! Luckily Jacob stepped out of the vault toilet in time to see his lifer fly by. 

American White Pelican + Common Nighthawk combo

Black-crowned Night-Heron

One of the coolest things about this place is that there's a massive White-faced Ibis roost here on the northeast corner of the lake. We had watched them battling the wind the evening before while trying to land in the various trees and shrubs. In the morning they were streaming out constantly. Later on I saw another birder, Jay Withgott, had camped there a couple nights before us and estimated over 2000 birds at the roost. 

We got on the road early and crossed back into the Pacific time zone after a day in Mountain. I'll save the rest for the next post, stay tuned!


  1. I always love your find such interesting places, the gulch was eye popping, what a place. Great Jacob got out of the honey pot in time to bag a lifer, he is a lucky guy and the bobolink did co-operate. I look forward to part 2! Gulch Wren....hmmm. :o)


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