Malheur Wildlife Refuge

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I’m standing on the edge of the Blitzen River, watching – and being watched by – a pair of Northern Harriers.  I think they must have a nest nearby, since they don’t seem to like the fact that I’m hanging around.

The female does a couple of fly-bys, checking me out.  The third time, she is vocal in her displeasure: she doesn’t want me there.

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That spurs her partner into action.  He screeches a response and circles me as well, giving me the evil eye on the first pass and diving at my head on the second.  I swing my arms and he veers off, but I’m duly chastened.    I get the heck out of there.

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The Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon is a grand birding destination, especially in early May before the mosquitoes have woken up.  It’s an oasis in the high desert, with hundreds of bird species both stopping through as they migrate north and nesting.  We camped at Page Springs Campground among tall cottonwoods and watched orioles and warblers and song sparrows as we had our morning coffee.  We easily filled four days wandering the area, seeing new birds every day.

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On the trail along the river we watched and listened to cute little Bushtits,  Yellow-breasted Chats (the first I’ve ever seen),  Bullock’s Orioles, a gorgeous Lazuli Bunting,  and hundreds of bright little Yellow Warblers.

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The open meadows and ponds were full of Ibises and swallows Cinnamon Teals and shorebirds like the Short-billed Dowitcher.

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Stands of cottonwoods along the ponds and marshes provided habitat for Kestrels, Phoebes and Northern Flickers.

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There was even a Great Horned Owl with two chicks.  The mom flew off when we arrived,

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leaving the kids to nap on their own.  One little guy woke up and kept an eye on us for a while,

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but eventually lost interest and turned around to join his brother in his nap.  Owls are chill, that’s for sure!

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Posted in Birding, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Sneaky Critters

They’re out there. You know they are. The critters are all around us, watching…they know we’re there, that’s for sure.

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If we’re patient, we might find them.

There’s someone on this snowy Yellowstone hillside.   Do you see him?

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No?  Well, not surprising.

How about now?

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Yes? No?  Here, I’ll get a little closer.

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Pretty sneaky, eh?

And what about the bushes?  We’re always walking through bushes, right?  When they’re missing their leaves you’re pretty sure that nothing’s hiding in there, I bet.

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Don’t be so sure.

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You see him, right?  He had a harder time hiding out in the open…but still.

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The critters in the bushes aren’t always scary, of course.  See anybody here?

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Birds. Many birds.  How many do you see?

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Or…

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Did you see the crane?

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Of course there are critters in the trees, too.   See anyone here?

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Here he is:

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Yep, they’re sneaky, that’s for sure.

(Want to see more hidden critters?  Check out these earlier posts: Hidden in Plain Sight and Now You See Me)

Posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Being Here, Being Now

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I’m sitting in a meadow near Harrison Lake, watching a pair of Short-eared Owls courting high above me.  Their soft “wup-wup-wups” and the wing-clapping of the male is surprisingly loud, even when they’re hundreds of feet away.   A pair of courting loons calls to each from the other side of the lake, and a Northern Harrier decides that it’s time for him to do his roller-coaster mating dance as well. No female Harrier that I can see: maybe it’s just a practice run.

I don’t want to be anywhere else.   This is what it means to be here now.

Of course, it’s not surprising. It’s a perfect  sunny day, in a beautiful place.  Why would I want to be anywhere else?

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But,  of course, there are plenty of times when a beautiful place is not enough to stop my “monkey mind.”  Today, though, is not one of them.

The owls are intent on each other…at least the male is intent on the female.  She seems more interested in looking for dinner.

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The male, though, is interested in what the heck I’m doing down there.

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At one point they both land on a hillside, and disappear into the browns and greys of the sagebrush.    I keep watching, though, and suddenly…

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A dance?   I don’t know, but it’s pretty lovely.

Even without the owls, the Montana countryside is breathtaking in April.

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And when the owls decide it’s time for a rest, the Northern Harrier gives up his mating dance rehearsal and starts hunting for dinner.  It doesn’t take him long, either.  If I were a female Harrier, I do believe this example of hunting prowess would be more impressive than his silly roller coaster acrobatics.

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Of course, the Meadowlark and the Yellow-headed Blackbirds need to add their two cents.

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The sun sets slowly behind the Tobacco Root Mountains, and all is right with this little corner of the world.

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Posted in Birding, Life, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Spring in Yellowstone? How Can You Tell?

Blowing snow, blowing wind….freezing my tush off.  Springtime in Yellowstone.

A ghostly coyote wanders through the blowing snow.   I don’t imagine he’s too impressed with the weather, either.

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The trade off, of course, is an empty park.   And gorgeous skies.

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And being able to watch a couple of wolves without the accompanying crowds.

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Nonetheless, there are signs of spring.

Flocks of Mountain Bluebirds flit from bush to bush, flashes of turquoise among the gray-green sagebrush.

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Sandhill Cranes rattle overhead, and one decides to land at the Blacktail Ponds.

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The Northern Flickers — who have been around all winter — have decided that it’s time to impress a mate.  They are paired up, doing their silly little dance and flashing their bright orange tail feathers at each other.

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The elk did their mating in the fall, which is a good thing, because the males look pretty silly right now.

He looks embarrassed, doesn't he?

He looks embarrassed, doesn’t he?

And the bears.  Even if we don’t see them, we know they’re awake…

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Posted in Adventure, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Wildlife, Yellowstone | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

March Gladness

The snow geese are landing, the eagles are in their nests, and the meadowlarks have found their favorite fence posts.  Nature keeps on truckin’, and all’s well in this little corner of the world…

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Happy spring!

Posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Beware the Pesky Glochids and Other Tips from the Desert Southwest

Cacti have spines.  I know that.   I mean, it’s really pretty obvious.

Don't reach for that nest.  Unless you're a cactus wren.

Don’t reach for that nest. Unless you’re a cactus wren.

What I didn’t know until too late is that some cacti have really tiny spines: so tiny that you don’t notice them.  It would have helped to know this before my husband pointed out a prickly pear that looked strangely smooth – so strangely smooth that I just had to reach out and run my hand along the paddle.

Don’t do that.

Now I know that there really aren’t any cacti without spines.  Some have good upfront stout ones, that warn you ahead of time to not touch.  Others – the sneaky little devils – have fine little spines called glochids, and they are one pain in the butt (or wherever) to get out.  I’ve since learned from my desert-savvy friends that we would have been wise to carry duct tape on our desert hikes to get the zillions of little spines out.  (Of course, the wisest move would be not to touch things you don’t know about.  I know that…now.)

So just how do the desert birds manage to avoid being impaled?  They seem oblivious to their spiky surroundings.

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In addition to learning lessons the hard way, we did find some unexpected gems on our recent southwest jaunt, which I’m happy to share:

Favorite campsite in Death Valley:  Mesquite Springs, at the northern end of the park.  At 1,800 feet in elevation it’s a bit cooler than the campgrounds at Furnace Creek, but it’s nice and small, with lots of great country to explore.

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Good Birding:     Salton Sea and the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge.  We had no plans to go here, but I’m so glad we did.  Thousands of shorebirds, along with other great desert birds.

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Nice place to get away from everyone and relax in the desert:  Kofa Wildlife Refuge.  Good skies here, too!

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Favorite combo of cute little town, Sonoran Desert and a dandy National Monument:  Ajo, Arizona and Organ Pipe National Monument.    Camp at Alamo Canyon campground in the monument: you’ll need to stop at the Visitor Center to reserve a spot, but it’s worth it.

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Next on the agenda: find the migrating Snow Geese!

 

Posted in Hiking, Nature, Outdoors, Southwest hikes | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Sun, Sky and Snow: A Winter Day in Yellowstone

Breaking trail on a perfect winter day in Yellowstone.

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Wolves up there?

Wolves up there?

Nope.  Bighorns!

Nope. Bighorns!

What about these?

What about these?

Yep!

Yep! Far away, though.

 

Bobcat trail.

Bobcat trail.

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See you in the Spring, Yellowstone!

Posted in Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife, Yellowstone | Tagged , , | 9 Comments