Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Friday–Sunday, May 13–15, 2011
Leader: Marianne Camp
Ext Trp: (Moderate)

This years extended trip to Malheur National Refuge brought many surprises. A group of 13 left town Friday morning under sunny skies with weekend predictions for thunderstorms in Eastern Oregon. It's a good thing Obsidians means onward regardless of the weather forecast. We experienced a lovely travel day with great views of the snow capped mountains, lunch with the Mountain Bluebirds and a stop at Headquarters.

Once we arrived at the Frenchglen Hotel we heard of an owl family living in a tree in back of the hotel. We were able to watch two adults and 3 juvenile Great Horned Owls resting in the tree. You can just imagine how much we all enjoyed having them so close by to observe. One early morning member of our group would watch as the adults returned to the tree from a night of hunting.

We each settled into our rooms, enjoyed a good meal then met outside for an evening walk. The weather was warm and pleasant. Our walk included a view of Steens Mountain with a dark stormy sky and lightening, both horizontal and vertical, with a rumble of thunder. We were able to complete our walk without getting wet.

Saturday morning we met for an early morning drive up to the Page Springs Campground. Rick Ahrens, our resident naturalist, lead us on a guided walk up the trail along the Donner Und Blitzen River. Rick helped us identify the different sounds and special markings of the various birds and answered our many questions. We so appreciate his knowledge and wonderful personality. What a pleasure it was to have him on our trip.

We returned for breakfast, loaded up our cars and drove up the Central Patrol Road. It has been a wet spring so the fields and ponds were full of water. We lunched at Benson Ponds with a viewing of two adult Great Horned Owls, one was resting in the nest with the babies. We no sooner finished our lunch and returned to our cars then the rain began. It did stop long enough for us to do a view from the top of the Buena Vista Overlook before returning to the hotel.

Sunday morning the State Trooper stopped in for breakfast at the hotel to tell us that he had evacuated Page Spring Campground during the night and closed the Central Patrol Road at Peter French's Barn due to flooding. We felt so lucky to have completed all our adventures the day before. What a difference 24 hours can bring.

One group of travelers shared their experience with these highlights. Thanks to the wild and dramatic weather the abundance of water and birdlife, and the stunning scenery, observing two adult Sanhill Cranes walking with their young in the early morning light, a Grebe dancing across the water seen through a scope, a Lewis Woodpecker, and a Northern Harrier. The three young owls, steps from our hotel, captured our attention and hearts, as well as, seven young, adorable coyote pups seen a mile from Headquarters on Sunday morning. The Red-tail Hawk nest, located at Headquarters, with parent and downy offspring was also a treat to watch and a porcupine resting in a tree. The variety of birdlife seen in such a short time period was awe-inspiring, framed by gorgeous clouds carrying water, snow, hail, thunder, lightening, drama. A veteran birder to this area summed it up with, “I would do this trip again!” - her eyes lit up with excitement and anticipation for the next extended trip to Frenchglen.

That pretty much sums up what we experienced and the joys that each person felt. We collectively saw approximately 90 species of birds. Many sightings of animals, antelope, deer, jack rabbit, cotton tails, coyote, porcupine, and the ground squirrels. Many thanks to all for making this such an enjoyable adventure.

Members: Marianne Camp, Rick Ahrens, Nola Nelson, Jacque Davis, Patricia Mac Afee, Margaret Prentice, Mary Morrison, Bonnie Richman, Keiko Bryan. Nonmembers: Gloria Smith, Kathy Kast, Kathy Giesen, Nancy Raymond.

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