Friday, June 21, 2013

Malheur Basin, Oregon, USA

A willet perches on a fence post.  He looks so plain, but when he flies up, calling over and over, his wings have flashy back and white bands.  When he lands he shows them off for just a moment more, before going back to his quiet pose.

When we come home from traveling I have a journal full of ideas for blog posts .... and am arriving here during our busy season here.  So most of them never happen.  Year after year Malheur gets short changed, and yet it is often a special stop on our way home.  This year I plan a series of at least three posts inspired by the Malheur Basin.  

Malheur Basin is a huge, very flat basin in Central Oregon.  It’s flatness stretches roughly 30 miles east and west and even deeper north and south.  Some areas are edged with volcanic rimrock; other areas fade off into the distant mountains.  Sometimes the basin contains a fair amount of water, but normally it is a mix of some water, wetlands, pasture and sage.  It’s a nursery for thousands of birds set in the middle of Oregon’s high desert.  the basin’s vastness and the wild variety of birds makes my heart sing.  It is also a welcome change from all the people who are piling into Yellowstone by the time we leave there.  Here there is just a handful of ranchers and a few bird watchers.  
May 23, 2013:  From my notes.......
“The moon looks full, but it already rides high in the sky and yet it is not yet dark night.  The full moon must be tomorrow or the next day.  Soon in any case.  A few minutes ago, when I painted the moon, blues and a touch of crimson colored clear parts of the sky.  Dark clouds tried to hide my moon.  Now the clouds have mostly moved on and the moon shines with a hazy glow.  It’ll be cold tonight -- probably a frost.  A meadowlark sings off in the distance.  One frog sings in spite of the chill and I hear a Wilson’s snipe calling.  A little earlier gulls and ibises flew to their roosting spots.  I half expect a straggler to come winging by before I go in.  Dusk is coming quickly.  By tomorrow night I should have seen curlews and    willets courting, perhaps grebes dancing, yellow-headed blackbirds singing their scratchy song, and ibis flying overhead.  I’ll for sure soak in marsh sounds and smells.”  
This year we spent three full days in the basin.  We probably would have stayed longer if the weather had been more cooperative.  Sometimes heat makes it miserable in the basin; this year the weather changed to cool and frequent showers.  Napping in the car for an hour or two while a shower passes through is wonderful, but not for a day or two!

By the end of the first day we have seen over fifty species of birds.  True birders would have seen over 75, but we tend to stay in each spot too long and don’t get a long list.  The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a birder’s paradise in late May because a variety of unusual birds are attracted to the few oases of green out in the high desert.  

More sketches ....

The raven has stolen a good-sized egg, possibly a teal's.  Another raven is being mobbed by blackbirds because  he got too close to a blackbird nest.  The female Brewer's blackbird just after copulation.


  1. I always enjoy your wonderful posts - as in "full of wonder"! I share your appreciation of the wonder of nature and admire your ability to capture it on paper. The picture of the egg thief and mob is a perfect example!

    1. Thank you for the lovely compliment. I strive to share wonderful moments in nature.

  2. Love it when you have blogs backed up. More for all your readers/fans to anticipate. Malheur is always a treat, but never more than when tweaked with your stories and artwork.

  3. Wonderful post & Drawings Elva. I am finally going to be able to catch up. Who knew Oregon had so many wonderful birding places. I am learning so much about Oregon thru you. :)