Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blowing in the Wind, Soaking in the Tub

This spring break consisted of a collection of various activities. The first weekend presented Boise with unseasonably warm weather so we stuck around and combined a morning bird hike with an afternoon mountain bike for each of the first three days. Then the weather turned as we headed to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon for some spring bird watching. We were hoping to get there to see tens of thousands of snow geese before they headed north to the arctic. We would indeed see thousands of geese, they were scattered everywhere you looked!

Small group of Snow Geese.

As it has been every other time we have been there, the weather was nasty. Scattered rain and a 15-25 mph wind. Regardless, we would see 60 different species, even before the migrants showed up! Most were water birds.

Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and Northern Pintails among others.

Of the various water birds, grebes have always been my favorite. Their general attitude, their diving ability, and their synchronized mating dance, which we saw, but just missed capturing on film.

Clark's Grebe.
Clarke's Grebes just finishing their mating dance.

For those of you who know grebes, you know that Carke's and Western Grebes look very similar. Well, that is until you see them side by side! The color of the bill and fact that the black surrounds the eyes of the Western are the most notably differences. I hadn't realized the size difference until we took this photo.

Clarke's Grebe (far) next to Western Grebe (near).

We had hoped for other grebe species, but those would remain elusive.

Our favorite part of the refuge, the central road, was not good this time around as the ponds bordering the road were not yet flooded. Most all of the birds we saw were out on the boundaries of the rufuge right off the highway. The refuge visitor center grounds were also good with a pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Spotted Towhee, etc. The most impressive part of our visit was the unbelievable number of Northern Harriers. Anywhere on the refuge you could look around and somewhere see a harrier flying over the marsh. On many occasions you could see three of four at a time.

Male Northern Harrier.
Female Northern Harrier

Overnight we stayed at the Crystal Crane Hot Springs. Nice place to park our van, a very nice private tub, and very affordable. I recommend it if you visit the area.

Sandhill Crane.
Great Egret.
Yellow-headed Blackbird.

From Malheur, we headed further into southeastern Oregon to visit Leslie Gulch on the Owyhee Reservoir for some more birding and hiking. That will be deferred to the next blog post.

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