|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • 'Empty' quarter is alive with birds

    With the Malheur refuge luring thousands of songbirds this time of year and Steens Mountain nearby, southeastern Oregon is its own bit of paradise
  • It could be a scene out of "The Big Year," the bird-watching comedy with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. The usually quiet Page Springs campground just south of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is bustling with birders, mostly middle-aged folk in earth tones and floppy hats with binoculars and cameras dangling.
    • email print
  • It could be a scene out of "The Big Year," the bird-watching comedy with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. The usually quiet Page Springs campground just south of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is bustling with birders, mostly middle-aged folk in earth tones and floppy hats with binoculars and cameras dangling.
    "Did you see the burrowing owl?"
    "We waited for half an hour and didn't see him, but we saw yellow-headed blackbirds in the field and Wilson's phalaropes in a nearby pond."
    May and early June are the height of spring songbird migration at the refuge, about 350 highway miles east of Medford in the "empty" quarter of the state in this valley where the sagebrush shares space with wetlands and marshes.
    But as important as the refuge is to the birds — and visitors will see birds here they won't see in the Rogue Valley — there are other attractions, as well.
    With its cowboy history and wide open spaces, the region seems to pulse with the rhythms of a simpler time.
    "It's busy through the middle of June with birders," says John Ross, who operates the historic, 1916 Frenchglen Hotel and says he'd like to see the busy season expand. "I tell them about the mountain (nearby Steens). I tell the birders if they come back in September, they could probably see a black rosy-finch for their life list."
    The refuge covers 187,000 acres of prime bird habitat, including 120,000 acres of wetlands, and it's a magnet for pretty much anybody who enjoys the outdoors. There are 58 mammal species here in addition to more than 320 bird species, including the refuge's iconic sandhill cranes.
    There are hunting seasons for deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep. Wild horses graze here. There's fishing at Krumbo Reservoir.
    Steens Mountain, with its snow-capped, 9,700-foot peak, looms over the valley. Most of the water for the refuge comes from the mountain's snow. Views, including a 2,000-foot gorge, are incredible. The road doesn't usually open all the way until July, but it's been a warm, dry spring, and it's expected to be open in June.
    The refuge can be thought of as a sprawling T, with Malheur and Harney lakes making the horizontal line and the gravel Center Patrol Road through the refuge, which roughly follows the Donner and Blitzen River, making the vertical line. At the bottom of the T is the hamlet of Frenchglen, and a little to the east is Page Springs, just off Steens Mountain Loop Road.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar