I left Payette Idaho after staying with dear friends for 11 days, driving south to Jordan Valley, then northeast through Burns Junction. The road down the east side of Steens Mountain is a route I’ve wanted to explore for a few years. This was to be the day I’d,I’d scratch that itch. Sixty-three miles from Highway 78 to Fields Station, the road is paved for the first few miles, but turns to some 40-odd miles of dirt and gravel, past the open sage and ranches along the margins of the Alvord Desert on the mountain’s eastern flank before resuming the pavement further south between Andrews and Fields.
The map showed three lakes along my route, but water levels were less than impressive. Ten Cent and Juniper Lakes were hardly lakes at all. Mann Lake, though low, held some waterfowl. From the lookout parking I could identify Canada Geese and coots and but a few puddle ducks. The light was difficult, and I wasn’t able to identify the Anas species there.
I arrived late in the day to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and spent the night in an RV park not far from the Visitor center to take advantage of electricity for air conditioning. It was very hot during the middle day and into the evening. Early in the morning I drove to the Visitor Center and took pictures of some nice birds. There were Greater Yellow-Legs on the far shore from the photo blind, and when an Osprey flew in, I got a series of satisfactory shots. Very early, a Mule Deer doe with two fawns eased through the scene, followed by another doe. The light was as good as any photographer could wish for.
There were two “happy accidents” on my early morning shoot at the visitor center’s pond. One was a Barn Swallow that flew into the frame while working on a Spotted Sandpiper. The other was a Wilson’s Snipe that did likewise when I was working on Mule Deer. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
At the Visitor Center I encountered a small flycatcher, always a challenge for me to identify. Reviewing the images, I’ve called this bird a Cordilleran (Western) Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis), but if I have the ID right, it would be a bird that failed to read the range maps. Willow Flycatcher would be a better call for the location, but I couldn’t get comfortable making that call based on the image. Perhaps someone with better skills than me could shed some light.
Later I drove the Center Patrol Road south through the middle of the reserve, but it wasn’t very birdy. There were some camera-shy sparrows; I believe White-Crowned and either Vesper Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, or possible winter-type Lark Buntings (a patch of darker feathers over the ears). I got a nice picture of a Sage Thrasher on the road. I drove the North Center Patrol down to the Narrows and then around the Narrows back onto the South Center patrol road finished up my time at the reserve at Frenchglen, a small town at the south end of the refuge.
I then drove North on the 205 Highway and stopped at the causeway where it crosses Lake Malheur. There were a lot of nice birds there, terns, ducks, ibis and more. When I finished enjoying those birds, I headed north to Burns and continued my zig-zagging trip across the southern part of the state.
Burns has a car wash I used in the past when I got my Samurai (my adventure-mobile at the time) was ambushed by a downpour and got all muddy while driving on a dirt road leading to the reserve. I’ve been driving a lot of dirt roads on this trip including the Center Patrol Road, and the east side of Steens Mountain. It was nice to get shed of the dust and dirt.